After six years, which seems a lot longer than it actually is, Wolves have made it back to the promised land writes David Evans.
We were all in raptures on a unusally sunny Saturday evening for recent weeks as an unlikely Brentford equaliser at Craven Cottage sealed Wolves ascendancy to above.
Here’s some honesty.
I was pessimistic about this side following defeats to Fulham and Villa.
It just felt like I could see what was going to happen. It was all just a bit too good to be true.
I should have had more faith in this team.
I’ve gladly suffered the retorts about this at Fancast HQ since promotion was basically going to happen.
However, on that Saturday evening, the sense of relief and euphoria was hard to explain.
I think it is hard to describe what a promotion feels like to non-footballing fan.
Feeling ecstatic about a group of men doing a job different to you is odd when you put it into that context.
Yet I can’t get the smile off my face. Reminiscing about games gone by and the future to come.
How did Wolves win promotion at the fifth time of asking? Let me explain.
The path we started on
Saturday was the day. The day a long journey came to an end.
It was a journey that actually started with Stale Solbakken, and since then Wolves have had to go down a very dark rabbit hole before they could see wonderland.
The road to the Premier League got into gear with Kenny Jackett.
The club was down and out after their relegation to League One. Kenny re-booted the club, changed their how the club worked, connected fans and players closer than ever and put the tanker back on course.
Kenny nearly made it back to back promotions the following season, but following a playoff place near miss the season after, just knew that Kenny was never going to fulfill that same feat again.
It is a journey evolved by Nuno and co, but one where the foundations were laid by Kenny and the gang.
A New Hope
The end of this journey came from going back to the drawing board.
Fosun who purchased Wolves late into the 2016/17 start of the season were rushed into putting things together after now Spain manager, Julen Lopetagui, apparently dropped out of the race to become Wolves head coach (Wolves over Spain, really?)
The season became distorted, with a group of players ranging from a variety of talents playing to systems which didn’t compliment them.
Fosun did have a ‘Plan A’, but they needed to find that again.
Goodbye Paul Lambert. Hello Nuno Espirito Santo.
With an continental experienced head coach and a new back room team at the helm, with a summer ahead of them, Wolves recruited early, utilised Jorge Mendes little black book and brought together side ready to begin the hunt.
Looking at the the bigger picture, Fosun had taken a risk.
They brought in a manager with no Championship or English football experience, as well as his back room staff.
A whole new set of players with mostly no experience of English football, let alone the ‘physicality’ of the Championship.
Then to mix these players with members of the current regime and hope they gel.
Throw in the rigorous season and those ‘winter months’, history was going to repeat itself, right?
Nuno Espirito Santo is only the 7th non-British manager to be promoted to the Premier League.
He did this on the first time of asking, playing attractive, entertaining and progressive football, improving each and everyone of his squad members. All with four games to go.
Not bad, eh?
It can’t be denied that Wolves financial situation and connected to Mendes has helped.
However, it is the coaches role to use those resources effectively to complete the job in hand.
The narrative from the media during the season has been mixed.
There has been sprinklings of positivity about how Wolves have played on the pitch, but the focus has been more on the potential ethical approach off it.
What we should see more of over the next few weeks is how Nuno has created a efficiently and effective unit.
He has taken Conor Coady and turned him into a defensive maestro. Created a inter-woven attacking hive of Cavalerio, Costa and Jota.
He’s elevated the performance of Ruben Neves against the pressure of his price tag, utilised the championship winning experience of Ryan Bennett and John Ruddy and turned Matt Doherty and Barry Douglas into secret weapons.
He’s perfectly mixed old and new guards at Wolves whilst improving every single player.
It”s been an evolution that Nuno has carried out, not a revolution.
It ain’t just the gaffer
Success for this promotion doesn’t just lie with the head coach.
Wolves medical history has been well, sketchy, in the past. Players would repeatedly become injured and take an age to recover.
A key to this season has been Wolves miraculous minor injury list.
Wolves have gone through the majority of the season without players with long term injuries.
Through this Wolves have been able to keep a consistent starting eleven whilst rotating players when needed, which has helped to prevent burnouts and given time for players to refresh.
Recruitment has also been on point.
Again, the Mendes connection has helped, but recruitment out of this circle has been just as impressive.
Barry Douglas, a Scottish traveller in eastern Europe was unheard of but has been the best assistant as any Doctor Who companion seen (sorry, cheap comparison).
Ryan Bennett was the first in the door before Nuno even came in. We doubted whether he would even fit into his continental philosophy.
Instead he became a stalwart of the defence. His experience at this level has been underestimated and he may go down as was of the most shrewd purchases of the summer.
John Ruddy has come in under difficult circumstances, and some of his performances have been questioned, but you can’t argue with a goalkeeper who has kept more clean sheets than anyone else in all four leagues, and sits in the EFL Team of the Season.
Not bad for one of the most critised players in the side this season.
Wolves have spent big up the field, but the heart of this side combined 6 man defence costs just over £4m.
Overall, this side hasn’t been bought by wealth, it’s been carefully picked and moulded.
Players have not been bought in by their name or their status, they have been chosen because they perfectly fit into a system, rather than being wedged into it.
Moments in Time
When it’s going your way in football, it really does.
Wolves have earned some brilliant results this season, but luck has also gone their way.
A missed and a saved penalty in the last two minutes of a games against 2nd place anyone?
When you look back at the defining games of this season, these results shaped how Wolves earned their promotion for different reasons.
A win against Aston Villa at Molineux In October announced Wolves on centre court.
A defeat to QPR in October at Loftus Road was a timely wake up call.
An last minute end of year win away to Bristol City showed their determination.
A hell of a defeat to Aston Villa in March gave them a slap across the face.
A first win in nearly 70 years away to Middlesborough on Good Friday with nine men showed how Wolves had steel amongst the flair.
Wolves have been defined by their defeats as well as their wins.
A season to remember
We’ve got a very exciting summer to come.
Wolves enter the Premier League as a different entity compared to previous promotions.
This time Wolves have the financial, structural and tactical ability to compete at a higher level from the get go.
Focus will be on Mendes, but that would be an insult to this side.
This team on the pitch have proven that they deserve to be among the elite over the last 10 months and hopefully, as champions.
They will enter the motherland brimming with confidence and a momentum which should carry them into the new season.
Watch out Premier League. The pack is back, and they’re hungrier than ever.