Wolves currently sit dangerously close to the relegation zone, separated from Hull City by the width of a hairline. Well, goal difference to be exact. With just 19 points from 21 games, they are only one point better off than their last Premier League season – one which ultimately resulted in failure. The facts suggest that not much has changed and few lessons have been learned in the six years that have elapsed since then. Some say you can’t argue with facts, but I’m not so sure.
While the league table implies that Wolves are not much better off, taking a closer look uncovers the club’s vastly different philosophy of recruiting ‘young and hungry’ players. The opening game of the 2003/04 season saw Wolves field a side with an average age of 29. For this season’s curtain opener Molineux was represented by a side with an average age of 24. Of course, filling a squad with less experience has its own disadvantages, it is certainly not fool proof, but it does give a club more long term stability.
The aim to establish themselves among English football’s elite is still the same but the current strategy is a safer option and goes against the ethos of the Sir Jack Hayward era when much stock was placed upon the purchase of experienced pros on high wages. When relegation followed in 2004 many of these players were starting to fade. With a jaded squad and little resale value much of Dave Jones’ good work began to unravel rather quickly.
It wasn’t until 2006, when Mick McCarthy took over the managerial reins that the Wanderers began their search for younger and fresher talent. The arrival of Steve Morgan a year later further helped the cause and the result was a first league title in 20 years. The harsh environment of the Premier League has highlighted weaknesses in the Old Gold squad, and some will prove not quite good enough. But most of the existing Wolves squad are getting better; their careers are on an upward curve.
Players such as Wayne Hennessey, Richard Stearman, Christophe Berra, Michael Kightly, Kevin Foley, Andy Keogh, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Sam Vokes are all under the age of 25 and were instrumental in helping Wolves to promotion. The big summer signing of Kevin Doyle was an excellent bit of business and proves that Wolves are prepared to spend decent money on the right player. Nenad Milijas has added class and shows McCarthy is capable of scouring the European leagues for that extra bit of quality.
There seems to be far more thought and planning about the Wolves’ hierarchy than there was six years ago. The future is not gambled on for short term gain. It is because of this that in the latest Deloitte financial review Wolves were just one of three clubs (Birmingham and Scunthorpe were the others) in the top two divisions running free of debt. This sensible outlook means that although relegation this season would be a major blow it would not be the disaster that it is for so many clubs and would not call for a complete overhaul similar to the one needed in 2004.
Wolves may not have Premier League experience in abundance or billions of sterling rattling around in the bank, but they do have plenty of wise heads at boardroom and management level along with large quantities of potential on the pitch. Lessons have definitely been learned since their last Premier League debacle. Long term thinking is now the order of the day at Molineux.