Wolves head of football development and recruitment Kevin Thelwell was the guest at last night’s meeting of the club’s Fans Parliament.
Members were given a thorough presentation in the International Lounge of what is a new role at Molineux and still fairly new in the game.
“If the head coach is going to focus on the team, who takes responsibility for the other bits?” Kevin asked. “That's where I come in. I work shoulder to shoulder with Kenny Jackett and make sure that all the elements that surround and support him work as well as they possibly can; all those things that help get one or two per cent extra for every performance of the season.
“If you speak to any football 'manager' about this role, he will say: ‘Who gets to pick the players and is he after my job?’ It was important that Kenny realised I was shoulder to shoulder with him and we were all in it together. Having the roles sitting together as they do was absolutely massive.”
Kevin went on to outline the working routine at Compton, adding: “Kenny and I meet first thing every day and again after training. Jez Moxey and I meet every other day. There are also loads of phone calls. Hopefully, we're seeing on the pitch that operation bearing fruit because we don't want to be in League One. We want to be in the Championship, then the Premier League.”
And his background of working with young players here and at his other clubs leaves him perfectly placed to appreciate the vibrant, fresher feel to Wolves’ promotion-chasing squad. “Youth development is also very important,” he added. “At any club, if one of your own is out on the pitch, you're supportive of that player for as long as you can be. We want to see more of that. We’re striving to get to a young, hungry team who epitomise some core values....like integrity and hard work. Jack Price is a really good example. We knew he might be the answer. The easiest thing would have been to say 'recruit someone' when we were looking at who to play in central midfield. Sometimes we have to be brave. Everybody is saying how he has similar qualities to someone like Joe Allen. Young players surprise you. We think we have a good Academy, a really exciting plan. There has never been a better time to be a young Wolves player.
“When we appointed Kenny, it was important we got someone who understood the club and could also live it. I spent 13 hours with 12 to 15 candidates, trying to identify individuals who could do this and that. There was only one I believed - and that was Kenny. We had to find someone to 'drive the bus.' He had to understand it, breathe it and live it. We're really lucky to have him. He can bring our plan to life and connect us to you, the supporters.”
To a point Kevin made about wanting all the teams in the club to play the same way, the Wolves way, Clive Smith asked how that was possible given that the formation could change from week to week. He was told: “They are all different examples of 4-3-3 really. We have people who are experienced and knowledgeable on how to put a system in place.”
Dave Benton asked what would happen to the structure of the club (with the head coach and head of development and recruitment side by side and reporting to the chief executive) if Kenny left. “If you had to replace him, would you have to find someone to do exactly the same?” he asked. “No two managers are the same.” Kevin answered: “The plan can't change every time we change our head coach.”
Simon Wade was interested to know more about the ‘DNA profiling’ involved when the club target potential new signings. Kevin said: “Every player who has entered the club has had a meeting with me at the training ground, had a meeting with Jez, been to the museum, been upstairs, downstairs and pitch-side, and understood the tradition of Wolves. They then know their responsibility before they sign. We want the right people. It's about the right people and the right players. Part of my responsibility is to make sure that when we talk to players, a huge amount of diligence has gone on.” Kevin said he himself often made the first move towards pulling off signings. “It's a lot easier for me to talk to a player than for Kenny unless he particularly knows someone,” he added.
Clive Smith spoke about Kortney Hause and was told he, at 18, was more a signing for the future. “Kenny has complete say on who we sign and don't sign,” Kevin stressed. “It doesn't feel right if we say we're going to sign him for you. Kenny is wholly comfortable with that. Gone are the days when one individual has control of everything. It's such a huge job now.”
Kevin answered a question from Dave Benton by saying that if Kenny threw a name in and said he would like him, discussions would take place internally to agree on a way forward before background checks were made on the individual. Steve Galloway asked about Nouha Dicko and was told: “We were aware of him and the facts don't lie. We have a fantastic back four and anyone who can achieve things against them, as he did by scoring twice for Rotherham, you'd be daft not to consider.”
Steve also said the current Wolves model wasn't far different to the one Ajax and Barcelona had used for many years, with a sporting director, and wondered why it had taken so long for the British game to catch up. “I'm not sure,” Kevin said. “Perhaps we thought we could do it differently and better.” Parliament chairman Matt Grayson said it had taken a generation for the concept to wash through and suggested it was difficult to imagine Ron Atkinson or Sir Alex Ferguson buying into the idea.
Jeff Bagnall congratulated Kevin on what he had achieved so far and felt the players who were standing out were the ones brought in under the new regime. Steve Phillips asked if it had been a plan of Kevin’s during his previous seasons at the club to have this sort of structure in place. “Kenny was the only one who really fitted our needs,” he said. “He's not just for now. He's one who can really take it forward.” Steve enquired as to whether Kevin, who once had a brief stint as Derby’s caretaker boss, aspired to managing. He also asked about what would happen if he (Kevin) left. “It's the what-ifs, like what if we go up this season. It’s no good starting to scratch round at the end of the season for players for the Championship if that’s where we’re playing. You have to have some plans in place.”
Lesley Matile wondered about the thinking behind selling Leigh Griffiths and the prospects for Jamie O'Hara. “Leigh is a fantastic player but was always drawn back towards home,” Kevin said. “Everyone who spends time away from their children would know it's difficult. It made it very difficult for him to live and breathe the plan here. His personal circumstances made it good business sense for him to go and for us to recruit somebody who could live and breathe the plan. If Jamie O’Hara falls into the plan because he can help us, fine. Players should be picked on their football. For whatever reason, he hasn't been able to do that. We have Kevin McDonald, who has been outstanding, and Jack Price, who has been excellent. Jamie hasn't played much of a part. Is the door shut? No. If he can come up to the bar, brilliant. He has worked really hard but it just hasn't happened for him.”
