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Dunlavy column: Wolves for the Championship title? Don’t bet big money

(Photo: Action Images via Reuters)

By Chris Dunlavy

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 la-la 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 Santo was managing Porto in the Europa League.

Ruben Neves, the attacking midfielder who was signed for a league-record £15.8million, 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-year-old 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, 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.

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 non-stop, 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.

Santo’s cagey, safety-first 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 Santo’s army of Portugeezers hacking the pace.

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16 thoughts on “Dunlavy column: Wolves for the Championship title? Don’t bet big money

  1. FRANK ANSLOW

    What a load of absolute tosh.First of all there are only five of the eleven players that are Portugese and two of these were with Wolves last year.They were the two stand out players over the season Cavaliero and Costa. They did not weaken at the end.Yes, Costa picked up an ankle injury but this can happen to any player.

    Secondly Nunos training and fitness schedule is extremely demanding and has been since the day he walked in the door.The players have hardly had a day off during this time.Also,the shape of the team and tactics are very well drilled.

    Wolves are playing attractive football and are beating teams that some would not have expected.

    I have heard all this nonsense about being Championship hardened, and true Championship players before.I don’t agree with it ,as I have seen no evidence to back it up.

    Wolves have as good a chance as anyone of winning the title.I take it that the Championship contenders in your view are Borough and Villa.Borough just about scraped a 1-0 win yesterday following a loss at Wolves and Villla look what happened to them,defeated 3-0 at Cardiff.

    Reply
  2. Ray, Hampshire

    Yet another so called football expert who will end up with “egg on their face”. Were you at Derby yesterday or Molineux last weekend ? As with Sky Sports I love the so called experts and the “herd mentality”. Time will tell Mr Dunlavy. Once your theory is blown out of the water, like many so called football journalists you will conveniently forget this article as you move on to some other nonsense that you get paid for writing !

    Reply
  3. David Nicholls

    I would bet on Wolves as they have an awesome combination of talent not just from overseas players but also from their youth academy. The talent, strength and depth they possess should be more than adequate to get them through a hard fought championship campaign and I doubt whether any other squad has the talent to challenge them.

    Reply
  4. Oliver Kenninglol

    Jeff Shi isn’t the owner, he’s just the chairman. He’s an employee of Fosun, the Chinese investment company who own the club.

    Duckens Nazon was bought for the development squad and has recently signed a new contract after an impressive start to a loan spell with Coventry City. It’s analogous with criticising one of the many youth players signed by Chelsea, Man Utd etc for not displacing Eden Hazard or Paul pogba in their first season.

    Football is all about opinions, that’s what makes it so great for discussion. Great journalism is also about options but also about good research and fact.

    Reply
  5. Den wolf

    This is why England never wins the world cup or europen cup. Football changes, new methods and the ideas. There are to many conservatives who rather have a Joey Barton than a Rubin Neves.

    The team has a plan and a playingstyle

    Reply
  6. Adrian Monk

    Two factual mistakes in the first four paragraphs. Yes there is the question whether the players have the stamina to last the distance but that’s the point of having a strong squad, not just first eleven. Ivan Cavaleiro didn’t make the starting line-up yesterday, Helder Costa and Ben Marshall are yet to come back from injury as well. Secondly the conditioning staff – Phil Hayward, Ollie Leaper, Tom Male and Richard Kirby haven’t just forgotten everything overnight because a new manager has joined – they are acutely aware of the challenges presented by the intensity of English football – that’s why they are employed by us.

    It’s always worth having some ‘Championship-ready’ guys around the place. Matt Doherty, club captain Danny Batth, Jack Price, Jordan Graham, Conor Coady, John Ruddy, Ryan Bennett….etc…countless championship games between them. Watford proved you need a few about the place when they went up. Last season five of the top six coaches were foreign and even Hughton relied on Bruno, Bong, Kayal, Skalak and Hemed in his promotion season.

    Better than some articles I’ve seen – at least no embarrassing demonstrations of a complete failure to understand FFP were present, and you are entitled to your opinion, but let’s see who is right at the end of the season.

    Reply
  7. Bully's right boot

    Haters just love to hate, your facts are not on point neither. As the other two comments above mention Nuno has brought in his whole backing staff and after many years of players getting injured the club has set out a master plan and it’s exciting. UTW!!

    Reply
  8. thomas kilford

    what a total moron, i was at derby and Middlesbrough and we were better than both of them its not about championship experience it’s about team quality and hardwork and in this team we have both im not saying we’ll walk the league but at top 6 finish is very likely.

    Reply
  9. Michael

    First things first… He was in the Champions League with Porto last year not theEuropa, aswell as beating Leicester 5-1 in the QF rounds, and another thing you missed ‘pal’ was Neves is the youngest Champions League captain to date, and FC Porto ain’t no small time club as they won it not so long back remember? Never heard seen so much non fiction in one paragraph since Harry Potter, whoever you are … your way out with your reading here and clearly have something against what the club is doing.
    If you watched Wolves vs Middlesbrough & Yesterdays match Vs Derby County, which I may add couldn’t have been a harder start
    for Wolves given there record against the two clubs, Nuno has shown he is action aswell as talk and clearly took in every little aspect of the managerial role aswell as tactics from his time with
    Josè Mourihino when they won the Champions League together
    as I’ve never seen a Wolves side tick like that in my life time,
    not to mention the understanding between players and Head Coach, great things are happening at this club and clueless so called ‘wanna be pro’s’ like yourself should be out of work for giving such an in accurate reading.

    Reply
  10. Richard

    Derby v Wolves last three seasons 5-0 4-2 3-1 so much for battle hardened uk based championship players.

    Wolves yesterday were simply superb and ran Derby ragged in the second half. All Wolves need is another striker.

    One of the finest away performances in many a year,

    Reply
  11. Carl papavarnava

    A few points for the “learned author”. Jeff shi does NOT own wolves, he has been appointed by the owners to run it. Neves is a defensive, not attacking midfielder. I suggest the author spends time researching the subject he is meant to be writing about.

    Reply

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