Wolverhampton Wanderers have been out of the top division of English football since 2012, and the club’s Chinese owners are spending big in a bid to mount a genuine tilt at promotion from the EFL Championship in 2017/18 back into the big time. At the time of this writing, with 15 league games played, Wanderers sit atop the Championship table, one point clear of second-placed Cardiff City (after an impressive 2-0 away win at Norwich City).
The new Gold and Blacks boss, Nuno Espirito Santo, was quite a coup for the Molineux club in the summer, given his pedigree as the manager for Portuguese giants FC Porto and Spanish outfit Valencia. The wily head coach also earnt his stripes in the early years of his coaching career by taking Portuguese minnows Rio Ave into European competition for the first time in the club’s history. His early exploits at Molineux haven’t gone unnoticed in the top flight, with manager-less Everton reportedly interested in him replacing Ronald Koeman at the helm.
Combine the studious, composed managerial style of Espirito Santo with arguably the most expansive Wanderers squad in years, and it is little surprise why supporters and pundits believe this year is Wolves’ best opportunity to return to the footballing elite.
Wolverhampton Wanderers are currently averaging more than two points per game. With goals all over the pitch — 27 in their opening 15 games, to be exact — Wolves are as entertaining as they have been for many seasons; and they are justifiably 9/10 odds-on favourites with BetStars to secure the title and as short as 3/10 simply to gain promotion.
A dozen new signings were made in the summer months, and the club’s managing director, Laurie Dalrymple, has intimated that Fosun International will be prepared to invest what it takes to strengthen the squad further in the January transfer window. The Chinese conglomerate has displayed its commitment to growing the club for the long term by placing Fosun representative, Jeff Shi, at the helm as Wanderers Chairman.
With the club well-placed for success off the pitch, who are the key men that could decide their promotion fate in 2018?
Brazilian striker Leo Bonatini has been a revelation for Wolves since his arrival on-loan from Saudi Arabian outfit, Al-Hilal. The 23-year-old scored in all four league games in October to take his goal tally to nine for the season by the beginning of November, with his most recent goal coming in the win against distant rivals, Norwich.
The club’s close links to super-agent Jorge Mendes enabled Santo to secure the signature of some outstanding young talent in the summer. Atletico Madrid prodigy Diogo Jota has shone in a number-ten role so far this term, while midfield maestro Ruben Neves — a former skipper for FC Porto — has seamlessly slotted in to help Wanderers dominate possession home and away. Combine that with the experience of former England international keeper, John Ruddy, and a sprinkling of homegrown talent, and it’s an irresistible combination. The eyes of the footballing world are very much on Molineux once again, after a number of years in the doldrums.