Player Zone: Raul Jimenez is a Wolves legend in the making

Players who thrive in teams outside of the top-six seldom escape the rumour mill which spins mechanically to print a host of stories linking them with more coveted clubs. One of the outstanding midfield anchors in the Premier League this season, Idrissa Gueye, was heavily linked with a move to Paris Saint Germain in January and Manchester City and Arsenal were also reported to be interested.

A move failed to materialise, but the likes of Riyad Mahrez, Luke Shaw, Ross Barkley and Moussa Sissoko have all taken the logical step up in pursuit of silverware, prestige, Champions League football and, naturally, a salary increase.

In footballing terms this is the circle of life. By that logic, a summer transfer to one of Europe’s top clubs is surely beckoning for Raul Jimenez, who has scored more goals than any other player outside of the top-six barring Gylfi Sigurdsson.

His return of 11 goals and six assists in the league represents the highest number of goal contributions by any player outside of the top-six in the division, and that total remains one higher than Son Heung-min’s tally prior to this weekend, a player who has been mentioned as a player of the year candidate.

Statistical returns of this nature do not go unnoticed and top clubs will be analysing Jimenez’s progress from afar with eagle-eyed intrigue. But the case for Jimenez to take what has been established as the logical step forward in his career is not as compelling as one might assume.

The Mexico international has tried his hand at one of Europe’s top clubs before, landing in Madrid for his first spell in Europe with Atletico, a club with centre-forward predecessors Diego Costa, Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero remaining firmly embedded into the consciousness of expectant supporters.

Jimenez buckled under the weight of the task, scoring just one goal in 28 appearances before being sold to Benfica a year later. Portugal provided a more forgiving environment for the powerful forward to operate in and, while his return of 18 goals from 80 Liga Nos appearances points towards another disappointing spell, it’s particularly pertinent to note that just 20 of those appearances were starts.

It’s fair to assume that, given his rich history at two prestigious European clubs who both expect to qualify for the Champions League, his move to Molineux at the beginning of the season was designed with a regular starting berth at the forefront of his decision. Quotes from Wolves’ top goalscorer prior to the World Cup also substantiate that assumption, per ESPN.

For the first time since moving to Europe Jimenez has established himself as a first-team regular, if not an indispensable starter. However, there is, as Wolves fans are acutely aware, an elephant in the room: their star-striker is only contracted to a season-long loan.

According to Express and Star, Wolves can exercise a £30million option-to-buy clause in the summer to make his move permanent, but there is nothing to stop a rival bidder from bettering that figure and offering more lucrative terms to the 27-year-old. A few years ago, we saw a similar situation with Toby Alderweireld – Atletico essentially reneged on their agreement with Southampton before selling him to Tottenham.

What’s your club’s best chant? Check out the video below for a Wolves epic that surely has to be one of the best in English football…

But Jimenez will know better than anyone that sometimes strikers are better off playing a starring role in a low-budget film rather than a supporting role in a blockbuster Oscar-contender. The thing is, though, Wolves are approaching a cinematic golden era in their recent history and Jimenez could yet command the spotlight in a Leicester City-esque story of underdog achievement.

Wolves are in the midst of a watershed moment in their history which has provided unprecedented levels of enthusiasm and expectation amongst the supporters, and any player who sits at the forefront of the revolution, such as Jimenez, will have a special place in the hearts of the fan base when they look back on this period with fond memories in five years’ time.

The foundations are in place for one of the surprise packages of the season to play his way into Wolves folklore and challenge for legendary status.