So long, Julen. It really was long as well. The goodbye at least. Like when you start trying to leave a party, but everybody keeps roping you back in for another drink. Except they were all alcohol-free all along, duped into thinking the enjoyment would continue long into the night, despite your own reservations about how much fun there really was to be had. And despite all of that, it remains to be seen if you were right.
There may be some amongst us who enjoy the playing out of politics within football clubs. Personally I have little time for it, but it would be remiss to ignore it’s importance within the sport. This summer has felt akin to two opposing parties approaching an election, with the debate around the club’s direction played out in the public eye. You have the incumbent Jeff Shi, leader of the more conservative side of things, face of the all-consuming ownership group and then you have Leader of the Opposition, Julen Lopetegui, the more liberal, charismatic individual promising us we’re on our way to the Pearly Gates if he gets what he wants. It’s a coalition that had the writing on the wall.
In the midst of all this, the constituents feel like an afterthought. A summer of self-preservation on the part of both camps has led to conjecture, misinformation and to top it all off a price rise to boot. The annual ‘PMQs’ in the form of Ask Wolves were ditched this year which just added to the sense of mystery around the club currently and once again fans (and players to an extent) are left to the pick up the pieces on the eve of a season which promised much, especially in the wake of some interesting pre-season performances. There’s now an understanding a couple of those games were played under a manager who had already checked out.
If that’s the case, then this group is made of something. If they can produce under what is ultimately a mess of a pre-season, then we have hope. It’s a team with a point to prove, with exuberance, without any real standout individuals who we are beholden to in order to make things work on the pitch. Wedded to the fact much of pre-season has been spent essentially doing down their abilities, if we have a manager who is A) buying into the plan and B) able to keep up the feel-good factor within the playing staff, then some of the parts of the puzzle are still there for this to work. As appears to be the case, Gary O’Neil is that man and there are still many question marks over what he stands for as a manager given the circumstances he took the Bournemouth job under and ultimately succeeded in.
It’s worth considering where the club goes from here strategically. Jeff Shi was perhaps forced to pen an open letter to fans explaining the current scenario around the club’s current transfer policy, but the events that have led us into this position cannot be repeated. In terms of a strike rate, Fosun have overseen one truly successful managerial appointment over the course of a tenure which has seen seven different people take the hot seat if you include Steve Davis’ spell as caretaker. There has to be a root and branch review of the operation at the top of the club. Matt Hobbs’ appointment was a step in the right direction but it clearly wasn’t enough. Jeff Shi’s position is now untenable based on his dealings with Lopetegui and how things have transpired. Another mistake of such proportions will only spell a further downward trajectory.
Profiling of managers is now probably an even more important task than profiling of players. The identity of the club on the pitch is so clouded, that we’re left rummaging for solutions as opposed to having them lined up. The investment in Lopetegui may have been sound on the face of it, given how he pulled us away from relegation, but there had to have been an understanding that his protestations in previous jobs would come round at some point. He’s not a man without history in this regard. Much of the narrative has now become about Wolves appointing a ‘Yes Man’, but a ‘No Man’ is just as damaging, especially one as self-indulgent as Lopetegui has proven to be.
No football manager is a nodding dog, it’s too competitive a business for anyone to get to the top level by simply existing and towing party lines. But what a Wolves type of manager looks like, what style of football we expect them to play and what conditions they are expected to work under have to be the starting point for any conversation with any potential fit going forward.
The club has made a royal mess of pre-season and it’s that foolhardy sense of hope that all football fans harbour before a ball is kicked that will keep us from signing the death notice just yet. But the real quiz will be starting on Monday at 8pm. God speed to whoever needs it at that point.