For the first summer since 2006, Wolves fans don’t know what to expect. That summer, Glenn Hoddle cowardly walked out of the club as England were being defeated by Portugal in the World Cup quarter finals, followed by a host of first team players including future England international Joleon Lescott.
Yet, the 2006/07 season which followed was a qualified success. A new, no-nonsense manager was appointed and Mick McCarthy inspired a young team to a fifth place finish in the Championship, only to have their playoff dreams shattered by local rivals West Bromwich Albion.
Fast-forward six years and back in the Championship, Jez Moxey was again searching for a new manager. This time, Wolves appointed the first non-British born manager in the club’s history. Enter the Norwegian Ståle Solbakken. With Solbakken announced before the end of the 2011/12 campaign, there was a feeling of optimism surrounding the club. Typically following a relegation, a new broom was required to brush away the deadwood in the squad.
Last week, the new squad numbers were released; if anything demonstrated the way that McCarthy failed to move the squad forward it’s that the only change in the numbers 1-11 from Wolves’ last season in the Championship was the departure of Neill Collins and addition of Steven Fletcher.
Yet, in the past week that optimism has disappeared. Most of the deadwood are still at the club; unsurprisingly the only players that are attracting interest are those who we want to keep. The undoubted star of the past 18 months was Steven Fletcher. Since Kevin Doyle was injured at the tail end of the 2010/11 season, Fletcher has scored 17 goals in 32 starts. If anyone out there is wondering why Sunderland are preparing to pay £12 million plus, the answer should be in that statistic. Yet Fletch has handed in a transfer request – ‘his head is gone.’
If that wasn’t bad enough, just a couple of days earlier Michael Kightly was sold to local(ish) rivals Stoke City. Kightly, signed from Grays Athletic for just £25,000, had just 12 months left on his contract and his refusal to sign an extension forced the club’s hand. This sale has left the fans with a bitter taste in their mouth. Kightly, such an important part of the team who won the Championship in 2008/09 started just 18 Premier League matches in three seasons as a series of injuries left him unavailable. There was a feeling he owed the club who had paid his wages and indeed gave him a new contract during this period.
Then, at the time of writing, it is reported that a £9 million bid from West Ham has been rejected for Matt Jarvis. Jarvis, who won an England cap 18 months ago, struggled with this new found attention as opposition defences realised he was Wolves’ primary creator last season. Nevertheless, despite having a poor season by his standards, he still at times was excellent. I will never forget the way he picked Chris Smalling apart time and time again at Old Trafford last season. While the final score was a 4-1 battering, it was of no surprise that a Jarvis cross and Fletcher header led to the consolation.
This is the big problem that Wolves’ management are facing; just a week to go until the start of the season and the futures of the best two attacking players are up in the air. Crucially, both have three and four years remaining on their contract respectively, but should they leave, prices of replacements will suddenly rise as clubs discover Solbakken has £20 million in his back pocket.
Three players have already arrived, the most exciting being Icelandic international Björn Sigurðarson, cousin of former Wolves and Aston Villa midfielder Joey Guðjónsson. Sigurðarson is a quick and powerful forward, who arrives at the club having scored 11 goals in 13 games during the first half of Lillestrøm’s season in Norway. Also arriving are former West Ham forward Frank Nouble (seven career goals in 62 games – let’s hope he’s a late bloomer) and Malian midfielder Tongo Doumbia. Doumbia especially has already impressed in friendlies, and arrives on a 12 month loan from Rennes with a big reputation, not least due to the fact he had been initially expected to join Arsenal or West Bromwich Albion.
I don’t think any Wolves fan really knows what to expect from this coming season; the bookies have the club as third favourites for promotion, but for those with a wicked side, the 40-1 on relegation may be tempting. Even if we move into September with Fletcher and Jarvis in the Premier League, there is still a nucleus of players who should be good enough to stand firm in the Championship. The likes of Kevin Doyle, Dorus De Vries or Wayne Hennessey, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Jamie O’Hara and Roger Johnson, in theory at least, should be good enough to provide a run at the playoffs.
Perhaps crucially, the morale of the remaining players appears to be good, with plenty of ‘banter’ flying back and forth over their favoured mode of communication, Twitter. As ever, a solid start is vital, yet there is a growing feeling that the season will not start properly until the transfer window slams shut on September 1st.
Written by Tom Bason, We Are Going Up’s Wolverhampton Wanderers blogger
Tom tweets at @toomb306