Express & Star

Wolves comment: The first year of Fosun

It’s been a year that has indelibly changed the face of Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Last updated

Almost £50million has been spent in transfer fees alone, 24 players have joined the club and three new head coaches have been hired (and three fired).

Fosun’s £30million takeover of Wolves has completely transformed the club – and got fans dreaming of long-term success in the Premier League.

Those same supporters had grown impatient of the prudent yet thrifty approach taken by predecessor Steve Morgan who, despite keeping the club debt-free had overseen a disastrous double relegation from the top flight to League One.

After a couple of seasons back in the Championship where spending remained relatively restrained, Fosun’s big-money approach has won favour with a fan-base rightly impatient for success and in an ultra-competitive division where 10-figure transfer fees are becoming commonplace.

Despite an iffy first season hopes remain high that Fosun can deliver what they have set out to do.

“Our goal is crystal clear,” said Jeff Shi, the frontman for the Chinese conglomerate when they bought Wolves a year ago today.

“We will do our very best to help take Wolves back to the Premier League as soon as possible and to stay there. We believe the club and the fans belong at the top of English football and getting there is our first and top priority.

“We are fully aware that achieving success for Wolves will not be easy. It will take hard work, resources, determination and togetherness.

“We will work with everyone who supports Wolves to help create a bright future for this great club.”

Press conference for new Wolves head coach Walter Zenga with Jeff Shi

The pertinent part of that quote, as any fan of a gold and black persuasion could have told them, was ‘achieving success for Wolves will not be easy’.

And in their first 12 months Fosun have certainly realised this for themselves. They’ve also, by their own admission, made a number of mistakes.

After buying the club no fewer than 12 players were signed in a six-week trolley dash, the majority of whom have either already been moved on, or aren’t currently in the first-team picture at Molineux. And the appointment of the much-travelled Walter Zenga becomes even more bizarre in hindsight, given that he was afforded just 87 days to make it all work.

Jeff Shi of Fosun International Limited, Guo Guangchang the chairman of Fosun International Limited and Jorge Mendes (AMA)

“Later we found out it was not a good match,” executive chairman Shi, left, said earlier this year. “We had to change very quickly. The only big mistake in my mind was the coach appointment at the beginning of the season.”

Ruthless quotes from a ruthless man. Shi has made a habit of affording no sentimentality – or patience – when it comes to his head coach.

Kenny Jackett was always a dead man walking, with Fosun keen to bring in their own man to take charge of the playing squad.

Kenny Jackett lost his job despite assurances

But the manner in which Zenga and his successor Paul Lambert were given the boot – when it was thought by many that poor recruitment of players was the biggest issue in Fosun’s first season – was unmerciful to say the least.

For a club that’s seen just two men – Mick McCarthy and Kenny Jackett – manage the team for nine of the past 11 years the unforgiving approach has taken some getting used to.

But get used to it we should, for Fosun are owners in a rush. Getting to the Premier League as quickly as possible is an integral part of their business strategy.

After all, Fosun are an investment company and sooner or later will want a return on that investment.

Paul Lambert and Jeff Shi of Fosun International Limited (AMA)

Wolves aren’t going to become a recognised name in China while they’re still playing Championship football, so if a head coach isn’t doing the business then he’ll be replaced, simple as that.

It’s an approach which is becoming more common in English football – and one that’s worked for Watford (who have also overseen a very high turnover of players).

The role of the head coach has diminished, with a sporting director in Kevin Thelwell overseeing transfers and a chairman in Shi who is becoming even more hands-on by relocating to Wolverhampton full-time.

When announcing the decision Shi said: “It feels like the natural thing to do now, to move over to Wolverhampton, and to be fully engaged with the club on a day-to-day basis.

“I think this will help us to work together even closer, and make our leadership team even stronger.”

Yes, the days of McCarthy having the final say on everything football-related at Molineux are long gone.

And that means head coaches are far more dispensable. Nuno, take note.

Helder Costa and Ivan Cavaleiro (AMA)

In fact, there’s a good argument for saying that Nuno’s agent is more influential at Wolves than the head coach is.

Jorge Mendes has overseen Wolves’ three record signings in the past year (Ivan Cavaleiro for £7m, Helder Costa for £13m and Ruben Neves for £15m), played a big hand in appointing both Nuno and Zenga and offered advice to Shi and Fosun on important decisions at the club.

His influence is a concern for many but the Fosun/Gestifute ties will only get stronger in years to come and Wolves are a key part of that.

“Jorge is my friend,” Shi said in April. “He’s always helped the club. Helder is I think the best player in the league...only with (Jorge’s) help can we get certain players.

“He’s an asset to us. Jorge is a good help and also one part of the whole project.

Nuno Espirito Santo the new head coach of Wolverhampton Wanderers and Laurie Dalrymple Managing Director (AMA)

“I understand, it’s maybe a new thing to the club. Some fans will be worried about it, ‘an agent is influencing the club and it’s for the pocket of him’, but I can say... do you think Jorge really needs the money from Wolves?!

“He wants to help us because of our relationship and he loves the club and Fosun.”

‘Help’ Wolves, or ‘use’ Wolves? Only time will tell. Last summer’s recruitment doesn’t fill you with confidence and the long-term recruitment strategy remains unclear.

Is this Jorge Mendes FC? Is the club being used a platform for others to make money? And do Wolves fans even care if it means promotion to the Premier League?

While some of Fosun’s decisions have been questionable, their ambition, investment and long-term intentions are not in doubt.

After a year of teething problems, Fosun deserve the benefit of the doubt.

In 37 years no-one else has managed to make Wolves a force in the top flight again.

Fosun have the money to end that long wait... if they have the methods too then this wonderful football club could finally be set for lift off.