Wolves were soundly beaten at home to Leicester and it looks increasingly as though their problems run deeper than just the (lack of) manager
It was, all told, a strange afternoon at Molineux, but the home crowd didn’t seem in the mood for complexity as the Wolves players left the pitch to a cacophony of booing and jeering from the stands.
Three days earlier, a club statement had confirmed that ‘there are no outstanding candidates to appoint on a permanent basis to the head coach position’ in their quest to replace recently sacked manager Bruno Lage. This wasn’t strictly true. There had been two, Jolen Lopetegui and Mick Beale, but both of them had already turned the club down.
Instead Steve Davis, who’d been in charge of the team for the previous couple of games, would remain in charge of the first team until the new year. With Lopetegui, Beale and Nuno Espirito Santo, whose return to the club had also been potentially touted, off the agenda and just a small number of games before the World Cup break, why not give the caretaker a couple of months to prove himself?
By the end of the Leicester game, we had something of an answer to that question. The scoreline was comprehensive enough, but a 4-0 away win didn’t quite tell the story of the game. Leicester didn’t so much obliterate Wolves as expertly pick them off. They only had five shots throughout the entire game and scored with each of their first four; Wolves had 21 and failed to score all afternoon.
But the final score didn’t care for wouldas or shouldas concerning the number of shots on target taken by each team. Losing 4-0 at home to Leicester is precisely why it doesn’t feel as though Wolves can afford to wait until the new year to bring a new manager in, regardless of the specifics of how that result came about, and with the benefit of hindsight the club’s previous statement on the matter felt rather ill-judged.
‘We have no plans to rush our search for a new permanent head coach and will not compromise in any way our approach to appointing the person we believe to be the perfect fit for our club, our squad and the role of head coach at Wolves’, wrote chairman Jeff Shi on Thursday.
By Sunday afternoon, fans were calling for the removal of both him and technical director Scott Sellars.
Agent Jorge Mendes’ last arrival at the club hasn’t had a particularly successful times of things, either. Diego Costa came to Molineux in the middle of September and made his debut for them at West Ham at the start of October, but he hasn’t scored for them yet.
This is unsurprising. After all, prior to his arrival at the club he hadn’t played for anybody since terminating his contract with Atletico Mineiro in January. He came close a couple of times against Leicester, but if he was signed as a quick fix the repair work hasn’t quite started yet. Was he anywhere near match fit when they signed him? Is he now?
As the team slides towards the bottom of the table, there is a growing feeling that the progress made since returning to the Premier League in 2018 is at the point of being thrown away. Wolves’ return was followed with two consecutive seventh-placed finishes and the return of European football to Molineux. And even though the two seasons following this saw them dip slightly to 13th and then 10th, the possibility of relegation was seldom really considered to be a serious issue.
What is clear from recent complaints about the way in which Wolves are being run is that there doesn’t seem to be that much of a coherent structure behind the scenes. Shi is the chairman and Sellars is the technical director, but what do these positions actually entail? Sellars’ would usually involve recruitment, both of players and coaching staff, but The Athetic recently reported that in the case of Wolves, ‘the technical director is a line manager, coordinating the work of analysts, sports scientists, scouts, coaches and academy staff as a footballing figurehead’ and that ‘He does not… make any of the key decisions, such as who to sign and who calls the shots.’
Well okay, fine. It’s possible that Sellars could be a scapegoat for structural issues that have been well beyond his control. But if that is the case, then the buck surely has to stop with Shi, because it has to stop somewhere. What is clearly unacceptable and cannot continue is the lack of coordination, with nobody seeming to take overall responsibility for the way in which the club is being run and resolving what is going wrong.
For all his shortcomings, getting rid of Lage was only the sensible thing to do if they already had somebody lined up for the job, or if they at least had a clear plan to replace him. It now seems evident that this was not the case, and it feels as though the announcement that they’d decided to keep Davis in place until January was an exercise in face-saving following rejection by two different candidates rather than anything to do with a lack of ‘outstanding’ ones.
Whoever is managing the club in the new year, they might have to make to do with the players they already have, with Forbes reporting that Fosun are heavily in debt and selling off assets in an attempt to reduce them ‘before it defaults on its short-term debt’. The company said last month that its financial position remains ‘sound and healthy’, but shares in Fosun International have fallen almost 50% over the past year, and have reached a 10-year low since their listing in 2007. Will they be able to throw money at a struggling football team in the near future?
Might they be persuaded to sell up if a reasonable offer is made? If that idea was on their radar, they might be advised to get on with it, since the value of the club would fall precipitously with relegation from the Premier League. Even this all comes with the obvious caveat that new owners can be worse than those you already have, but that’s a reflection on modern football club ownership really.
In the modern Premier League, club ownership is essentially like pulling the handle on a billionaire one-armed bandit machine. You can’t control what you’re going to get, and if there’s one thing we can say for certain it’s that with a change of ownership at a club like Wolves, supporters would get no say whatsoever in the identity of the new ones.
But this is conjecture, and Wolves need a plan. Aston Villa removed Steven Gerrard and will be replacing him with Unai Emery from the start of November, while Leeds United have been reported as having been in touch with Sean Dyche – though this remains firmly in the ‘unsubstantiated rumour’ column. Both, either or neither of these plans may end successfully or fail, but at least they look like they may have a plan.
Nottingham Forest beat Liverpool at the weekend and are starting to come together after their unprecedented mass recruitment drive during the summer. Leicester City have better players than their performances had been suggesting until just a few days ago, and with a little blood coming back to their cheeks they hauled themselves impressively out of the relegation places in the space of less than three days.
It doesn’t stop there. Everton have been up and down a little, but look considerably stronger than they did last season. And the other newly-promoted clubs, Fulham and Bournemouth, have become comfortable in mid-table. In other words, it looks for all the world as though it’s going to be very tight in the bottom half of the Premier League this season, and prevaricating over the new manager for more than two months sounds like a plan for when you have more time than Wolves have at their disposal now.
If Davis is to be the new manager, then let him be the new manager. Don’t leave him hanging in managerial purgatory for three months, especially if it feels as though you’ve only done so to give yourself some time and space to try and rack your brains for someone who will take the job. And if that does sound like a bad idea, then get the new manager in now. Give them that World Cup break time to come up with their plan.
Furthermore, Wolves still have four further games to play before that time comes around, including an EFL Cup tie. Why should or would the players take that much notice of a manager that they know won’t be there in a few weeks? Why should they bust a gut if they do happen to be going to the Middle East? Why risk that injury?
But if the owners of Wolves are trying to give the impression that they’re playing a long and contemplative game, they’re not making a very good job of it, because it looks as though there’s no particular plan whatsoever. All Premier League clubs have clout in the managerial marketplace, and Wolves already know that. There’s no need to wait, especially if the first-team squad needs immediate attention, and the evidence of much of this season so far has been that it very much does. If they have a plan, Fosun need to enact it.