Star wars, but little new hope for Stale

The start of the football season is normally a time for hope.


Wolves begin their Championship campaign on Saturday lunchtime in front of the Sky cameras but, as Tim Nash explains, their preparation has been dogged by off-the-field turmoil

The start of the football season is normally a time for hope.

Off the pitch, Wolves have reason to be optimistic that a brighter long-term future is on the horizon with the new stand opened, Category One status attained for the academy and improvements to the training ground under way.

But the events of the last few weeks have left even the most optimistic Wolves fan looking at Saturday's Championship opener at Leeds with some trepidation.

And it's got little to do with facing Neil Warnock's side at Elland Road.

New Wolves boss Stale Solbakken and chief executive Jez Moxey have been at pains over the past few days to stress just how unsettled is the playing side of the club.

There are those who wanted out who got their wish, such as Michael Kightly and Adlene Guedioura.

But Steven Fletcher, Matt Jarvis, Dorus De Vries and Christophe Berra have made it clear they want to follow them, while Nenad Milijas and Adam Hammill have been deemed surplus to requirements.

Wayne Hennessey and Jamie O'Hara would have attracted Premier League interest too if they were fit.

Others, such as Roger Johnson, appear to have little choice in remaining to repair their reputations and are quietly earning respect again by doing their talking on the pitch.

And then there are those who want to restore the club's reputation and be part of a new era at Molineux, such as Karl Henry, who signed a new contract yesterday.

Following him, there are numerous players only too willing to see this time as one of opportunity, such as David Davis and Anthony Forde.

But why do so many players want to leave? In the case of Fletcher and Jarvis, surely few could blame them; their performances have earned them the right to remain in the top flight even if the way the news of their desire to leave has come out has disappointed fans.

This newspaper was criticised by supporters for reporting Fletcher was considering lodging a transfer request. But it duly happened, and what fans should understand is just how keen the desire of certain players has been to leave – although, it could be argued, the drive is matched by Moxey's desire to keep them.

Players have so much power these days, and if Manchester United cannot keep Cristiano Ronaldo or Arsenal retain Robin Van Persie, then what chance have Wolves got?

There will be those debating why the club did not re-negotiate the contracts of star players, instead of holding them to the 50 per cent pay cuts triggered by the drop.

After all, if keeping Kightly, Fletcher and Jarvis guaranteed promotion, would not holding on to them for an extra 12 months on Premier League money in exchange for the £60m on offer in 12 months' time be good business?

But there are no guarantees in football, and what would happen if Wolves kept those players on higher money and then didn't go up at the first attempt?

Or, worse still, kept those and more players on top money and failed to win promotion at all? That would be a recipe for disaster, leaving the club facing a possible crisis of Portsmouth proportions.

One argument doing the rounds is that Albion, Newcastle and West Ham all made an instant return to the Premier League on the back of keeping their best players? But it's not wholly true.

When Newcastle went down in 2009, they recouped £23.5m from the sales of Obefami Martins, Damien Duff, Sebastien Bassong and Habib Beye, while big earners Michael Owen and Mark Viduka were freed after they allowed Shay Given and Charles N'Zogbia to leave in the January for a combined £11.9m.

This time last year, the Hammers brought in £7m from the departures of Scott Parker, Alessandro Diamanti and Radoslav Kovac, while Demba Ba, Lars Jacobsen, Daniel Gabbidon, Matthew Upson and Manuel Da Costa left for nothing.

In the same year as Newcastle were relegated, Albion joined them and did more or less keep their squad intact but still lost Jonathan Greening and loaned out record signing Borja Valero and Paul Robinson before both left permanently a year later.

It can also be reasoned that Wolves' players were happy enough to sign contracts with relegation clauses in them at the time.

And it's the players themselves who held the club's destiny in their hands with their performances on the pitch.

Form on the park is what matters now for Wolves and Solbakken – another dilemma for the Norwegian.

Wolves went into Saturday's Capital One Cup clash against Aldershot with one win in 26, and the limp performance against the League Two side which followed the struggles in the first half at Shrewsbury and all game at Southampton suggests the players haven't shaken off the losing mentality.

Has defeat become so ingrained that Wolves have forgotten how to win?

Four years ago, I watched a Wolves squad with Hennessey, Kevin Foley, Richard Stearman, Stephen Ward, Henry, Jarvis and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake steamroller teams in pre-season, if not in results then performances which oozed with energy, aggression and a cutting edge.

Those same players now are part of a squad which looks tentative, unsure of how to play while getting to grips with a new style.

Just two days away from the big kick-off, Wolves are facing their most unsettling time on the playing side since Mick McCarthy inherited the mess left by Glenn Hoddle six years ago.

No-one knows if Fletcher and Jarvis will stay or go or, if they remain, whether they are mentally ready to play, or what squad Wolves will have when the transfer window shuts.

Six years ago, McCarthy found in Henry a symbol of fresh hope and stability around which to mould a team.

Yesterday's announcement shows Henry as the man at the forefront again for the gruelling slog that is the Championship.

Who wouldn't settle for that same fifth place he helped the team to in 2006-07?

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