Change At The Top A Cue For Fresh Hope
Simon Walkeden looks ahead to the forthcoming Premier League season and asks whether youth will start to have a bigger say at Molineux….
Will a new head coach herald a change in how Wolves try to develop their own talent?
Will Morgan Gibbs-White, for example, now prosper under Bruno Lage or will the pursuit of a return to the Premier League’s higher reaches keep the spotlight on the foreign market and make 2021-22 another season of frustration for him?
It wasn’t only when the club were at their peak in the 1950s that they were famed for sending home-grown players into the first-team fray.
Long after Billy Wright, Ron Flowers, Roy Swinbourne and Co formed the core of the team that dominated English football, Wolves were masters in grooming their own stars of the future.
They reached FA Youth Cup finals in the 1960s and 1970s – not just in Molineux’s halcyon period – and, coming much more up to date, major international stars such as Robbie Keane, Joleon Lescott and Wayne Hennessey have all been developed rather than bought in.
However, due to the influx of Portuguese talent during the Nuno and Jorge Mendes era, the idea of ushering promising youngsters into the senior line-up from within tended to become a secondary priority.
Fosun did it their way and no-one could deny that their methods worked. They brought the success that had proved elusive to Wolves for countless years, with promotion as champions in 2017-18 being followed by two seventh-place top-flight finishes, an FA Cup semi-final appearance and a memorable marathon run in Europe.
With the arrival of Neves, Boly, Jota and Bonatini, though, came fewer opportunities for the next generation.
Gibbs-White is a classic example of those young hopefuls to have been squeezed out. He did make 26 appearances in the Premier League in 2018-19 and was recalled to the starting line-up last season after a loan spell at Swansea. But the perception is that he is a talent unfulfilled.
There are other fledglings that could be primed for a first-team chance in the future, although both Ryan Giles and Dion Sanderson are spending another campaign away from Molineux.
Giles has proved himself in struggling teams in League One and the Championship by thriving with Coventry and Rotherham. He has now been loaned to Cardiff, who are backed in the Championship betting odds at 9/2 to win promotion to the Premier League.
And playing a significant role in having Mick McCarthy’s Bluebirds challenging for the top flight could show Lage and his staff that Giles is ready to make the step up at Molineux.
Sanderson has spent the last two seasons on loan at Cardiff and Sunderland, being deployed as a right-back in South Wales, and proved that he was more than capable of offering an attacking outlet as well as remaining strong at the back.
Under Lee Johnson at the Stadium of Light, he was thrust into the centre of the defence and was impressive. A back injury ended his season prematurely and it was no coincidence that his absence resulted in a decline in Sunderland’s form that cost them a place in the Championship.
The 21-year-old now has the chance to develop further at Birmingham in the second tier, where a solid campaign could see him pressing hard for the first team at Wolves some time next year.
A number of Premier League teams were said to be interested in him and it’s a position that Wolves could look to rising stars to fill in future now doubts exist over the Molineux tenure of Romain Saiss and Boly’s injury record.
Wolves’ use of their nursery system allowed them to compete for honours at the peak of their powers, so will the current hierarchy decide they can look close to home for players of pedigree now a new managerial reign has been rung in?