Birmingham's bold approach may be the route for Wolves to follow

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The Independent Online

Wolverhampton Wanderers have been out of English football's upper echelons for so long that their fans will have to check the motorways that have been constructed since they last visited Highbury, Old Trafford and Anfield.

But, for the deserving Sir Jack Hayward and his board, the road map for the Premiership is an altogether more parochial issue. Much though the 79-year-old may dream - even publicly so - about his beloved Wolves handing out a 6-0 thrashing to one of the super-powers next season, he must quickly clear his head of the euphoria and relief that came with hitting the big time.

In the Millennium Stadium dressing rooms last May, Steve Bruce turned to his trusty back-room colleague John Benson and spoke of the "can of worms" they had just opened by unexpectedly winning promotion for Birmingham City in the early months of their management.

No one can say Wolves were caught unawares. They have been in the First Division for 14 years after spending the previous five speeding to oblivion and back. Now they have to strengthen the side that on Monday underlined Sheffield United's standing as "nearly men".

Twelve months on from being painfully beaten to the top flight by two arch-rivals, Wolves have to choose between the high-maintenance route that Bruce's Birmingham plotted and the corner-cutting alternative pursued by West Bromwich Albion.

Birmingham pushed the boat out to sign Robbie Savage, Aliou Cissé, Kenny Cunningham, Clinton Morrison and Jovan Kirovski in the close season. Then, when Bruce thought they were sagging, he thrust open the transfer window and pulled in Christophe Dugarry, Matthew Upson, Jamie Clapham and Stephen Clemence before it shut again.

Albion, by contrast, had only free-transfer arrival Ronnie Wallwork on board in time for the pre-season games and had to move quickly to land Sean Gregan, Lee Marshall, Jason Koumas, Lee Hughes and Joe Murphy for the big kick-off. In January, they were well in touch with the potential safety of 17th place, but made the Nigerian wing-back Ifeanyi Udeze their only extra signing.

Birmingham finished six points and five places above the cut-off line, West Bromwich 18 points and two places below it. You get what you pay for.

Hayward, whose beaming face lit up a Millennium Stadium already glowing in a sea of gold-and-black, has spent 13 years and close on £60m in pursuit of this dream. Restoring Wolves to something like their 1950s greatness is the biggest challenge of his remaining years and it seems inconceivable that he will turn miser now, although his initial words fell well short of spend, spend, spend.

"Birmingham finished above Aston Villa and Albion and have done very well," he said. "They have even made a profit.

"We have given the manager every requisite assistance over the last two-and-a-half years and refused him nobody. But you can't go overboard on wages, like Bradford, Barnsley and others did. We also have so many good youngsters coming through."

Wolves' first "signing" may well be Dave Jones, the manager already having been promised a new deal only a few weeks after suggestions that play-off failure would cost him his job. He, in turn, will try to persuade Paul Ince and, possibly, Denis Irwin to stay on and has already pledged to bring in new faces. "Prices are lower now and there are also a lot of Bosman players available," the chief executive, Jez Moxey, said. "It could be a good time to be recruiting."

By Saturday night, you could not buy a play-off final flag or hat at Molineux. Next season, it is the seats that will be gold dust. A capacity of 28,500 will be one of the Premiership's smallest and the ground Jack built, where Wolves will tonight take their bow after an open-top bus tour of the city, will need enlarging.

If they stay up next spring, they will fill in some of the open corners and install more seats. Long term, they will require an extra tier or two if they are ever to find the revenue needed to challenge for the big prizes.

Hayward, born a quarter of a mile from Wolves' home, would be sad to see the stadium's uniformity and near-symmetry sacrificed. But he knows the gleaming structure would have to be extended almost back to the family's old doorstep to guarantee a seat for everyone who will want one next season.

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