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The rise of Wolverhampton Wanderers

N Praneeth
CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
803   //    17 Mar 2019, 13:50 IST

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Manchester United - FA Cup Quarter Final

February 12, 2012, was one of the darkest days in Wolves' history, having just lost to bitter rivals West Bromwich Albion 5-1 in the Black Country derby, the club found themselves dropping into the relegation zone with only a third of the season left to play.

Following on from the result, manager Mick McCarthy was sacked and his assistant Terry Connor was appointed as interim manager until the end of the season but he couldn't prevent the eventual relegation as the club finished bottom of the Premier League with a meagre 25 points and not winning a single game under the Englishman.

The next season proved to be even worse for the West Midlands club as they suffered a second consecutive relegation to League One - the third tier of English football while their neighbouring rivals Aston Villa and West Brom continued to survive in the Premier League. However, after cycling through a couple of managers, the club under Englishman Kenny Jackett bounced straight back up to the championship with a record 103 points in League One.

But the most decisive moment in the club's history came in 2016 when Chinese investment group Fosun International bought the club. This was a defining moment because the Chinese investors had a partnership with super-agent Jorge Mendes who is well known for his connections to top footballers. This partnership proved to be beneficial in the years to come as Mendes was able to sell the prospect of playing at Wolves to players that their fans could only dream of signing.

One such coup was the signing of Rúben Neves in summer of 2017 for a record highest transfer fee of £15.8 million in the Championship. The then 20-year-old midfielder who once captained Portuguese giants FC Porto in the Champions League at just 18 years of age was now going to ply his trade in the English second tier - clearly an indicator of Mendes' role in the transfer.

Soon the floodgates opened as the club bought in further more exciting young attacking players on loan such as Diogo Jota, Leo Bonatini and Benik Afobe. The club now boasted an embarrassment of riches at the top end of the pitch with the previous season summer signings of Helder Costa and Ivan Cavaleiro also adding depth to the squad.

The club also made two astute free transfers to shore up the defence with defender Ryan Bennett and goalkeeper John Ruddy both from Norwich and the loan signing of French defender Willy Boly from Porto adding much-needed solidity. Also ex-Porto and Valencia manager Nuno Espírito Santo was appointed manager. A goalkeeper during his playing days, Nuno ironically was among one of the first players represented by Mendes that propelled the agent's reputation back in 1996.

As expected, Wolves blew away the Championship with their attacking style of play - the kind unseen of in that level of football in England. Crucial to Nuno's success was his reliance on wing-backs in his system with Matt Doherty and Barry Douglas proving to be more often than not the most potent threat to any opposition facing them. The defence played their part as well with the joint best defence consisting of the likes of Conor Coady, Ryan Bennett, Danny Batth and Willy Boly all doing their job when called upon. Wolves were also the best scoring team in the league and unsurprisingly won the title with 99 points, 9 ahead of second-placed Cardiff.

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Back to the Premier League this season after an 8-year absence, the club has left no stone unturned and have shown their lofty ambitions as they completed signings of midfielder João Moutinho and goalkeeper Rui Patrício, two members of the Portuguese Euro winning squad of 2016. The club also brought in the left wing-back Jonny Castro initially on loan from Atletico Madrid before making the deal permanent in January but arguably the biggest signing of the season has been Mexican striker Raúl Jiménez coming on loan from Benfica. The striker has been a revelation of the season winning over Wolves fans and neutrals (especially FPL managers) alike instantly with his excellent contribution of 12 goals and 6 assists in the league and has recently developed a great partnership with Diogo Jota.

Although their rise has been met with cynicism since they have an added advantage of attracting top players, it can't be denied that Nuno has done an excellent job with this side playing attractive football whereas fellow promoted sides Cardiff and Fulham have struggled all season to adapt to the Premier League, especially in Fulham's case who spent over a £100 million in the summer.

With Wolves currently 7th in the league and into the FA Cup semi-finals for the first time in 21 years, they are well on course for a European tour next season, as one of the oldest clubs in England and one of the founding members of the Football League look to continue their steady climb to the top of English football.

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