Paul Lambert was in attendance on Tuesday night as Wolves Fans' Parliament decamped beyond club premises for the first time by using the Marston’s Brewery Training Centre at Chapel Ash for their second meeting of the season.
Managing director Laurie Dalrymple welcomed members, new and old, and said the change of venue was to be repeated elsewhere in future as a means of taking the club closer to commercial partners and sponsors and out into the community.
Supporter liaison officer Paul Richards chaired the meeting, which also had Kevin Thelwell on the top table and kicked off with concern from Dave Benton at the 'total loss of form of so many players....some of it quite astonishing.' Paul Lambert replied: "There are too many players here, nearly 30, and I've got to try to see everybody. There were too many to integrate, especially considering they are of different nationalities. Helder Costa has hit the ground pretty quickly, Ivan Cavaleiro is starting to do it and others are taking time to adapt. I know the ones who can do it and I know the ones who can't. The feeling is a lot stronger than when I came in. It was struggling a bit, but we're at an exciting time if we can get it right."
Neil Dady said he loved to see Molineux vibrant with big crowds but feared a fall-away in attendances unless results improved considerably. He asked the head coach how important it was in the interests of creating the right atmosphere and a winning team to have a nearly full house, even if it meant effectively subsidising the gate money. Paul said: "It's absolutely vital. I will leave the deals to Laurie but I went to Nurnberg a while back.....they were marooned at the bottom but had 30,000 in and it was absolutely bouncing. It's so important players and fans have a connection....that's why we have opened the training ground on a Tuesday." Laurie added: "We have to be managing our finances really tightly and ticket revenue is a very important source of our income. If we run a ticket offer, we have to guarantee that we are going to improve attendances to the required level. For example, if we had done that after the Sheffield Wednesday game, I don't think we'd have got 27,000 for the Fulham match. We don’t have the income support of Premier League parachute payments anymore, so whatever we do has to be carefully measured with fan engagement and income in mind.”
Jeff Bagnall said the players could do a lot more to help with the connection. "They always go to the South Bank but there are four sides, not just one. And the South Bank boo them first! It would be nice if they acknowledge all four sides." Paul Lambert responded: "The Iceland thing was fabulous on Saturday but if Bodvarsson went to the corner where there aren't many fans, it's strange. The Germans go to their traditional singing end as well”. The top table acknowledged the request and would aim to make sure all areas of the ground had equal appreciation from the players.
Clive Smith asked which formation was most favoured and was told: "I look at the opposition and judge from there. I watched Nottingham Forest on the Wednesday last week and came back with an idea for 4-2-3-1. It may be different when I look at Bristol City but you have to be flexible in the modern game." Kieran Newey asked if there were certain weak positions. "The squad is unbalanced," he was told. "You have to have at least two players for every position and there is too much of a gap with the quality. We're top-heavy in central midfield." Kieran enquired whether there was interest in Bakary Sako – a question Paul answered by saying: "He's Crystal Palace's player and you have to be respectful. He's a real handful but he also maybe has the African Nations Cup in January."
Kevin Thelwell replied to a query from Jas Bains about the status of Helder Costa by saying he was on loan until the end of the season, without any recall option. "He's done brilliantly and there is an option to buy,” he said. “But it would be very expensive and difficult to do if we are outside the Premier League. We will be working as hard as we can to keep Helder Costa for as long as we can.” To a comment by Greg Asbury about Financial Fair Play, Kevin continued: "Everyone will know that you can't just continue to spend. We spent a lot in the last window and that has to have an implication in the next one. In the first instance, it's more about out than in but we'll try to bring in one or two who can go straight into the side." Greg said he wasn't sure that message was understood by fans.
Paul Lambert asked members what their expectancy levels had been in the summer. Chasing promotion was the general response and Steve Phillips said: "It all went out of the window in a mad month and we're down at the bottom with a manager sacked." Laurie Dalrymple said there was an owner in place at Molineux with a willingness to invest and Kevin followed up: "Jeff (Shi) will be the first to say he has had to learn very quickly. After the Rotherham game, he felt we had to make a number of changes quickly. What happened at that time didn’t really work, nor did replacing Kenny with Walter. That's why we have Paul here. We have to reduce the squad to a manageable level."
