The progression of Nuno Espirito Santo’s side in his three years at the club has been exceptional. But it is not just the team who have moved forward during Fosun’s tenure. The club’s recruitment system has been just as progressive.
The common perception outside the confines of the city is that Wolves are propped up by Jorge Mendes alone, delivering players to the door like an online shopping order.
While the club fundamentally benefits from the introductions Mendes can facilitate, this view overlooks a sophisticated scouting and networking process that is working in collaboration with the management, owners and agents.
When Fosun and Mendes first became involved with Wolves, that synergy was virtually non-existent. The 2016/17 campaign could well have been a template for how not to conduct transfer business.
One manager that season tells the story of a potential new signing – who he knew nothing about – arriving for his medical at Compton Park on crutches. To the management’s relief, the deal fell through but the information flow during those early days was, at best, complicated. There was more than one occasion when the recruitment department would be informed of new arrivals only at the eleventh hour.
Gradually, though, a more harmonious relationship was fostered. Fosun’s great strength is a willingness to learn, be it from experience or mistakes. Four years on, this summer’s business stands out as exemplary.
Everything starts from Nuno.
His requirements are relayed to the recruitment team, through to the scouts at first team and academy level. There are as many as 18 first team scouts, including six video scouts whose role has become especially significant during the coronavirus pandemic.
There is a profile of player Wolves look at today. There are physical and mental requirements that make it a highly-tailored process. Nuno likes youth, pace and intelligence. A player he can develop.
If he is going to bring in an experienced player it has to be someone who has played at the highest level and can be trusted from kick-off in his first game. The recruitment team are equipped with the knowledge to match these requirements.
John Marshall oversees all the data as head of recruitment. Chief scout Matt Hobbs works with the physical scouting network, who put countless hours into watching and analysing players. They both feed their information to head of academy, Scott Sellars, who has become a pivotal figure since the departure of Kevin Thelwell.
As a former footballer at the top level, Sellars’ advice is trusted implicitly by chairman Jeff Shi who has assembled a recruitment team with plenty of playing experience including Marshall and Seyi Olofinjana (loans manager).
Shi has become a football obsessive. It is hard to envisage too many chairmen jumping in the car and driving hundreds of miles to watch the under-23s away from home on a Monday evening or becoming a regular spectator at under-18s matches. Shi has a thirst for information. It has helped bridge the experience gap that clearly hampered the early part of Fosun’s tenure.
The capture of Brazilian defender Marcal highlights this recruitment process perfectly. Circumstance, through injury to Jonny and the inexperience of Ruben Vinagre, led Nuno to look for a ready-made left-back. Marcal had been on the radar of the recruitment team for more than two years, they knew him inside out. And this is where Mendes comes in. He is not the player’s agent but owing to his relationships with top clubs and other agents he can make the introductions that count.
So, through a process of consultation and collaboration, once the right deal is struck and Nuno is happy that Marcal fits the bill, Shi will sign it off.
A process that began with Nuno requiring an immediate fix ended with the capture of a top player for a very small transfer fee who has immediately solved a big problem at left-back.
There is one other factor to consider, too. And this might be the most reassuring of all to Wolves supporters.
Those close to the man have indicated that Mendes has developed a considerable affection for Wolves. It is not just about the hard-nosed business of moving players in and out of football clubs.
Again, it has been a gradual process. Mendes is unlikely to have fallen in love when he surveyed the scene at the New York Stadium and first set eyes on the men in gold and black as Rotherham United went 2-0 up inside 20 minutes of the opening game of the season back in August 2016. But, four years on, his desire to see the club succeed should not be underestimated.
So after a short summer of impressive captures, what does the Wolves squad of 2020/21 represent? It is certainly Nuno’s strongest squad yet.
Supporters’ fears that a weakness at right wing-back could hamper the start to the season will not materialise. Number one target Ainsley Maitland-Nile has proven hard to dislodge from Arsenal, but a second option has been lined up with a deal due before the close of the transfer window.
Rest assured, through collaboration and contacts, this is a recruitment process that has a developed a leading edge.