Wolves have had a turbulent few years. They’ve endured back to back relegations after dropping out of the Premier League in 2012, have had seven managerial changes and even a takeover. Then in May 2017, some stability returned to the club in the form of the unknown Nuno Espirito Santo, an ex-player who had just been sacked from his Head Coach role at FC Porto.
The appointment of Santo at the helm thus signalled the beginning of the revolution at Wolves, both in footballing terms and in relation to the players. Immediately ‘he’ recruited Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota from FC Porto, the former being the youngest player ever to start a Champions League match as captain, and the latter recording 17 goals and five assists in his first season.
They joined their Portuguese counterparts Ivan Cavaleiro and Helder Costa to Molineux, with both of those players recording more than 10 goals or assists in their first season. Along with the guidance of Nuno Espirito Santo, Wolves’ Portuguese cohort was the vanguard for the club’s record-breaking 17/18 Championship campaign, leading them to the title with a 99-point haul.
Now the West Midlands club find themselves sitting pretty in 11th place with 5 points from 4 games as we head into the international break. Their summer recruitment has again been strong, and heavily reliant on the clubs Portuguese links, with both Joao Moutinho and Rui Patricio, both European Cup winning players, signing during the Summer transfer window.
But what is it that makes playing for Wolverhampton Wanderers so attractive? The answer to that question can be found in the power of super-agent, Jorge Mendes.
Mendes runs his company under the name of Gestifute, a Portuguese footballing agency set up in 1996, with his most notable clients being Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho.
In the case of Wolves, he provided his services for no fewer than 6 players in Diogo Jota, Ruben Neves, Rui Patricio, Helder Costa, Joao Moutinho and Ivan Cavaleiro, all of whom are key first team players. On top of that, Nuno Espirito Santo is also under the watchful eye of Gestifute, giving Mendes an arguable control over the fortunes of the Black Country club.
No other club in the Premier League is governed so much by one agent than Wolves. For comparison, Jorge Mendes controls 3 Manchester City players in Bernardo Silva, Ederson and Otamendi. Meanwhile, Mino Raiola, the world’s other premium super-agent, has 3 Manchester United players on his books in Lukaku, Romero and, most notably, Paul Pogba.
In fact, the situation Wolves find themselves in can only really compare itself to Watford after the Pozzo family took over the North London club in 2012. The Pozzo family, who already owned Granada and Udinese, took 14 players on-loan from those clubs to Watford between 2012 and 2013, which led to a change in Championship regulation, restricting all clubs to a maximum of five foreign loan players to be named in the matchday squad.
Even after that season, Watford managed to bring in 19 players from either Udinese or Granada, 12 of whom came on a free in the 2013/14 season. Odion Ighalo and Matej Vydra were two of those, and the pair notched 36 goals between them in their 2014/15 title-winning season.
The position of Wolves perhaps seems a bit more tenuous, especially as a newly promoted club. Ultimately, it appears it is the influence of Jorge Mendes that convinced Wolves’ current central core to move to the club.
It seems difficult for example, to justify why Ruben Neves would move from a Champions League club in FC Porto to a mid-table Championship side unless there was something more promised. Wolves effectively seems like a stepping stone for these players to prove their worth in England and should Wolves have a less than successful season, a large number of their star players could turn away from the club.
And just when you thought that agents and owners couldn’t be any more implicated in the futures of footballers and football clubs alike, the Fosun company, which owns Wolves, purchased a stake in Jorge Mendes’ Gestifute.
Whilst this business plan has proceeded in getting Wolves back to the top division, the longevity of the model is questionable, especially if results do not go as expected in their first season back in the Premier League since 2011/12. Nevertheless, it will be intriguing to see the fortune of the club this season and the next as they battle for Premier League survival.