Interview: Jeff Shi is planning for long-term Wolves success
It’s not exactly been the season that Jeff Shi will have hoped for.
Expectations went through the roof when Fosun rode into Molineux last July with talk of Premier League football, making Wolves a worldwide force and spending loads of money on new players.
They certainly achieved the latter, splashing £27million in the space of just six months.
The other two parts currently don’t look any closer than they did last summer. Considering the astronomical outlay of cash – certainly relative to recent transfer windows at Wolves, if not their Championship competitors this season – that’s a big disappointment.
But Shi is philosophical about Fosun’s first season at Wolves. It's more important to focus on the club's rich potential on and off the field, in what is a 10-year plan, the likeable main club director told the Express & Star.
“We are new students to the new environment,” Shi conceded.
“Before last summer we never did anything in football. We even learned a lot before the takeover.
“I had watched some games in Spain, in Portugal and Italy...the Championship is different. There are so many games – it’s the longest season in the world! It’s not easy.
“The most important thing is all the teams are very good, there are no bad teams and every game is unpredictable.
“It’s a tough season and a tough league.
“The only big mistake in my mind is the coach appointment at the beginning of the season.
“I like Walter, he is passionate and really loved the job. Later we realised for the job of coach it’s always matching the club, Fosun Group and the team.
“Later we found it wasn’t a good match so we had to change very quickly.
“We took over the club too late in July, only three weeks left for transfers, it’s very frustrating.
“In the meantime the appointment of the coach was wrong. So those two reasons extended the transitional period for longer than we thought.
“If we did everything right maybe the transitional period would be one or two months. But it was three or four months.
“We’re turning around the results on the pitch. We have proven we can do something right and it’s good for next season.”
Success next season will, of course, need prudent additions in the transfer market this summer.
Lambert has already suggested it'll be quality, rather than quantity, that will be Wolves' priority, with a focus on trimming a huge squad.
“It’s good to start to prepare so early,” Shi said of the summer window. “We have time to watch the candidates and talk with clubs and analyse the tactics, who is the right player and who isn’t, who should come and who should leave. It’s an ongoing process.
“We still have seven games so we’ll continue evaluating and make the final decisions.
“I hope we can finish everything by the end of June and have a very good pre-season.”
If appointing Zenga, a man with no experience of English football, was Fosun’s biggest mistake so far, then their biggest achievement, according to Shi, was finding the right men to lead the club to success in Lambert, sporting director Kevin Thelwell and managing director Laurie Dalrymple.
The latter both received promotions to their current roles in a shake-up after Jez Moxey departed for Norwich City.
Whether they, Lambert or Shi prove to be up to the challenge in the long term remains to be seen. But Shi is convinced that almost everything is in place.
“The best thing this season is we found the right leadership team in the club – Paul, Laurie, Kevin and me,” he added. “I think we work like a team, a very close-knit team. It’s working.
“I think we did a fantastic window in January, the two players we brought in (Andres Weimann and Ben Marshall) are impressive.
“In summer, some mistakes yes. But you look at the whole picture, Helder, Ivan, Saiss, it’s right. I think the journalists and the fans like to calculate the numbers, eight, nine signings – some right, some wrong.
“For me, I care more about the money and the investment, so you can see Helder, £13m, Ivan £7m. I think it was a good transfer window. Compared with last summer our team is much better and it’s a good base for next year.”
Thelwell appears to have taken on Moxey’s old mantle of being the fall-guy when things go wrong, in the eyes of supporters. The sporting director will get the blame for signings that weren’t even his, like £1m flop Paul Gladon. Shi thinks that, while no one is perfect, the criticism of Thelwell is deeply unfair.
“A lot of fans are blaming him,” he added. “I read the minutes of the Fans’ Parliament...come on. Before we took over the club Kevin was not the guy to make the final decision.
“You can see the club also did some good deals, like Benik Afobe, and he also really helped find some good talent.
“How can you blame him for everything?
“No one is perfect and for every club they will buy good and wrong players.
“I can say certain decisions, the fans are always blaming before our takeover, it’s not from Kevin. Even after the takeover some decisions...it’s my decisions, I take the blame. Kevin is working very hard, he’s been here for nine years and has a real emotional attachment to the club.
“You can ask all the other clubs, they all tell me Kevin is a good guy and we’re so lucky to have him. So it’s not fair to him.”
There are many challenges ahead if Fosun are to establish Wolves in the Premier League. Money, as this season has proved, is not necessarily the answer. But Shi, a calm, methodical man (and a rational thinker to boot) isn’t underestimating his task.
“We’re always trying to improve, off the field with Molineux, the training ground, about some small creative things to inspire the fans to be more involved,” he added.
“Laurie is also doing very well. In a few months he has shown us he’s the guy to lift the club up.
“Fosun has a long-term plan. Promotion is definitely not the ultimate target for us – we have to get to that and after that we want to be a really strong team in the Premier League. It’s a long-term plan.”