Sky Sports' Johnny Phillips: The good, the bad & the ugly of Wolves’ loan rangers

Several working practices have changed at Wolves since Fosun took over back in the summer of 2016.

Steve Claridge at Molineux.
Steve Claridge at Molineux.

One of those has been the utilisation of the loan market. Such signings have become common place as a long-term option.

Historically, at Molineux, loan deals were a stop gap. There to fill a void or perhaps ignite a situation that needed a spark.

Now, they are an accepted rung of the ladder that regularly leads to a permanent signing.

Of the six loan deals made at the start of Nuno Espirito Santo’s first season at the club, five of them played a significant part in securing promotion: Diogo Jota, Willy Boly, Leo Bonatini, Alfred N’Diaye and Benik Afobe.

The sixth, Ruben Vinagre, was signed for his potential rather than anything he could immediately offer the first team.

Jota and Boly became key figures in taking Wolves to the Premier League and on into Europe.

A year later, Raul Jimenez, Jonny and Leander Dendoncker arrived on loan and established themselves in the team.

Diogo Jota (AMA)

In the complicated world of modern-day transfer business, loan options can be a useful way of ploughing through the red tape involved in making a permanent signing. Many of Wolves’ recent loan captures were always going to be inked in permanently.

It all contrasts sharply with the traditional loanee, brought in for just a few months or even only a handful of games. There are enough examples at Molineux to fill several books.

Like the club itself, Wolves’ loanees have fluctuated wildly between the sublime and the ridiculous.

One distant memory that falls firmly into the latter camp involved Dave Beasant. Signed by Graham Turner in early 1993 to cover a goalkeeper crisis, the England international was thrown into an FA Cup fourth round tie at a sold-out Molineux against third tier Bolton Wanderers.

His performance that day needed to be seen to be believed, as he stumbled on all fours attempting to keep out the first goal before somehow conceding a looping header on his goal-line from arch foe John McGinlay, as the Lancastrians ran out surprise 2-0 winners.

A year later, Turner got it spectacularly right with striker Guy Whittingham, rescued from the bench at Villa, to reignite Wolves’ First Division promotion push.

Unfortunately, Turner was dismissed before Super Guy The Soldier’s best work, as his eight goals in 13 games almost took a mid-table team to the play-offs when Graham Taylor replaced Turner.

Taylor loved a loanee, bringing in Paul Stewart and Mark Walters from Liverpool at the start of 1994/95. But his best signing during his time at Molineux came towards the end of that season, when centre-half Dean Richards arrived on loan from Bradford City.

Taylor’s successor, Mark McGhee, can lay claim to a loan capture every bit as disastrous as Beasant.

Steve Claridge did not score a single goal in a Wolves shirt, but managed to keep Steve Bull, Robbie Keane and Dougie Freedman out of the side that lost 1-0 to Arsenal in the 1998 FA Cup semi-final.

Dave Jones had much more joy with strikers. Dean Sturridge and Kenny Miller made positive early impressions after their temporary switches in 2001, before going on to secure permanent moves and play their part in promotion to the Premier League in 2003.

Perhaps Mick McCarthy can lay claim to the shrewdest loan capture. Michael Kightly was relatively anonymous at non-league Grays Athletic, but went on to be a star of the club’s 20008/09 Championship title win. That more than atoned for the same manager’s experiment with Kevin Kyle.

Finding a Premier League loanee can be tricky. There is neither the necessary quality available nor a willingness to lend.

McCarthy initially did well with Jamie O’Hara, signed midway through the 2010/11 season, and nobody thought it was a bad idea to make his move from Spurs permanent that summer. But it all turned sour very quickly the following season.

Of a similar temperament was Jermaine Pennant, who departed after an underwhelming three months of the 2012/13 season.

Even the usually astute Kenny Jackett was left aghast at a deal that turned into one of the shortest in the club’s history. Striker Yannick Sagbo signed from Hull at the start of 2014/15 for three months, but was ushered out after one start and three substitute appearances.

So what of Wolves’ most recent loanee?

Willian Jose’s arrival at the end of January was a throwback to the years when Wolves managers desperately needed a helping hand.

Willian Jose of Wolverhampton Wanderers. (AMA)

There was huge relief among the support when the deal was announced and a real excitement when Jose flew in from Spain ahead of Wolves’ London trip to face Chelsea, on the back of two abject Molineux performances against Everton and Albion.

Since Jose made his first appearance in a Wolves shirt as a substitute in the battling draw at Stamford Bridge, Wolves have earned 13 points in nine games.

It is a pretty unspectacular return, but in the nine games prior to his arrival the team amassed just five points. Jose has made an important impact.

At times he can look ineffective, cumbersome even. His critics would point to an absence of goals, Wolves’ very own Joelinton. But there is no getting away from the evidence that he has helped Nuno’s side rediscover their solidity and shape that seemed to have deserted the team before his arrival.

Taking the Manchester City game out of the equation, Wolves’ recent form – as Jose continues to familiarise himself with the role – has been decent.

Jimenez is as close to irreplaceable as any player can be mid-season. Jose is nowhere near that standard but his contribution should not be overlooked.

He was always unlikely to become a permanent signing, and nothing we have seen since his arrival suggests otherwise, yet the team looks far better now with Jose in it than it did in December and January.

Rayan Ait-Nouri and Vitinha make up the loan trio this season.

Ait-Nouri has enjoyed more first team football, but there is a case for Vitinha as the player with most potential when it comes to making any of the three moves permanent.

His mobility, willingness to get on the ball, find space and play with his head up mark him out as a player with a natural instinct for the game. There are clearly concerns about Vitinha’s physical presence and consistency, but there is a player in there who could become something good.

There is an expectancy with a loan player today to prove he is worth a permanent commitment rather than just plug a gap. They are auditioning each time they take the pitch and there are sure to be many more following in their footsteps under the current ownership model.

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