Richard Perkins asked what the process was with bringing players in, especially with regard to whether the head coach could pick his own players. Kevin said part of the purpose of having a sporting director was so he could help identify targets and have more transparency and diligence. "Paul has enough on his plate, so we ask him what he wants and what sort of character he is looking for," he said. "We will go back to him and say we think these fit you and fit the club. But, and I must stress this, the only reason you can sign a player is if Paul wants him. If he doesn't want him, he wouldn't play him anyway." Paul answered a follow-up question from Richard by saying: "I'm not a shrinking violet – I left Blackburn of my own free will as I wasn't going to get my way. I am strong-willed and I'm not in it for the money – I am in it to try to be a success. If I just had signings chosen by other people, we would have a mannequin (in charge)." To another question from the floor, Kevin said Joe Mason last season was not a case of being a signing Kenny Jackett didn't want – it was more a question of where to play him.
Kev Paulins said he was concerned at suggestions that the January transfer window would see more players leave than coming in. He said he had been expecting more incomings than the two or three that Paul had talked about as being ideal in a transfer window."If we keep bringing them in, we will be top-heavy again," the head coach, added, stressing: "I don't think there will be any more than that number. There's no way on this earth you can train with intensity with this many players. There won't be 10-12 leaving but some will need to go out and play. In every window, you need freshness but January is a terrible window because no-one will give you their best players. They have to be ones who are going to play if they come in."
Andy James asked whether the club were likely to pay up the contracts of any players – something Kevin replied to by saying: "We're not at the point of saying they have no value. There's a lot of value in the squad. There are players other clubs would take." Laurie added that not every player that we brought in during the last transfer window as purchase and naturally some players will return to their parent club. Steve Page congratulated Paul on being willing to play younger players and, in response to a question about the head coach's assessment of the quality in the development and academy groups, was told: "It's the best I've seen in years, 100 per cent – the best in a long, long while. How do they develop if you keep bringing players in (from outside)? I will be disappointed if a couple don't come through before the end of the season. It's exciting....they are young and fearless. It's great for the club that the academy is brilliant here." Harry Burgoyne, Bright Enobakhare and Connor Ronan were among those praised. Kevin said there couldn't be a better selling point with talented young lads than to show them there was a clear pathway to the first team. In reply to a question from the floor, he said Niall Ennis's broken leg was expected to keep him out until around March.
Adam Thompson asked what style was likely to be developed. Paul responded: "I want young, energetic lads to play the way I want to play. The front four we had on Saturday are fearless and have speed. Quick lads can hurt opponents but we have to be better with the ball. Try to get them pressing......I don't like slow football." Paul said he felt the players weren't previously intense enough without the ball but were 'starting to grasp it.' Steve Lapper said: "My concern is players leaving. Kevin McDonald was the best footballer at the club. Jack Price is the next Kevin McDonald." Paul acknowledged: "As soon as I saw Jack, I thought he had to play because he has a habit of finding a player in the same shirt. I think he is a terrific player.” Paul added that Jack had recently been left out of the side due to a minor hamstring problem which had the potential to become more serious had he continued playing but that he was now back to full fitness.
A point was raised by John Tummon about what he thought was the superior basic techniques of German players and he wondered what the chances were of Wolves going in search of targets to one of the countries Paul used to play in. The head coach said this was difficult as German players didn't need to come over here. "There are some exceptions like Michael Ballack and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but the leagues are that good and strong. It's difficult to get them out," he said.
Before departing after an hour-long Q & A session, Paul told the meeting: "You have a brilliant club, that has maybe just come off the rails a little bit......forget what happened earlier. It has gone. There is a great infrastructure of people who want to do the job successfully. Your support has been really good and is appreciated and the club is on the cusp of something really good. Do things together and we have a better chance of being successful.” Paul was given a round of applause as he left the meeting.