Football: Sir Jack's late expectations

Norman Fox looks at the growing pressure on Mark McGhee at Wolves
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The Independent Online
In Spite of all the talk about the "have nots" in the first division being the poor relations of clubs in the Premiership, if you added together all of their summer spending on transfers it would come to about pounds 40m. If that seems like a lot of money, it actually represents exactly the same amount Sir Jack Hayward has spent on one club. But if Sir Jack's cherished Wolverhampton Wanderers lose to West Bromwich Albion today they will be assumed on course for another frustrating season. Disillusion is becoming a habit.

Sir Jack's dream of turning Molineux into one of the best stadiums in Europe, which he has done, and building a team to match, which the three managers he has employed have not, is becoming a recurring cause of sleepless nights. Even before the new season began, the latest manager, Mark McGhee, was admitting that the president's patience was not limitless and neither was his generosity. Somewhat riskily, McGhee suggested that Sir Jack was becoming "cynical". Anyone who has the confidence to plunge so much money into what looks dangerously like becoming a monument to over-ambition, personal infatuation and an example of new money not making up for old playing standards is surely not cynical. Daft, perhaps.

McGhee reckons he often gets misrepresented. What he actually meant was that Sir Jack had looked at Barnsley's achievement in reaching the Premiership with a ground that has one foot in the past and was aware that team spirit and understanding was not something money could buy. That was up to the manager. So all Wolves spent this summer was pounds 750,000 on Steve Sedgley from Ipswich and Mixu Paatelainen from Bolton while selling players for just over pounds 1m, including Iwan Roberts to Norwich City whom Wolves beat in their first game of the season. That result, added to an away Coca- Cola Cup win over Queen's Park Rangers, gave them a hopeful start that stuttered last weekend when Sheffield United drew at Molineux.

McGhee's own hopes are realistic, too realistic for a lot of the fans. His mission is to finish this season with a squad in good shape, ready to get into the Premiership and stay there. McGhee needs a successful season as much for his own future as for that of Wolves. His career moves from Reading and Leicester have been interpreted as mercenary, an accusation he says is "unfounded" but one which will stick.

The Wolves fans are not concerned about his future, only that of the club. Charles Ross, editor of the fanzine A Load of Bull, is moderately confident that promotion will come. "The competition this season will be tougher than for three or four years - the teams that have come down are bigger and have more resources and Middlesbrough can't afford not to go up. For us to reach the play-offs again would not be failure but we've been there three times and failed three times."

Time, Ross believes, is running out for Sir Jack and for the ever-loyal Steve Bull who has played over 500 games for the club. "A little impatience on behalf of both of them is understandable," Ross said. "Bull scored 23 goals last season but the legs could go this week or in three years time. If he's going to have his last hurrah in the Premiership it has to be next season. He's the last playing link with our fourth division days. If he had taken a free transfer and gone somewhere else for the money, not one Wolves supporter would have held it against him."

As for this season, Ross says: "McGhee no longer has lots of money to spend. Our big chances came from summer 1993 to last season because the money for transfers was high. McGhee waltzed through pounds 5m in his first eight months after Graham Taylor had spent the same. We can no longer compete financially with our main promotion rivals, which is a complete reversal of the past five or six years." However, he added: "Perhaps that may not be a bad thing. It may make the buggers that are there, think they had better get on with it - rather than rely on Jack's chequebook."

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