Tony Daley today outlined Wolves’ Premier League ambitions and believes that the club are going places under Kenny Jackett.
The Molineux fitness chief reckons their motivation to get back into the top flight will drive them on.
Wolves returned to the Championship at the first attempt by winning League One with a record points haul of 103.
Ex-Villa and England winger Daley insists: “We’re building to see where we can get to and back to where we want to be – in the Premier League. There is a feeling we can kick on again.
“The whole idea is to get back into the Premier League as quickly as possible, whether it’s next season or the one after.
“I’m a very ambitious person and I think we can go places.
“The club have been great to me and it goes both ways. I love it here.”
Tony Daley is sitting in the shadow of a Wolves title-winning team. The eyes of the 1957-58 First Division champions look down on him at Compton as he smiles wryly.
“The fans were on the pitch for a different reason last season,” he half-jokes.
The Wolves fitness guru recalls the defeat to Burnley which saw fans invade the pitch in anger last April.
The dugout was smashed while an advertising board was wrecked as supporters vented their fury as relegation loomed.
A shattered club dropped into League One after defeat at Brighton a week later, their relationship with the fans at breaking point.
Fast-forward 12 months and bridges have been repaired, unity restored and faith has returned to Molineux, highlighted by the jubilant pitch invasion during the 6-4 win against Rotherham last month.
And two weeks ago Wolves lifted the League One title after Kenny Jackett’s successful rebuilding job. Dropping into the third tier was a far cry from the all-conquering team of the 1950s, the club’s future in doubt while its history sat proud.
And Daley admits the team had to fight their way back to restore their battered reputation.
“It wasn’t a foregone conclusion whether there was trouble at the club or not. If you have fallen from the Premier League to League One there are problems,” he says.
“The teams who have found themselves there, Sheffield United, Leeds and Forest, have found it extremely difficult to come back up straight away. For that reason alone it was a good achievement.
“It’s like when teams come down from the Premier League to try to get back up straight away.
“They are tough leagues and you don’t have a divine right. Look at QPR in the Championship, they might go through in the play-offs but it seems a disappointment they are not in the top two, so that’s what you have to contend with – the expectancy.
“It was more important to prove to ourselves that we were better than where we are, that we should get back. It was like ‘we’ve got ourselves in this, now let’s get out of it’ and it was achieved.
“Externally people can think what they want but from my point of view it was ‘we’re better than this, let’s get back into the Championship’.”
Softly-spoken Daley, now head of first team physical performance, has seen it all during his seven years on the Molineux backroom team – from three years in the Premier League after the 2009 promotion to the dark days of the last two years, compounded by successive relegations.
The 46-year-old has been at the heart of the rise and fall – and rise again – of the club during one of the most turbulent periods in its history and relegation to League One clearly hurt.
A self-confessed Villa fan, he has been at Wolves for a combined 11 years after four injury-hit seasons as a player between 1994 and 1998. He returned to Molineux as fitness and conditioning coach in 2007 and talks about how much the club means to him and paints his own poignant picture of the scene after the drop was confirmed at The Amex in May 2013.
While the public view was of furious fans refusing to take Roger Johnson’s shirt, Daley’s own experience was quite different.
“The dressing room was quiet,” he recalls. “Having played the game you are disappointed when you have lost a cup final or have been relegated as a player – which I have been involved in – but you don’t really say much.
“Your head’s down and you’re going through what you could have done better and there are 101 things going on in your head – all negative.
“It wasn’t great, who wants to be relegated to be League One?
“I was disappointed, frustrated. We had gone down into League One and you wouldn’t have thought that for one minute when we were in the Premier League.
“Our aim and focus was getting back. Everything was aimed that way. To suddenly be in League One, which we never comprehended at that time, was gutting. It’s not one of my proudest moments to be relegated from the Championship with the squad we had.
“You reflect on everything, the highs and lows, and reassess.
“What could you have done differently? I’ll be doing the same thing this summer as I did after the Brighton game, how can we improve ourselves? You will reassess over and over again until you know. I’m a very honest person.
“For me I reflected more back then because there were more issues.
“It’s definitely the worst moment from this side of the fence. When I was playing I was only young at the time so perhaps it wasn’t too comparable, but I was at Villa when we went down in 1988.
“I had just broken into the first team and hardly played any games, but I still saw the significance.”
A fractured club needed rebuilding after Dean Saunders was sacked.
After three failed appointments since the axing of Mick McCarthy in 2012 – Terry Connor, Stale Solbakken and Saunders – Wolves had to find the right man.
Scepticism initially met Jackett’s appointment with fans still doubting a board which had overseen their historic tumble from the Premier League.
No team had suffered successive relegations from the top flight to League One and they needed serenity amid the chaos.
And Jackett – who guided Millwall to the Championship in 2010 – embraced the club and rebuilt the ethos which has led them to promotion.
He played under Graham Taylor at Watford during the 1980s and was head coach when Taylor returned to Vicarage Road as boss in 1996.
Comparisons have been drawn between the two, with Jackett mirroring much of Taylor’s diligence, planning and PR nous.
