Craig Talbot gives a retrospective run through of Steve Morgan’s time at the club, analysing the highs and lows and the legacy he leaves behind.
Rewind to 21st May 2007.
An important day in the history of Wolverhampton Wanderers which saw owner Sir Jack Hayward end his 17 year spell with his boyhood club.
Sir Jack had earned legendary status with the club, after rescuing Wolves from obscurity, and was now selling control to businessman Steve Morgan. Sir Jack received only a token fee of £10 for his boyhood team; on condition Morgan invested £30 million for “the benefit of the club”.
On the pitch, Wolves had just managed to finish fifth in the Championship in manager Mick McCarthy’s first season, before being beaten in the playoff semi-finals by local rivals West Brom. Seeing the massive potential at the club and the lure of the ever increasing wealth of Premier League clubs, Morgan vowed to make Wolves an established top division side in the very near future.
A positive start
In his first season McCarthy had immensely overachieved leading a young Wolves side to the playoffs and was rightly given the chance to carry on his success. Immediately Morgan’s funds were put to use with the 2007/08 season seeing the acquisitions of Matt Jarvis, Kevin Foley, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, David Edwards and George Elokobi, who would all became important faces within the side for years to come.
Following last year’s success and the positive signings, expectations were high on a positive finish, though McCarthy could only manage a 7th place finish but followed up the next by winning the league and achieving promotion to the Promised Land.
Morgan had again opened his checkbook and paid six figure amounts for the likes of Jason Shackell, Richard Stearman, David Jones and Christophe Berra.
Under his ownership, Wolves would be playing in the top division for the first time since 2004. The side which was so often the nearly men of the division had received a dramatic facelift and there was real momentum and belief that the current regime had the tools for unprecedented success.
Premier League arrival
The first two seasons in the Premier League were without a doubt Morgan’s finest period with the club. The chairman splashed the cash and spent millions on the likes of Kevin Doyle, Ronald Zubar, Nenad Milijaš, Stephen Hunt and Steven Fletcher, which in turn saw unforgettable wins over the likes of Chelsea, Man City, Liverpool, Manchester United and rivals Birmingham, Aston Villa and West Brom.
Away from Molineux, the club was taking shape as well. The Redrow chairman brokered deals to create and develop a state of the art academy, indoor arena and training facility in addition to houses across the Wolverhampton area. As well as this, perhaps most importantly, a brand new two-tier Stan Cullis stand was built, increasing the overall capacity of the ground to 31,500. This development was planned as just the first phase of a £40 million transformation of the stadium, with redevelopments of the Steve Bull and Jack Harris stands taking Molineux to the highest capacity ground in the Midlands.
Following Wolves dramatic survival on the last day against Blackburn in 2011, Morgan was given a hero’s welcome and proudly spoke on the pitch about how struggles were now in the past and the club was heading towards a bright future. Little did he or any of us know that his time had already peaked. It would be the beginning of the end and the last time fans would ever respond to him so well.
Despite just surviving at the end of the previous season, little cash was invested to make improvements to the team. In fact, despite teetering on the relegation zone come the January transfer window, just one purchase was made in the winter, a mere £200,000 on Icelandic midfielder Eggert Jónsson.
Morgan only furthered any negativity when he verbally attacked the team in the dressing room following a 3-0 loss to his boyhood club Liverpool. The move seriously undermined McCarthy’s position and demonstrated a complete lack of understanding from the chairman to the boundaries a football chairman has when it comes to day to day management.
The incident was a catalyst for the eventual sacking of McCarthy following a 5-1 loss to rivals West Brom. Despite the team’s current fortunes, the sacking of McCarthy was poorly timed and was clearly a panic reaction to the defeat.
Morgan and Jez Moxey stuttered and stalled to find a replacement and proved to everyone they had no plan for life after McCarthy. Experienced managers were linked but after a two week search, the job landed at the feet of the unfortunate Terry Connor.
Connor was a laughable choice and did little to showcase Morgan and Moxeys understanding of the game and their ability to negotiate with high tier managers.
Unsurprisingly Connor could do little to steer Wolves away from relegation and the team now prepared for life in the championship.
On the suggestion of his football friend Jan Molby, Morgan appointed Norwegian Stale Solbakken to guide Wolves back to the Premier League. It was a brave decision by Morgan, who was aiming for a move away from the “put a shift in” style that McCarthy brought with him and instead wanted a fast, free flowing style that a lot of fans were also craving for.
However Solbakken lasted only eight months as manager and was sacked after crashing out to Luton Town in the FA cup, the first match that Morgan had attended in some time.
After the drawn out process to appoint McCarthy’s successor, Morgan acted quickly this time around and appointed Doncaster Rovers manager Dean Saunders as Solbakken’s replacement. It was another baffling decision that led to the incredible feat of a second relegation in two years.
Morgan plans have unravelled. The once tight ship was sinking and it appeared those at top had lost the plot.
The new stand and expansion plans were ridiculously oversized for League One. Plans to expand were put on hold and Morgan wisely took a step back from any Wolves related media activity.
His passion for the club had wavered and he only took a backseat as Kenny Jackett and another young, hungry group of players strolled to a convincing win of the League One title.
With Wolves now back in the league they started in on Morgan’s arrival, he was once again in the public eyes for the wrong reasons. Following a loss to Bournemouth in 2014 he outrageously took to the pitch to abuse the referee which resulted in an embarrassing charge from the FA. The moment harked back to his outburst following the loss to Liverpool two years ago, and was not the final time a heated confrontation involving Morgan made the headlines.
Just under a year later, following a 1-1 draw with Preston in 2015, Steve Morgan was involved in a heated debate with supporters regarding his stance with club and he almost immediately put his 100 per cent shareholding up for sale and officially resigned as chairman.
It was yet another surprising move by Morgan, who could have easily stayed away from the spotlight but instead understood when it was time to step aside and let someone else take a shot.
Looking back it is amazing how quickly it all went downhill for Steve Morgan. Once Mick McCarthy was sacked and the real footballing decisions needed to be made, the club went from one crisis to the next.
His rash decisions, many in the heat of the moment, left Wolves in some sorry states.
But retrospectively, despite some devastating low points, Morgan’s time in charge should be classed as a success.
Perhaps not on the basis of his football decision making, but his legacy at the club will be present throughout generations at the club and city, with a state of the art academy, redeveloped Stan Culis stand and youth zone project helping local youngsters learn real life skills.
He presided over the most successful time in many fans lives and created a platform for growth and sustainability for years to come.
Would Fosun Group have decided to purchase the club if not for the solid financial footing and Premier League standard infrastructure Morgan leaves behind?
His tenure proved much more fruitful than meets the eye.