New sporting director Matt Hobbs challenged to 'make Wolves elite in every department'
New sporting director Matt Hobbs has revealed executive chairman Jeff Shi’s challenge to him is to ‘make Wolves elite in every department’.
Hobbs, the club’s former chief scout and head of player recruitment, has been promoted to replace Scott Sellars, who was axed as technical director earlier yesterday.
The appointment, a couple of weeks after Wolves and Shi finally netted their top head coach target in Julen Lopetegui, marks the beginning of a new era for the club after the chairman admitted having to review recent failings in a shake-up of the structure.
Hobbs has spent much of the last fortnight meeting with new and existing members of staff as the club’s various new heads of departments settle in as a new collective.
“I view it as being the middle of a wheel and the spokes coming off it are the various departments,” Hobbs said on his appointment.
“I need to pull the departments together, academy, first-team, women, medical performance, coaching, recruitment – challenge them, because we can get better in lots of ways. Jeff’s big challenge for me is to make sure we’re elite in every department.
“The last two weeks have been about meeting with Julen regarding the club as a whole, speaking to Oscar (Caro) about medical and sports performance aspects and I have a group chat with Ben (Wrigglesworth), head of scouting, Elliot (Sutcliffe), scouting co-ordinator, Fran (Garagaza) and Dan (Lopetegui), for information and data on players we are discussing. As you can imagine this is very busy at the moment!”
Hobbs initially worked in youth recruitment at Wolves having joined in 2015 before taking a senior role.
In an admission that will be well-received by the Molineux faithful, the new sporting director revealed his big immediate priority is to focus on first-team recruitment with January around the corner.
Hobbs confirmed Wolves’ squad lacks in certain departments and that work is well under way on bolstering the Premier League’s bottom side to bring it level with the world-leading status of the new head coach and staff at Molineux.
The new director added: “Whilst we are reviewing lots of areas, first and foremost, it’s about players.
“My job in the immediate future is to make sure we get the right players. We’ve got a world-renowned manager, with a support team to match, and we’ve got a lot of top players, who are not playing to their potential at the moment.
“But we need to add in January because we are short in some areas. That’s what it has to be all focused on at the moment.”
He said of a relationship with Lopetegui: “We talk a lot. Julen’s a very good communicator and he exudes confidence. He and his team have worked at the highest level, they know what success looks like and they know what they’ve got to do to achieve what they want.
“He’s come in knowing what he needs to do, and it can’t help but make you feel confident and makes you buy into him. My job now is to make sure he has all the tools he needs to execute our plans.
“He’s also given the whole staff a lift in confidence and once he gets to work with the whole group of players, you will see the belief return to them too.
“His personality is infectious, and everything’s been very positive. He fits perfectly into what we’re trying to do. He loves the club’s mottos, he loves the values, and it’s how he works.”
Hobbs comes from an extensive recruitment and scouting background. Indeed it could be said the former non-league footballer – he played in the fifth tier and below as a youngster – was born into the role.
His father also works in football recruitment and has spent 15 years at Chelsea – Hobbs junior has recently been a reported target for the Stamford Bridge club as well as Manchester United. He has clearly already built a solid reputation within the game, meaning a decision to call it quits on playing and turning to talent searching was a well thought out one.
Hobbs’ Wolves journey started way back prior to Fosun’s position in charge of the club. He was a part-time junior scout in the south-west of the country, standing on the sidelines of cold, rainy Sunday league pitches in a bid to bring the prime youngsters to Compton and Molineux.
He prides himself on having worked his way through the various youth departments through to his latest position. Hobbs believes, with that, comes an understanding and appreciation for the trials and tribulations of all roles. He is proud of creating a close department with a high staff retention.
On the set-up of Wolves’ new senior networking department, and how it will operate, he explained: “At first-team level, 50 per cent of the recruitment work is on technical and 50 per cent is on the person.
“Most people can watch a Premier League game and see a good player, but where we have to make sure our standards never slip, is our rule to avoid players who negatively impact the group.
“For Nathan (Collins) and Bouba (Traore) we had over 35 personal references. It is important that these are from a variety of sources and different stages in their career to date, including times they been out of form or out of a team.”
Hobbs, who also had a stint in coaching before turning to recruitment, continued: “Julen also won’t sign a player he hasn’t spoken to, which is something we have wanted for while. He wants to meet every player before we sign them, either face-to-face or a call on Zoom because he wants to have a feel for them as people.
“We are working with Fran, who will be travelling around Europe for us, and Dan whose insight has been invaluable, but we all communicate regularly, and the relationships have been easy to forge so far.
“They came in with a list of players they believe can help us and Ben and the team have been working on ours, but what has helped build the relationships were that we had a lot of the same names, which quickly showed everyone was on the same page.
“In the position we are, players who normally wouldn’t come are engaging and agents are engaging with us, which is a lot to do with the head coach, but we need to make sure we keep an eye on the end goal of prolonged success. However, steering us to safety as soon as possible this season is the first part of our plan.”
Two of Hobbs’ recent success stories are Max Kilman and Huge Bueno, the centre-half and left-back who have both progressed through youth ranks, via nominal fees, to make an impact on the first team.
The former scout also looks fondly on the progress of other academy talents flourishing out in the football pyramid, including Ryan Giles, Dion Sanderson, Luke Cundle, Theo Corbeanu, Nigel Lonwijk and Christian Marques, who are all enjoying profitable loans this term.
But Wolves’ new sporting director is at pains to insist that those youngsters’ development is the beneficiary of the team behind the team – and the role of every staff member at every stage and department along the way.