Wolves’ bigger picture makes dropped points secondary

Words By Seb Stafford-Bloor Illustration by Philippe Fenner
February 11, 2019

One of the stranger theories floating around the ether is that, should Marco Silva be shunted out of Goodison Park, Wolverhampton Wanderers would be in danger of losing Nuno Espirito Santo to Everton. It’s curious for a number of reasons. Firstly, of course, because Goodison Park is not exactly fertile ground. It may still be one of English football’s great venues and Everton remain a storied, famous club, but presently it seems a job for no-one. Ronald Koeman was chewed up and spat out, his reputation damaged, and Silva is now being exposed as a short-term careerist. For those held in high regard, with good stock and impressive annotations on their CVs, there are much more rewarding jobs.

And Wolves offer one of them at the moment. In fact, why would anyone get off this ride and leave Molineux now? The momentum behind football clubs can be weighed in many ways, but there’s something about Wolves which exudes an almost tangible potential. That’s not about their size or even their history, but rather that they are an organisation clearly en route to somewhere. They’re a club who have been charged, who pulse with latent energy. Needless to say, being at the helm of that progress must be tremendously exciting.

It’s a privilege Santo has earned. His names choruses out of the stands here and despite the competitive advantages his side held in the Championship, the job he performed in bringing Wolves back to the Premier League has bred a great deal of reverence. That respect isn’t confined to the Black Country, either. Outsiders may appreciate the virtues of Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho and the rest, but there also exists great admiration for the type of team Wolves are. Tactically smart and soft on the eye, they’re an asset to the division and an intriguing addition to it.

That’s quite unusual, because where there is money the sneers usually aren’t far behind. Perhaps novelty protects Wolves and Santo; they’re new to the league and haven’t had enough time to breed any resentment. Whatever the case, for the moment the talk is of flying wing-backs and artisan midfielders, not of Fosun or Jorge Mendes.

But both are relevant to Santo’s future. Come the end of the season, when Wolves will have not only have survived, but flourished at this level and finished very close to the European places, there will be another round of investment and, this time, from a stronger, more certain base. Whatever the native approach is at the moment, it will be emboldened by another broadcasting payment and, more importantly, the perception that this is a Premier League club to stay.

It’s a tantalising prospect. Currently, Wolves play in an atmosphere which exists almost independently from their performances. Against Newcastle on Monday night, their standards slipped. They created few chances of note, conceded a wholly avoidable goal, and only rescued a point with a hugely controversial 95th minute equaliser. But this isn’t a place enslaved to the league table yet, nor is the mood dictated solely by the perception of results. Once the equaliser dribbled over the line, the joy was unconfined.

Wolves should have done better. They should have made easier work of a Newcastle team who have suffered through a punishing schedule over recent weeks and who, for almost all of this game, were locked behind the ball and only allowed out to stretch their legs. The hosts didn’t take any of those advantages, but at the final whistle it didn’t seem to matter. Another point, another moment of joy, another excuse to sing the manager’s name. Maybe there were moments of clarity on the way back into town. Perhaps by the time the supporters had reached St Peter’s and turned back into the City the talk was of points dropped rather than gained. It didn’t feel that way, though.

How enticing that must be. When the reinforcements march on this club in the summer – maybe under the command of Mendes, maybe not – it’s hard to envisage anything other than a multiplying effect. A situation, perhaps, where the atmosphere becomes even more febrile, the affection for Santo deepens, and those choruses thundering out of the stands become louder still.

Who would walk away from that? There’s no suggestion that Santo will, it hasn’t been reported by anyone worth listening to, but just the suggestion that it could sounds preposterous. Trade all this away just for the chance to strain under the weight of unrealistic expectations? At one of the many, many clubs were nothing will ever be as good as it used to be? It certainly doesn’t sound that appealing.

At Wolves, too, the present is never likely to match the past. Modern football isn’t built for Stan Cullis or Major Frank Buckley, so those times are definitely over. The difference here, though, is that those ghosts don’t intrude. They don’t stalk the corridors in the way that they do at other clubs and here, for now, everyone’s eyes are firmly on tomorrow and a future which is keeping everyone’s enthusiasm at boiling point.

There are bigger names in contemporary football, but there aren’t many better jobs than this one.

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