WILL THE MENDES REVOLUTION END IN UNTOLD GLORY OR FLOODS OF TEARS?
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.