The past week saw the traditional time of the year where a raft of Premier League previews are released. The general consensus is not that surprising – Manchester City will run away with the League yet again, Arsenal will succumb to their old failings despite the arrival of Unai Emery and Wolverhampton Wanderers will secure a top half finish.
Now for anyone who just checks the Championship table every once in a blue moon, this will come as a great surprise. Wolves are a team that had their glory days back in the fifties, with three league titles in a six year span and are still most commonly associated with the goals of Steve Bull, by anyone over the age of thirty.
For the Wolverhampton faithful this must be the most excited they’ve been since the arrival of Henri Camara. I kid of course, but Wolves fans have really been true the doldrums over the past few years and the arrival of all this foreign investment must really excite the Wanderers faithful.
So why are Wolves, a perennial yo-yo team, heavily fancied to achieve so much?
Well let’s take a look at why a Chinese investment group and Cristiano Ronaldo’s agent are building a Portuguese dynasty in Wolverhampton.
Dawn of a new era
After the culmination of the 2015/16 season, Wolves had finished in a somewhat lacklustre 14th position and many fans felt that they would be spinning their wheels in the Championship for years to come.
Then on July 21st 2016, after a few weeks speculation about a possible takeover, it was confirmed that Chinese investment company, Fosun International had bought the club for £45m. Fosun International’s move into football came about after Chinese President Xi-Jinping called for China to expand its football power at home and abroad.
Jorge Mendes, the agent of Cristiano Ronaldo, David de Gea and a whole host of other footballing megastars, is an associate of Fosun International and it is understood that Mendes helped identify Wolves as potential purchase.
With the purchase of the club complete, Fosun announced that they would invest £30m in the club over the next two years.
A week after purchasing the club, Fosun terminated the contract of manager Kenny Jackett and replaced him with former Italy goalkeeper Walter Zenga. Wolves signed the likes of Helder Costa and Ivan Cavaleiro from Benfica and Monaco respectively, breaking their transfer record in signing Costa for £13m.
Zenga didn’t last long in charge and was sacked after just 14 league games with the club in 18th place in the table.
Paul Lambert was brought in to steady the ship, however, under Lambert, Wolves only showed a slight improvement, finishing in 15th position, one spot lower than the previous season.Although given the backing by the clubs director, Lambert was relieved of his duties on May 30th. One day later, former Porto manager Nuno Espirito Santo was appointed manager, his agent one Jorge Mendes.
The arrival of the super agent
While Mendes was involved in Fosun’s purchase of Wolves, it has been stated on numerous occasions that Mendes has nothing to do with the recruitment of players at Molineux.
However, over the past two years Wolves have signed the majority of their players from the Gestifute company, which is headed up by Jorge Mendes.
With the arrival of the Nuno as manager and Mendes in some type of non-official recruitment role, the influx of big name Portuguese players began. Wolves signed seven Portuguese players during the 2017 summer transfer window, including the highly touted Ruben Neves from Porto for a fee of £15m.
During this time Jeff Shi, one of the executive directors of the club, was nominated as executive chairman and moved from China to Wolverhampton to have a more hands on role in the running of the club.
After a summer of heavy investment, Wolves were now ready for a proper tilt at promotion.
With the signing of all these big name players, Wolves were expected to challenge for promotion to the Premier League straightaway.
After a fast start Wolves found themselves safely in the play-off spots ten games into the season.
In late October Wolves went top of the table and remained there for the remainder of the season, only losing four matches out of their remaining 32. Wolves were the darlings of the Championship during the 2017/18 season, with the likes of Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota lighting up the championship with their flair and finesse in front of goal.
Wolves played some exciting stuff during their run to the Championship title and Nuno was praised for helping in the development of young players who were already on the books at Wolves prior to his arrival.
The likes of Conor Coady and Matt Doherty have been reinvigorated under Nuno, with the versatile Coady being deployed in the middle of the back three, where his reading of the game and distribution being key in Wolves drive to promotion.
So Wolves are back in the Premier League and are part of the most exciting financial takeover in English football since Manchester City a decade ago, but can they actually prove the pundits right and actually achieve success in the Premier League?
Well in short, yes, they probably will have a very good return season to the Premier League, with their transfer activity showing that they mean business.
Nuno has managed to secure the services of Portuguese internationals Rui Patrício and João Moutinho in perhaps their two biggest signings so far.
Now while all this investment is great and being associated with the likes of Jorge Mendes is only helping in developing the clubs brand internationally, what’s gonna happen if the bubble bursts.
Fosun International have pledged that they are in for the long haul and will not be leaving anytime soon, however, Fosun’s investment comes down to President Xi and if he decides to end this Chinese experiment with football expansion, then that could spell trouble for Wolves.
Under all previous owners, Wolves has been run on a profit, even when they were relegated to League 1, previous owner Steve Morgan was still able to keep the club in the green, in his final year in charge he left the club with a healthy £5.8m in profit.
In the first set of accounts under Fosun’s rule Wolves made a huge pre-tax loss of £23.2m. Fosun commented on this loss by stating that such heavy losses were necessary in order to gain promotion to the Premier League and compete with clubs in the top flight.
With so little known about the long-term intentions of Fosun and Jorge Mendes and the recent scare at the Chinese owned Aston Villa, this will no doubt worry Wolves fans as to what might happen to their beloved club in the future, with Premier League and Financial Fair Play authorities keeping a close eye on the dealings of Fosun International and Jorge Mendes.
On the other hand Wolves fans are no doubt enjoying all the limelight that Fosun International and Jorge Mendes have given their club, however, there will no doubt be some underlying worries from some fans as to how long these good times can last.