Daley himself played under Taylor at Molineux – signing for £1.25m in 1994 – and for England at Euro 92.
But he is not one for comparisons and insists Jackett must be seen as an individual.
“He is his own man. Like everyone else I’m sure he takes bits and pieces from different managers,” he says.
“It’s difficult to say because I’ve worked under different managers here and they’ve all been completely different, so I can’t say he’s similar to anyone as he is his own man.
“He has been really successful this year and the big thing for me was galvanising the whole club.
“Whoever came in had to do that and he has done a fantastic job. If everyone is going a different way it’s very difficult. Everyone had to be singing from the same hymn sheet.
“Of course, that was the difficult part – then it’s getting the right players and philosophy right.
“We had a huge budget for League One and players the club didn’t want, so how was the gaffer going to move those players on, put them out on loan or whatever, so he can get the players he wants?
“We had the biggest budget but most of those players were our highest earners who didn’t figure and it was the young players and new signings who were going to play the main roles.
“All that wheeling and dealing he’s done extremely well with.
“He has been excellent, he came into a club which was on a downer and him and (assistant manager) Joe (Gallen) and the staff here now have galvanised things.”
James Henry, Nouha Dicko, Lee Evans and Jack Price have all underlined the new Wolves ethos.
Fans needed players they could believe in again after falling out of love with the likes of Johnson and Jamie O’Hara, emblems of a damaged club.
“The players have taken it on board,” says Daley. “Young players have come in and they have all hit the ground running.
“They have come into what we see as the Wolves way, how we conduct ourselves, how we train, work and how we play the game.
“If you buy in from every person you have got a great chance. Kenny has been at the helm of that.
“He has done remarkably well, he hit the ground running. He’s got an idea of what he wants and you try to attain that.
“There’s no mixed messages like ‘what does he mean, do we want to go for the play-offs or win this game?’ everyone knows where they stand.
“You could see that unity, not just the right things being said but the right actions.
“If we got disappointing results people can say things after the game and nothing be done about it. There will be inquests like ‘let’s get this right’ but there was togetherness and action with us. Everyone has got a smiling face.”
And Daley can see similarities between this year’s side and McCarthy’s 2009 title-winning outfit.
“If we had a disappointing result we’d talk about it and put it behind us and put the smile back on our face,” he said.
“Players enjoy training and there’s just a really good feeling about the club and you can sense it – just as you can conversely when things aren’t right. I can see the resemblance from 2009, for sure.
“It’s hard to say when we knew we were on to a good thing, maybe just after Christmas.
“We had a mediocre festive period and even then I felt we were going to go up in terms of the way the players reacted and the way we reassessed.
“Everyone was talking about Wolves, that we were the biggest team with the biggest budget and following so we were automatically going to go back up.
“For us, a draw in the league was a disappointment – that’s how people felt.
“It wasn’t, not for us, we look at the long term so you have to put it into perspective. Everything was on a level keel.”
It is hard to imagine Daley veering off his even keel with the level-headed former winger, who made 290 appearances for Villa between 1985 and 1994, calmness personified.
Disarmingly, he got the tea in at the start of the interview and is already laying the groundwork for the team’s assault on the Championship with his pre-season fitness plans.
The fixtures are out on June 18, giving fans and players a month to relax before their return becomes clearer – with the Championship season starting on August 9.
Daley expects the feel-good factor to remain ahead of the kick-off but next week he will return to Compton to start work again. “We were in League One after the problems of the last couple of years and then all of a sudden we are breaking records left, right and centre,” he added.
“Credit goes to everyone, everyone has galvanised together.
“There was a lot of negativity going round at the club but the whole of Wolves have changed that – including the fans. They have been amazing.
“Teams had nothing to lose when they came here and when we went away from home and packed the stadiums it was usually their biggest crowd, so they raised their game – but we coped with it. To say it’s been rewarding would be an understatement.
“It’s tempered but in the same breath it’s like when you win a game. We’ve come up at the first attempt and we’ll enjoy it and rightly so, we should. It’s a fantastic achievement.
“I’m chuffed to bits and I’ll celebrate a bit more than I usually would because of that. That’s it then, celebrating done. Work time.
“I say it every year ‘I’ll celebrate a little bit more’. I enjoyed it going into the Premier League, I enjoyed it magnificently – and when we stayed in the division too because of the hard work.
“There was nothing to celebrate in the last couple of years so we have now done something great in going back up.
“It’s been a challenge but one I really relish. Everyone aspires to be in the Premier League, players do and individually you want to be working at the highest level that you can.
“We were in the Premier and what a great feeling that was. We had three great years in there, even the year we got relegated.
“We had a strong squad and the aim was to come straight back up as one of the favourites.
“But a culmination of things happened and we found ourselves in League One and the challenges which come with that in terms of staffing and budgeting.
“You had got a lovely budget, you can buy the things you want to so you can improve your job – and all of a sudden you can’t.
“You see another side of it but it’s held me in good stead. I’ve seen everything I can in terms of the highs and the lows. It’s been challenging, but really good.
“With the manner we’ve done it in as well, we deserve to pat ourselves on the back and enjoy the moment – but then it’s back to work.”