As a Norwich-based footie commentator who supports Wolves, Dan O’Hagan is probably better qualified than anyone out there to mull over Wednesday night’s game. So we were chuffed when he agreed to do this week’s Q&A preview:
With your Old Gold hat on, you still pinching yourself? To use the old Carlsberg analogy, even if they did Championship seasons they couldn’t be much better than the one Wolves are currently enjoying. You agree this now feels like a procession to the Promised Land?
It is a procession, yes, the football is brilliant, the flair and style is like nothing the Championship has ever seen, but I can’t say I’m a huge fan of buying success “off the peg”. It’s landed me some pretty heavy abuse on social media from the hear-no-evil-see-no-evil elements of Wolves’ fanbase, but I’m old-fashioned and prefer to see a team grown organically. We’re Man City or PSG on a smaller scale, and that doesn’t sit right with me, with clubs lower down on the verge of bankruptcy for the want of a few thousand quid. I’m enjoying the football for what it is, but it’s hard to turn a blind eye to the crass vulgarity of the spending.
A commendable take on proceedings Dan, and it’s hard to disagree. Impossible even.
Obviously, the gigantic influx of cash has helped, but you wouldn’t have been the first club to have sizeable wads of cash in the Championship and yet fail to make it count. Did you see this coming in the summer? And could this have happened without the ‘dodgy’ links to Jorge Mendes?
There’s no doubt Mendes, whatever you think of him, is crucial to convincing his stable of players to come to Wolves, and the coach too. Nuno, as a player, was Mendes’ first client. The influx has been of exceptional quality, and I doubt we’d be seeing Ruben Neves and Jota in the Championship without Mendes’ involvement. Whether or not we should be comfortable with one agent influencing a club’s dealings quite so closely is another story, of course.
Hhmm. Not that the “hear-no-evil-see-no-evil elements of Wolves’ fanbase” – as you describe them – give two hoots. And, to be fair, however it arrives, we all crave success for our club. The history books will list trophies and league titles but not their backstory.
Closer to home… John Ruddy and Ryan Bennett. Discuss.
Solid pros, performing like solid pros. Both are thriving in new surroundings. Ruddy came into a difficult situation, stepping in for Carl Ikeme who continues to battle leukaemia, and has quietly gotten on with the business of effectively keeping clean sheets and making big saves at big moments – often after long spells of inaction during games.
At Norwich Ruddy was perhaps under-appreciated, but the move has given him a new energy and he’s been excellent.
As has Ryan Bennett, who has been keeping club captain Danny Batth on the sidelines for the most part. Bennett never seemed to completely win the trust of either Chris Hughton or Alex Neil, being forever in and out of leaky Norwich defences, but at Wolves he’s living up to the potential he showed at Peterborough.
Ruddy’s departure was for financial reasons – and most were sad to see him go – but ironically, Bennett would not have been short of chauffeurs to drive him to Wolverhampton if he’d asked. The big issue with him was his propensity to doze off and drop a clanger or two (especially when in the vicinity of Michael McGovern) but that’s something he’s clearly addressed, and good luck to him.
Anyway, in the way that we’ve gone German, you’ve gone Portuguese – to considerably greater effect is has to be said. Mendes presumably was central to the hiring of Nuno Espirito Santo, and the signings of Helder Costa, Ruben Neves, Diogo Jota, Ivan Cavaleiro and Rafa Mir? (although Mir’s Spanish isn’t he?).
The Portuguese theme is very Mendes-driven, but they’ve settled very well, which is to the club’s immense credit. Nuno especially has already been taken to the hearts of the fans, and tactically his football is remarkable, as we saw at Carrow Road in October, which was the night I came away from the game realising that, in football terms, this team is the real deal.
Same here. After giving us that painful lesson, the gulf between work-in-progress and a ready-made looked massive. And still does to be fair.
What have you made of City’s ups and downs this season? Have you spotted the overall improvement? Your general thoughts on Project Farke/Webber?
It was a bold sea-change by Norwich. This season was always going to be one of adjustment and bedding in, and the board did well to hold their nerve in that difficult run that followed the Arsenal EFL Cup tie. Lesser boards would have panicked and hastily sacked Farke and gone for a quick Allardyce or Pulis-style “fix”, which would have been disastrous.
True. Credit where it’s due I guess. We had a glimpse of a crude form of Pulis-ball on Sunday and no-one wants that (including Ipswich supporters it seems).
Using your Bundesliga connections, list us Zimmermann, Franke, Stiepermann, Hernandez, Srbeny and Leitner 1 to 6 in order of quality (1 being Darren Huckerby, 6 being Andy Hughes). In your view, any outside chance of us signing Leitner?
- Leitner: Absolute quality and with a point to prove and a career to get back on track.
- Zimmermann: Already one of City’s greatest finds.
- Hernande: Decent winger at second-tier level.
- Stiepermann: Solid enough, but I don’t think he’s a 46-games-a-season starting player in the Championship.
- Srbeny: A gamble, given he’s never played above 3. Liga in Germany, but I imagine the financial outlay has been minimal, and he was tearing it up at Paderborn this season.
- Franke: You win some, you lose some. That he’s already back in Germany tells you all you need to know.
As for Leitner’s future, his wages won’t be insignificant, and Augsburg are no mugs. They know what’s under the bonnet and won’t want to give him away for nothing. This is a guy getting good game time in a strong Dortmund team before Julian Weigl emerged as one of Europe’s best midfielders. Right now, I’d say the best City can hope for is a second season’s loan next year, but I suspect his performances for Norwich won’t go unnoticed at a few other Bundesliga clubs. Enjoy him while you can.
Was fearful you were going to say that. My biggest misgiving is how someone with a Champions League type CV will fit in with our new, very modest wage structure.
Looking further ahead… your thoughts on Auntie Delia and Uncle Michael’s steadfast refusal to even contemplate any of that nasty old external funding coming in to darken our doors?
Be careful what you wish for. Delia and Michael run Norwich on a sound footing, and not all mega-bucks investors come guaranteed to work out, nor have the club’s best interests at heart. They’ve gone a certain way with Farke, so back them, and him and see where it leads. Pots of money can change a club’s feel to its fans and not always for the best.
You’re not the first to give us the ‘be careful what you wish for’ line. Andy Jacobs (of talkSPORT fame) said something very similar when I asked the same question.
Finally. Standard. Score prediction for Wednesday night?
Another step down the inevitable road to the Premier League for Wolves. A 2-0 home win.
Thanks to Dan for his time. Much appreciated.