Australian Four Four Two - - PREMIER LEAGUE -

It seems odd to think that only two sum­mers ago, Wolves had Julen Lopetegui lined up to im­prove on a 14th-place fin­ish in the Cham­pi­onship. In­stead, he got the Spain job and will lead Real Madrid in 2018-19. Wolves were pan­icked into hir­ing Wal­ter Zenga, who lasted just 14 league matches, and then they flip-flopped to Paul Lambert, who even­tu­ally steered the club to 15th. Fo­sun In­ter­na­tional have learned a lot in two years, though. Wolves’ Chi­nese own­ers took charge in July 2016 with high hopes and deep pock­ets, but quickly dis­cov­ered things would be tougher than ex­pected – even with the help of su­per-agent Jorge Men­des. But learn they did. Last May, in came for­mer Va­len­cia and Porto coach Nuno Espir­ito Santo – yes, a Men­des client – and a board­room reshuf­fle re­sulted in chair­man Jeff Shi re­lo­cat­ing to the Mid­lands. With Men­des’ as­sis­tance, Wolves’ re­cruit­ment was noth­ing short of ex­cep­tional. Ruben Neves was the big­gest coup in Cham­pi­onship his­tory at $28 mil­lion, but the less her­alded sign­ings of Barry Dou­glas, Ryan Ben­nett, John Ruddy, Willy Boly and Diogo Jota were all vi­tal, join­ing Helder Costa, Ivan Cavaleiro and Ro­main Saiss as ar­rivals from the pre­vi­ous cam­paign. In­spired by Nuno, a uni­fy­ing pres­ence who set about restor­ing a long-lost sense of hope, Wolves stormed to the Cham­pi­onship crown with 99 points. They never re­lin­quished top spot after Hal­lowe’en. Now they’re back in the top flight for the first time since 2012, when poor Terry Con­nor took them down with­out a win in his 13 games. After that, the Mid­lan­ders went straight down to League One. Wolves fans be­lieve this time will be dif­fer­ent, and it’s hard to ar­gue. Mak­ing the loan spells of Boly and Jota per­ma­nent is fine busi­ness, Por­tu­gal No.1 Rui Pa­tri­cio is a ter­rific ad­di­tion in goal, and ex­pe­ri­enced Mex­i­can for­ward Raul Jimenez adds an­other strong at­tack­ing op­tion on loan from Ben­fica. Tra­di­tion­al­ists may blanch at Men­des’ Ges­ti­fute agency pro­vid­ing half a dozen of the club’s play­ers (so far), but it’s a sus­tain­able pol­icy as long as he doesn’t sud­denly pull the plug – and why would he? Since Wolves al­ready had a Pre­mier League-qual­ity squad in the sec­ond tier, ex­pec­ta­tions are high now they’re here. Since 2006, only four of 36 pro­moted teams have fin­ished in the top half – but this side looks well equipped to do just that.

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