Assuming the supporters of Wolverhampton Wanderers have not been priced out of Molineux by their Chinese owners and still identify themselves as working class, it is not a display of originality or prudence when Evertonians are encouraged, as they were last Saturday, to “sign on, sign on,” not least because 34 per cent of children in the Black Country live below the poverty line but also because their captain was born on Merseyside and played for Liverpool.
Conor Coady is a leader at a club, indeed, where little seems to make sense, one that has transformed from 18 months ago when they feared dropping back into English football’s third tier to one that now has more Portuguese internationals in their ranks than any of Benfica, Sporting Lisbon or Porto.
Coady is smart and he sees it as his responsibility to bring balance to the discussion about what might happen at Wolves, who according to the majority of bookmakers now have a better squad than West Ham, Newcastle and Southampton and therefore should be aiming for a top-half finish in the Premier League, at least.
“We read everything, we see everything and we hear everything as well,” Coady admitted, speaking exclusively to The Independent. "We’ve probably been talked up more than other teams that have come up in the past.”
He would reason that the outcome against Everton where Wolves equalised against 10 men before falling behind again and finally finding a way to draw 2-2 highlights why the challenge now is greater than some really appreciate.
“A lot of the lads in our squad, it’s their first season in the Premier League, it’s as simple as that. We’ve got some lads who’ve played at the top level, I know that. But on Saturday only one player in the team – Ryan Bennett – had experienced it before. There was a lot of nerves before the game and I think you could see that in the first 20 minutes. For a lot of us, we’ve watched the Premier League all of our lives and it was a bit like, ‘Now we’re finally here…what’s it really going to be like?’ It’s what you dream of.”
Phil Jagielka’s dismissal shortly before half-time shifted the mood inside Molineux. Whereas before there was a sense of display from a boisterous crowd and beneath it a feeling that Wolves might win, suddenly there was an expectation that they should – as they probably would have done last season.
“When you’re in the Championship, you try and move the opponent around a bit and pull players into positions they don’t want to be in. Everton were more disciplined in their shape,” Coady assessed. “They were very organised and had an outlet in Richarlison who they’ve spent a lot of money on and caused us some problems. He looks like he’s a fantastic player. With time, I think it will be viewed as a decent point for us.”
The signings of Monaco midfielder Joao Moutinho and goalkeeper Rui Patricio from Sporting have made people look differently at Wolves. It will be particularly interesting to see how Moutinho makes the transition from French football, because he will be 32 next month and this makes him the sort of recruit a Premier League club would have made in the mid-90s when the game wasn’t quite as fast as it is now and it was easier for ageing foreign stars to adjust.
“Their experience is vital,” Coady says without hesitation. “We’re quite a young squad. With us already having a lot of Portuguese boys they’ve fitted in really well. They’re fantastic lads. That’s what’s impressed me the most. They’ve come to the club with big reputations but you can see they want to improve, take their own game to a new level and take the team with them. Both of them won the Euros only a couple of years ago. It’s incredible that they’re here but we’re an ambitious club.”
The presence of Ruben Neves helps too, the midfielder who captained Porto at 18 before landing in the West Midlands last summer thanks to the encouragement of Jorge Mendes, whose agency has a business partnership with Fosun, the conglomerate that owns Wolves. Neves slid a free-kick past Jordan Pickford on Saturday before supplying Raúl Jiménez with a glorious cross for his team’s second equaliser. Considering Coady has trained with Steven Gerrard and Luis Suárez, considering his only minutes of senior football at Liverpool involved him replacing Philippe Coutinho, what he says about Neves is quite a compliment.
“He’s absolutely magnificent, the best player I’ve ever played with,” Coady believes. “He’s a spectacular player, he really is. To come from another country at such a young age and have the impact he’s had, he’s a role model for young players to follow. I’d heard a lot about him before he came to us because there were stories in the papers about Liverpool being interested in him and obviously I still watch what happens at Liverpool. It’s a privilege to have him in our team.”
Of all the influences on Coady, it is that of his current manager that has been most profound. Nuno Espirito Santo saw something that other coaches did not in Coady, who arrived at Wolves from Huddersfield Town in 2015 as a holding midfielder before being used as a right back by Nuno’s predecessor Paul Lambert. Upon changing the team’s formation to a back three, Coady was moved into the middle of defence where his anticipation of danger and passing ability proved vital as Wolves sealed promotion from the Championship with four games to spare.
“I know with the investment here, people will say the owners have helped turned the club around – which they have. In terms of the team, the manager has been massive for me as well as other players because of his approach and the relationships he’s developed.”
Wolves meet Leicester on Saturday before Manchester City travel to Molineux the following weekend, opponents that like Wolves in 2013 have experienced League One football at some point in the last couple of decades, before emerging as Premier League champions. Coady would reach for balance in the conversation when asked about the possibilities over the next few years. “We’re just very ambitious,” he reiterated.
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