Whilst Wolves fans dream of nights in Azerbaijan and Latvia, Ollie Lewis suggests that a place in Europe can wait another season for Nuno and his men...
Wolverhampton Wanderers still have something to play for as the finish line draws closer.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s men have far exceeded expectations as a newly promoted club this season, and, with five Premier League games remaining, can secure a seventh placed finish – a remarkable feat should they do it.
Not only will such a finishing position crown Wolves ‘best of the rest’ over their league counterparts but will also book a place in next season’s Europa League (should City beat Watford in next month’s FA Cup final). a
A reality that would have been scoffed at by fans when the club was languishing in 18th place in the Championship after Fosun’s debut season at the helm.
And, while mid-week fixtures away in Ukraine sound appealing to those long-suffering fans who have had to experience home drubbings to Barnsley, Nottingham Forest and (gulp) the Albion – a European Tour can wait a little longer.
Why? Here’s why…
Strength in depth
Put Wolves’ starting XI in a top six kit and you wouldn’t bat an eyelid.
Raul Jimenez, Joao Moutinho and Diogo Jota are worthy of any top team in this league or abroad, with outstanding performances against the Premier League’s big boys a fitting reminder of the quality Nuno possesses in his ranks.
Look beyond those starting and Wolves can’t quite match that quality on the sidelines.
Just ask the 34,000 fans at Wembley last Sunday (this writer included), where Wolves looked heartbreakingly weaker after the withdrawals of Neves, Jota and Moutinho.
For all his will and might, the human steam train that is Adama Traore can excite and frustrate in equal measure, while it looks as though Helder Costa and Ivan Cavaleiro don’t quite have enough to take us to that next level.
The truth of it is, this Wolves squad isn’t ready for the gruelling fixture schedule a European campaign brings.
Give newcomers time to adjust
With the benefit of a transfer window, Nuno has the opportunity to change that. Joao Felix, Morgan Sanson and Nicolas Otamendi have all been linked throughout the season and would prove quality additions to the squad.
But one thing the game has become short of is time. Any newcomer would be expected to hit the ground running straight away, which isn’t a given considering Nuno’s distinct style of play – just ask Leander Dendoncker.
The argument can be made that, without the guarantee of European football, Wolves will struggle to attract players of the calibre just mentioned.
I don’t subscribe to that way of thinking. Wolves managed to secure the signings of Jota and Neves while in the Championship, as well as the imperious Jimenez despite being a newly promoted club.
Clubs outside the top six are becoming increasingly able to flex their financial muscle.
There is talk that Leicester are poised to shell out £40m for football manager wonderkid Tielemans from Monaco, while Stoke introduced an influx of talent from top European clubs by signing Shaqiri and Bojan a few seasons back.
Bring the players in, mould them to our style of play, and build on what we’ve already got so that the season after next we are able to tackle the gruelling mountain of fixtures that an additional competition brings.
The only way is up
When Burnley secured European qualification last season it was seen as a minor footballing miracle (being somewhat overshadowed by Leicester’s league title win in 2016).
Their subsequent performance this season domestically and in Europe has proved surprising to pundits and fans alike, with a fall from grace landing them in the mire of a relegation battle.
As a result, any conversation involving Europa League football is closely followed by talk of the potential knock-on effect it could have on a side’s domestic pursuits.
But Wolves aren’t Burnley, and this season isn’t a one-off.
With the backing of Fosun and the quality of player at the club, expect this side to be knocking on the door of European football next season – with or without games on the continent.
The point is, whatever happens over the next five games is not make-or-break. The Fosun project was to win promotion to the Premier League within three seasons.
They achieved that aim within two. Time is therefore on their side.
Make no mistake, the foundations are in place for Wolves to build and grow, and the only way is up.
Qualifying for European football within Wolves’ first season in the Premier League would be nothing short of remarkable – and deserved for Nuno’s men.
Fosun’s sights are aimed at far greater than the Europa League, though, such is the magnitude of the Chinese conglomerate’s ambitions.
As such, there is no need to rush. Wolves are here to stay.
A European Tour can wait.