The speed of progress at Wolverhampton Wanderers since Fosun International’s takeover of the club in 2016 has been staggering.
After a year of consolidation, the West Midlands side romped to the Championship title with an impressive 99 points, before securing a seventh-place finish during their first season back in the Premier League.
Incredibly Nuno Espírito Santo’s outfit could go one better this time around – just two points separate his team from fifth-placed Manchester United. That could be enough for UEFA Champions League football, if Manchester City’s ban from the competition is upheld.
That remarkable rise is testament to a club built on smart recruitment. Whether it’s a supreme knowledge of the Portuguese market (and a strong relationship with ‘super agent’ Jorge Mendes) or their policy of recruiting talented youngsters from the English lower leagues and beyond, Wolves are one of the shrewdest operators in the business.
The big question is whether they can maintain that progress and ultimately challenge the Premier League’s elite sides in the battle for silverware.
Wolves operate with one of the smallest first-team squads in the top flight, preferring to supplement their core players with up and coming prospects rather than carrying unnecessary numbers.
As a result, it seems unlikely we’ll see a huge amount of turnover this summer. Reserve right-back Phil Ofosu-Ayeh is the only player out of contract, but a handful of fringe squad members could join them in leaving Molineux.
Leicester City seem unlikely to sign on-loan centre-back Ryan Bennett, but Wolves will be on the lookout for other suitors in order to cash in before his contract expires next year. Portuguese defender Roderick Miranda’s time at the club may also be up, as well as 22-year-old academy graduate Connor Ronan and back-up goalkeeper Will Norris.
Patrick Cutrone remains on loan at Fiorentina until the end of next season when that deal is expected to be made permanent, while Leeds United are obliged to sign Hélder Costa when the current campaign concludes.
But Wolves will be more concerned with losing some of their biggest stars in the summer. Attacking trio Diogo Jota, Raúl Jiménez and Adama Traoré have all caught the eye of teams higher up the pecking order – securing Champions League football would go a long way towards keeping them at the club for next season.
Key areas to strengthen
Santo’s side had played 48 matches in all competitions when the COVID-19 pandemic forced football to hit the pause button, thanks to the demands of playing Europa League football.
Their players have, unsurprisingly, looked tired at times, especially following the busy period of Christmas fixtures. With another European campaign likely to be on the horizon in 2020/21, Wolves will have to bulk up their squad to deal with the rigours of fighting on multiple fronts.
While the current starting XI must rank as one of the Premier League’s best, increased depth will surely be the priority this summer. There is a lack of quality at centre-back beyond Willy Boly, Romain Saïss and Conor Coady, despite Leander Dendoncker being able to drop back and cover. The same is true when it comes to wing-backs – one more addition to complement Matt Doherty, Rúben Vinagre and Jonny is needed in the next window.
If any of Jota, Jiménez and Traoré depart then they will, of course, need replacing. But more firepower up front and out wide would allow for greater rotation even if the trio remain at Molineux.
Wolvers are likely to enter the transfer market in order to replace back-up keeper Norris, with reports suggesting that Aston Villa youngster Matija Šarkić could be set to make the short journey across the Midlands to sign for the Old Gold. The 22-year-old Montenegrin international would be available on a free transfer.
The club may be targeting a big-name centre-back if recent rumours are anything to go by – Paris Saint-Germain’s veteran Brazilian international Thiago Silva and Juventus’ £23million-rated defender Daniele Rugani have both been linked with a move to Wolves.
Hapoel Tel Aviv midfielder Emmanuel Boateng could be signed and then immediately loaned out due to work permit issues, while a move for Sporting CP anchorman João Palhinha would certainly fit in with Wanderers’ recent recruitment strategy.
Up front, Wolves are one of a number of team’s looking at Reading hot prospect Danny Loader, but might be leading the race for Chinese forward Wu Lei from Espanyol. The 28-year-old has impressed in Spain despite the Periquitos’ struggles and would do wonders to boost the club’s profile in China – something that will surely appeal to their owners Fosun International.