For a club with a rich history (Football League founder member, integral in the creation of the European Cup, the only club to have won every domestic trophy (all four divisions, FA Cup, League Cup and Football League Trophy)), being back in the Championship seems about right for Wolves. After all, since Sky invented football back in 1992, Wolves have spent 17 seasons in England’s second tier.
For many of those years, promotion to the Premier League was the aim, and that is something that the club has their eye on this year. After promotion was the club were bullish in stating its aim for a double promotion, with Southampton’s rise perhaps the model to be followed. But, since then, it’s possible these aims have been tempered slightly, with boss Kenny Jackett this week saying that while Wolves want to be back in the top flight, it is not going to be easy.
And perhaps this has been demonstrated by the lack of movement in the transfer market so far. Just two players have been added to the first team squad, with only Reading having had less inbound movement this summer. The highly rated Tommy Rowe has been signed on a free from Peterborough, with indications being that he is intending to add a little bite to the midfield. And after the disastrous bout of signings from foreign clubs under Ståle Solbakken, the club has finally dipped its toe into continental waters again, with Dutch under-21 winger Rajiv van La Parra signing from Heerenveen, brining Wolves’ spending over the summer to zero.
All indications are that Jackett is going to keep faith in the side that won League One, with the five included in the League One Team of the Year last year more than deserving their chance. Of those five, Sam Ricketts is the club captain and has added a sense of professionalism to the team, Danny Batth has excelled at League One level and has now been promoted twice, and while Bakary Sako and Carl Ikeme were part of the team to be relegated from Championship, neither were among the problems.
The final member of the Team of the Year, who swept the board at the club awards and was nominated for League One Player of the Year, is ironically one of the problems that the club potentially has. I’m not sure whether it’s because I’ve only seen him against League One opposition, but Kevin McDonald could be the best midfielder the club has had since the days of Colin Cameron, Paul Ince and Alex Rae. He controls games with an ease unseen in recent years, and is without doubt the heartbeat of the side.
So where is the issue? Well since Boxing Day last year, McDonald has missed just three minutes of football. While, hopefully, this hints at his resistance to injury, it also highlights just how important he is to the club. Even during our ‘March Madness’, when we played nine games in 29 days, McDonald played every minute. The question is, what can we do when he inevitably has to miss a game? Our other midfield options are new boy Rowe, youngsters Lee Evans and Jack Price and the energetic Dave Edwards, with question marks over all of them. I’ve no issue with Evans and/or Price in midfield with McDonald, but are they ready to play an extended period together?
Are there other areas that need to be strengthened? Well, I bet that if you asked any football fan in the country, they’d be able to identify three areas of the team that need adding to and Wolves are no different. Central defence has been identified through bids for new Hull City signing Harry Maguire, while questions remain over last season’s big signing, striker Leon Clarke. While Nouha Dicko was an undoubted success, scoring a goal every 112 minutes, Clarke scored just once in his 13 games.
Unfortunately, the club has failed to get rid of much of the deadwood, with Roger Johnson, Jamie O’Hara, Kevin Doyle, Björn Sigurðarson, Stephen Ward, Tongo Doumbia, Georg Margreitter and Razak Boukari (who arrived with transfer fees totaling over £20m) all players denied squad numbers. It is more than likely that these need to be shipped out before real money can be spent bringing new talent in. But it is worth remembering that Jackett is prepared to play the long game, with Sam Ricketts being the only new signing in place for the opening day of last season. While this is obviously not an ideal situation, Jackett was able to integrate five new players into the starting XI during the course of last season without any real issues.
So what will happen this season? The bookmakers don’t seem to know, having Wolves as outside bets for both relegation and promotion. Given the sterling work Kenny Jackett has done in rebuilding the club, it surely won’t be as disastrous as our previous time in this division. While there has been talk of aiming for promotion, I personally doubt we’ll be the first club (I assume) to follow two successive relegations with two promotions. Our starting XI is decent, but at the moment we don’t have the squad depth necessary for a sustained promotion push.
Written by Tom Bason, We Are Going Up’s Wolverhampton Wanderers blogger
Tom tweets at @toomb306