A Star Who Got Away
How Wolves Missed Out On Prized Italian
Mel Eves has revealed how his relationship with Richie Barker helped Albion – and not Wolves – benefit more than two decades ago from the free-transfer signing of one of the brightest young stars in Italian football.
Eves was among the 1970s and 1980s Molineux stalwarts saddened by the news a few days ago that John Barnwell’s trusty assistant had passed away.
And a story about Enzo Maresca in a new book now seems both topical and, as far as Wolves supporters are concerned, rather galling.
In it, Eves is quoted at length as saying it was his favourable links with Barker and Cyrille Regis that prompted him, as one of Maresca’s British agents in 1998, to offer him to those in power at The Hawthorns.
“Wolves were out of the question,” wrote author Chris Lepkowski. “Their manager Mark McGhee had an almost stoic, stubborn loyalty to his own agent friends and their players. He was neither willing nor interested in those belonging to other agents.”
And Lepkowski was told by Eves: “Wolves wasn’t an option because we couldn’t talk to them but West Brom and Blues were also second tier.
“We needed Enzo to be local as his English wasn’t great. Richie Barker was at Albion as a scout and had been my Wolves no 2 when we won the League Cup under John Barnwell. And, of course, there was Cyrille, so I already had connections there.
“The process was straightforward. Richie was a bit sceptical at first, saying: ‘We’ve seen this kind of player before’… but there was no cost to Albion. It was a no-brainer for them to look at him and they did.”
The look was very brief. The teenage wonder boy was not long into his first training session when Eves received a call from Albion to his Cannock office, urging him: “Mel, get yourself down here.”
Chief executive John Wile was watching the session as well as manager Denis Smith and the immediate message was: “We have got to sign this lad.”
The original plan had been for Maresca to spend a week with Albion and then a week with Villa but that was hastily scrapped as the Baggies instead agreed to sign the player on a Bosman free from Cagliari.
After 52 appearances and five goals, the player was sold to Juventus for £4.3m the following year – a windfall that helped transform Albion from second-tier also-rans to regular promotion challengers.
His later clubs included Fiorentina, Sampdoria, Sevilla, Malaga and Olympiakos and he played frequently for all of Italy’s age-group teams without winning a full cap.
We at Wolves Heroes played a part in reuniting Maresca and Eves when West Ham played at Molineux two seasons ago.
All the quotes in this article are taken from a book for Albion fans, called From Buzaglo To Balis, that came out in August.