“Nuno was a strange guy. When he was more angry, more upset, more crazy, his team would win more. When he was smiling, his teams didn’t win. In the last season, he was more distant. He would just nod and smile when you spoke to him. In the best seasons, I fought with Nuno a lot. He has to be a coach who is angry.”
This insight comes from the lips of Jeff Shi but dozens and dozens and dozens of others are available in the 400-plus pages of a new book Wolves fans really don’t want to be missing.
Johnny Phillips and Paul Berry are friends to all who know them in the Molineux community and, importantly, have always commanded huge respect and trust inside the dressing room and boardroom.
That’s why they have been able to scratch so far beneath the surface in coming up with a terrific publication to chart the club’s biggest achievements of the 21st century – and one or two of their major embarrassments along the way.
So what’s the plot for Revolution of Wolves? The duo decided to write about three promotions to the Premier League under three owners and three managers/head coaches, using the 20th anniversary of the first of them as the catalyst for doing so now.
The best ideas are often said to be the more simple ones and there is nothing complicated about the structure of this considerable piece of work. But they have carried it off brilliantly.
You suspect the club, who are stocking the finished product, have helped in no small way, too, but the authors’ reputations have opened doors that would have remained closed to others. They went to Carden Park to interview Steve Morgan and Jez Mozey, spent quality time with Conor Coady at home on Merseyside and the Sky Sports half of the team travelled to Portugal to meet Nuno’s assistant, Rui Silva.
Throw in a visit to Paul Ince’s office while he was in charge of Reading and it’s clear they put in the hard yards needed to draft an overview of this magnitude.
I counted approaching four full teams of players quoted, with managers and other behind-the-scenes figures for each. Not just the more predictable ones either – they also reached out to Oleg Luzhny, Isaac Okoronkwo, Harry Burgoyne, Roger Johnson and Jack Price, for example.
The cocktail is wonderful and the revelations endless. Let’s not forget that Wolves, as ‘Toaster’ reminded us with his iconic banner at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, had spent rather a long time out of the top flight at the time this story starts. Or as Nathan Blake puts it in print: “Wolves were always a team who spent money but never did anything. They were a club that promised a lot but never delivered.”
Paul Butler hammered the point home even more, saying of his arrival on loan late in 2000: “The players already there were on a joy-ride. They were getting paid big money but didn’t want to do the work.” Candid tone set!
Ince and Alex Rae were two of the other big-hitters and powerful voices in a squad who ended the long wait for a Premier League place and the section detailing how they became big mates and dug-out colleagues despite their previous loathing of each other at other clubs demonstrates the tricks football can play.
Rae’s celebratory jig after scoring in the play-off semi-final win at Reading in 2003 was aimed at a home fan who had been abusing the skipper since the pre-match warm-up. “The guy is sat there with his head in his hands,” the Scot reveals of his late strike. “That was the highlight of the whole promotion run!”
Togetherness was a big part of that squad. Seven of them were in Matt Murray’s room until after midnight in Cardiff because the giant keeper felt his nerves needed calming before the big game against Sheffield United.
Punch-ups and brawls were apparently another part of Molineux life. Blake has a reflective say on the Battle of Burnden Park from the Mark McGhee era and there is analysis of a real humdinger in the tunnel against Nottingham Forest. Less well-known are the spat between team-mates following a win at Swansea and the seniors v young ‘uns melee that kicked off over a buffet in a hotel at Preston during the promotion run-in.
Dave Jones was never afraid to surround himself with abrasive characters and says he may have signed another, Martin Keown, had the club’s infrastructure not lagged behind the front-of-house splendour evident from Waterloo Road. Dino Baggio and the midfielder, Emerson, are two others named as having slipped through the net because of the sub-standard training facilities.
Wolves’ first Premier League manager was succeeded by Glenn Hoddle, who attracts considerable praise that may surprise supporters. Joleon Lescott and Lee Naylor both describe him as the best coach they ever worked under while Kenny Miller uses the word ‘sensational’ to describe the training-ground work of the ex-England boss.
Jez Moxey was famously rowing a boat when informed he needed to start the search for another manager but readers learn of an altogether scarier experience on and in the water after the chief executive and Steve Morgan had headed for the Durdogne on an activities excursion in 2013.
Their capsized canoes on a swollen river left them in fear of their lives amid an episode serious enough to have made the evening news in France and cause huge concern among their families and staff members here before word came back that they were safe.
By then, Wolves had had another three years in the Premier League, their rearrival in it in 2009 via a home win over QPR having Moxey and Morgan crashing to the floor in an ‘over-enthusiastic embrace.’
Their coming-together as colleagues at the end of the Sir Jack Hayward era is also referenced in previously unseen detail. The catalyst to the handover in power was Delia Smith, a family friend of the Morgans from caravan holidays, who had a stopover at Carden Park on the way to a Wolves v Norwich game in December, 2006.
“They took me to the game and I got into the boardroom,” Morgan is quoted as saying. “This fella here (pointing to Moxey) and (director) John Gough pounced on me and almost pinned me to the wall.” He had received approaches from 15 clubs since his unsuccessful takeover bid at Liverpool and, within a few months, had moved in at what he described as his second club.
In addition to overseeing a return to the Premier League, his reign brought an extra promotion – the one from League One under Kenny Jackett that was only necessary because of the nightmare double-dip. But things might have been different…..
Jackett did a superb job in these parts and is quoted extensively in the 415 pages but we learn that others, notably Uwe Rosler and Billy McKinlay, were in the frame for the job he was handed in 2013. So, too, less prominently were Steve McClaren, Steve Cotterill, David Weir, Paul Tisdale and Steve Davis.
And, on the subject of changes at the top, how in hindsight would we have viewed Fosun and Nuno Espirito Santo going into Albion?
Revolution of Wolves tells us that Jeff Shi flew in for talks with then Baggies chairman Jeremy Peace but decided the asking price was too high. That meeting prompted Jorge Mendes to urge him to speak to other clubs, though, so he subsequently fronted up one of the 86 declarations of interest after Morgan put Wolves up for sale in mid-decade.
Jackett, albeit briefly, was in charge at the start of the Fosun era, of which there are more disclosures than we have room to mention.
How about the one concerning Conor Coady dreading the spare plane seat next to him being occupied by Nuno on a pre-season trip to Austria – and then disembarking a couple of hours later thrilled by the vision the head coach had just shared with him?
The Liverpudlian told the authors that his immediate in-flight thought was “This is proper, this is” – a view underlined after the Premier League return had been sealed the following spring. Nuno asked his skipper to remain alone on the pitch after training and told him to take up the position he normally occupied during games. He then told him he and his defensive colleagues would need to start five yards deeper in the top flight; a simple but essential tweak and one Coady was amazed to be informed of while the winning of promotion was still so new.
I genuinely struggled to put this book down and could offer many more examples of high-quality insight but will conclude with the expressed thought that Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota might one day team up in management and a teaser about Jurgen Klopp leaning out of an open window and shouting ‘Legend, come in!’ at a well-known Wolves figure.
Revolution of Wolves is available from Waterstones and Amazon as well as through Wolves’ retail outlets. A few author-signed copies are still available and enquiries should be made to Paul Berry at email@example.com – although we are happy to act as go-betweens if readers prefer. The cover price of £25 includes postage and packing in the UK.