Comment: Ruben Vinagre is the future that should start now for Wolves
Portuguese wing-back Ruben Vinagre is the future – and the future should start now for Wolves.
Do not get me wrong, 19-year-old Vinagre is far from the finished article and has to make improvements to the defensive side of his game.
But after another impressive performance against Liverpool in the 2-1 FA Cup third-round win on Monday, there is scope for him to be Wolves’ first choice on the left-hand side.
Every time he has come into the side this season, Vinagre has been more assured than someone his age tends to be.
Had you not seen him before the Liverpool game, you would not have guessed he is someone who has made less than 30 senior appearances in his career.
And that is what is so exciting about him.
Vinagre has progressed at such a rapid rate and tying him down to a five-year deal this past summer – after a good loan spell from Monaco last term – looks a better piece of business with each game that passes.
Wolves could very well have a star on their hands.
The contributions of teenage playmaker Morgan Gibbs-White over the last few months have rightly been heralded, but the level of comfort Vinagre has shown has not been spoken about much.
When Jonny Castro Otto was out for a month with a knee injury through November and early December, he stepped up to the plate with aplomb.
The first two games – losses to Huddersfield and Cardiff – did not go how we would have liked, but he then helped the side to victories over Chelsea and Newcastle.
And he was not at all troubled by Champions League-winner Xherdan Shaqiri last time out.
Vinagre had the Swiss winger firmly in his pocket.
Wolves’ pursuit of Oleksandr Zinchenko, after Barry Douglas was sold to Leeds, in the summer was no secret.
Zinchenko’s decision to stay at City seemingly left Nuno Espirito Santo short of options, but Vinagre’s displays have meant missing out on that signing was not such a blow after all.
Nuno said on him in November: “He’s ready to go, he’s matured.
“Last season, he had his chance.
“At the beginning of this season, he wasn’t with us as he was becoming a European champion.
“He’s growing, he’s getting better. I’m totally confident that the answer’s going to be good.
“It’s more than the title, it’s the high level of competition he was involved in.
“They won the competition and he improved a lot.”
That title Nuno referred to, the European Under-19s Championship triumph with Portugal in July, added to the Championship triumph with Wolves last season for Vinagre.
He is confident because he knows what it takes to win. Wolves skipper Conor Coady also said on Vinagre in October: “Vinagre’s a great little player.
“He’s fantastic, great to have around. He’s a brilliant lad as well. You always know that when he comes on he’s going to do you a job.
“He’s a real attacking left-sider and when he comes on, he doesn’t look out of place at all.
“He’s a young boy who’s learning, but he’s a fantastic player and he’s going to have a fantastic future.”
Otto, on loan from Atletico Madrid, is difficult to drop as he is a Spanish international and has been a dependable figure for Wolves this term.
But Vinagre has not once looked out of place when called upon and, as a left-footer, could offer better balance to Nuno’s team – and is more of an attacking threat.
He has areas to improve upon, but you only get better with experience. So why not have him in from the off?