Wolves for the ti­tle? Don’t bet big money

The Football League Paper - - NEWS -

IT isn’t dif­fi­cult to see why bookies are tip­ping Wolves for a ti­tle tilt. In fact, there are about 47 mil­lion rea­sons. That’s how much owner Jeff Shi has chucked at turn­ing the men from Mo­lineux into the West Mid­lands’ new pow­er­house.

Out in foot­ball’s new lala land, that wouldn’t buy you Ney­mar’s lit­tle fin­ger. But in the Cham­pi­onship? It’s a state­ment of in­tent.

Sup­port­ers are ex­cited, and jus­ti­fi­ably so. This time last year, new gaffer Nuno Espir­ito Di Santo was man­ag­ing Porto in the Europa League.

Ruben Neves, the at­tack­ing mid­fielder who was signed for a league-record £15.8m, is a Por­tuguese in­ter­na­tional who eclipsed Cris­tiano Ron­aldo as the youngest player ever to rep­re­sent his na­tion in the Cham­pi­ons League.

He was once mon­i­tored by Arse­nal and Chelsea – and no­body in Por­tu­gal can quite be­lieve the 20-yearold has been lured to Eng­land’s sec­ond tier.

It’s a bit like Mar­cus Rash­ford sud­denly ditch­ing Manch­ester United to play for Getafe.

For this mi­nor mir­a­cle, Wolves fans can thank Jorge Men­des, the Por­tuguese su­per agent whose al­liance with Shi has en­gi­neered a string of Ibe­rian ar­rivals, in­clud­ing the man­ager and his coach­ing staff.

Helder Costa was al­ready kick­ing around.

Now there’s Rod­er­ick Mi­randa, Diogo Jota and Pe­dro Gonçalves. Lo­cal journos have even dubbed their club Wolvesu­gal.

But hang on. That’s an in­ex­pe­ri­enced for­eign coach and a cav­al­cade of over­seas play­ers.

Aren’t Wolves in grave dan­ger of re­peat­ing last year’s mis­takes?

In fair­ness to Shi, Di Santo is no Wal­ter Zenga. The Ital­ian had an abysmal track record and more clubs than your lo­cal golf shop. He was patently out of his depth.

Like­wise, none of this sum­mer’s sign­ings have that mys­ti­fy­ing ‘who the hell is he?’ air of a Paul Gladon or Duck­ens Na­zon.

Nev­er­the­less, the fun­da­men­tal prob­lem has not changed. Sign­ing play­ers from weak Euro­pean leagues is a risky busi­ness.

Re­spect­ful

The Primeira Liga may boast three world-class sides, but it is a sub­stan­dard com­pe­ti­tion: slow, tac­ti­cal and clut­tered with medi­ocre teams.

It is very dif­fer­ent to the Cham­pi­onship, where ev­ery match is a con­test and ev­ery loose ball a fight to the death.

Con­sider, too, that Neves has never played more than 24 games in a league cam­paign – and that was with a win­ter break.

Even if he’d played non­stop, a sea­son in Por­tu­gal lasts only 36 matches.

In the Cham­pi­onship, that would barely get you into March.

As Port Vale dis­cov­ered last sea­son, a job lot of Euro­peans may thrive in Au­gust, but when the games start pil­ing up, legs grow leaden.

Even Costa, an un­re­served suc­cess for Wolves last win­ter, suf­fered a dip in form be­fore pick­ing up an in­jury in the fi­nal months.

Like the ma­jor­ity of Wolves’ re­cent sign­ings, his body was not con­di­tioned to play con­stantly for ten months.

Com­pare that with Mid­dles­brough, whose re­cruit­ment of proven Cham­pi­onship per­form­ers, like Britt As­som­ba­longa and Jonny How­son, screams ‘good to go’.

Hud­der­s­field, of course, rep­re­sent a com­pelling coun­ter­point. Yet David Wag­ner’s high-tempo press­ing and em­pha­sis on ex­treme fit­ness were uniquely tai­lored to the Cham­pi­onship.

Di Santo’s cagey, safe­ty­first foot­ball is not. Nor is the Por­tuguese armed with the steep six-month learn­ing curve that com­prised Wag­ner’s first half-sea­son.

Wolves’ time will come. Their out­lay guar­an­tees that.

But ti­tle con­tenders? Not this sea­son. Whether it’s the shock and awe of Cham­pi­onship war­fare or sim­ple burnout, it’s im­pos­si­ble to see Di Santo’s army of Por­tugeezers hack­ing the pace.

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