Dave Benton said there was some frustration at the players who had been allowed to go after not being given much chance by Wolves. He said he believed Kevin Thelwell’s presentation should go out to all supporters because he was happy there was now a plan and not just a stumbling from one hap-hazard moment to the next. Daniel Griffiths said it would need to be rolled out as a video or on radio to capture the passion he felt Kevin had showed. “I'm really impressed,” he said.
Tom Bason asked what would happen to the players currently out on loan and mentioned Kevin Foley as someone who has fallen from view. “Who knows?” Kevin added. “It depends how they perform. The situation is very fluid. They are reviewed and evaluated in the same way as everything else. Kevin had an issue with his ankle but is getting over it. It's down to him to impress on Kenny that he's good enough to get back in.”
Greg Asbury was put in the picture as to the procedure for chasing players and was told that the head coach, head of development and the rest of the recruitment team met every Thursday afternoon. “Kenny is at the sharp end, looking at players we are actually interested in,” Kevin said. “Other members of staff might just go to watch a game. Generally, it's Jez or I who make the first approach about signing a player. It’s not easy because the players we're after are always being chased by other clubs as well. But we've never said we're just looking for players to get out of League One and that we’ll worry about the Championship if we get there. We think Scott Golbourne, for example, has been a terrific player in the Championship, so he is one who was bought to do well in this division and higher up.” Kevin explained to Greg that the club had dossiers on potential targets, including their social media behaviour, to help them decide whether a deal was worth doing. “I'd like to say everyone we have got in has been first choice but that's not realistic,” he admitted. “It doesn't happen like that.”
One down side to doing well, according to Lesley Matile, was the worry about hanging on to talented players. She named Danny Baath and Jack Price but Kevin said he believed the players recognised that Wolves were on a ‘journey’ – one they hoped would lead back to the Premier League. “Jack knows that, if he's successful, he will be rewarded appropriately,” he added. “Danny's new contract was the right thing to do. He’s a fantastic player whose blood runs gold and black.”
Dennis Green introduced a note of caution by saying March had sometimes been a costly month for the club and asked if there was enough strength in depth if the side faltered. Kevin said: “I think we have lots of flexibility; players who can play in different positions. March is an unbelievable month.....play, go to sleep, play, go to sleep. We definitely have our eye on the loan market if we need it.” Andy James said he felt Aaron McCarey
had been outstanding during his recent run and was told that it would have been easy for the club to sign a keeper when Carl Ikeme was injured at the start of the year. “We had loads of people calling to say they had a keeper for us. Aaron came in and did fantastically well. His time will come but he understands that Carl is the number one.” Matt Grayson underlined the point that Aaron's attitude had been excellent and he understood why Carl was brought back into the side.
MATTERS BROUGHT FORWARD
Wolves’ head of commercial affairs Paul Lakin said there was a positive follow-up to questions at earlier meetings about Molineux’s two disused video screens. He said different ‘digi board’ software was available and the final pitch-side LED digi boards at both the North and South ends would be used as a digital clock and scoreboard next season. “They will be sponsored and all four sides of the ground will be able to see one or both of them,” he said. “It's a step forward.”
ANY OTHER BUSINESS
Chief executive Jez Moxey was at an FA meeting at Wembley and therefore a Parliament absentee for only the second time in six years. But he still arrived back to sit in on the last few minutes of the evening.
The also-absent Julian Dent had emailed some points, including an argument that the £25 saving on early-bird season tickets seemed very insignificant. Matt Grayson asked if anyone had renewed, learned that few had so far and counselled the views of the room. Dennis Green said he was happy and would pay it, although he and Keith Bickley felt the £6 booking fee should be just absorbed into the price rather than be shown as an extra charge that might niggle fans. Jeff Bagnall said that, after what he considered the extortionate Premier League costs, it seemed good value now. Hilary Clews said £320 was a good price but didn't feel the £25 was enough of an inducement for people to buy early. Head of ticketing and membership Lynne O’Reardon said the price offer was for a limited time until the club knew which division they would be in next season. Jeff Bagnall believed it was important that fans who paid up in March had to be convinced they were getting a much better deal than those who did so, say, in the close season. Matt Grayson said Wolves were committed to guaranteeing the best price for those who bought early.
On a similar principle, Daniel Cartwright said he felt out of pocket after paying early for some corporate entertainment and then realising there would have been a discount had he delayed payment. He said the experience had left a sour taste but Paul Lakin promised to look into it.
Dave Benton raised the subject of how Wolves’ season ticket prices compared with others in League One and the Championship? He said an ‘awful lot’ of them were cheaper and not many higher, although Ipswich’s were ‘hideous.’ Matt Grayson said it was often dangerous looking at averages because those at the extremes distorted the true picture. He said Telford had recently responded to a Wolves postponement by saying fans could go there for £10. “In comparison, we think the price we will be admitting fans for next season under early bird, possibly in the Championship, is good value at £13 odd.” Paul Lakin said the club were acutely aware of what others charged but Dave Benton felt more should be done to lure back those fans who didn't renew this season. “Surely we can afford to do that,” he said. Matt reminded the meeting of the club’s £33m loss and said the financial fair play regulations were also coming in. Steve Phillips pointed out that Wolves were the biggest club in League One and were having an enjoyable season. “I think the club have done all they can to come up with a fair price,” he said.
Matt pointed out that it would cost £23 – a pound per fixture – for under-12s in the Billy Wright Lower next season, regardless of what division Wolves were in. Dave Benton said he sometimes felt he was taken for granted as a Wolves fanatic. Frank Parkes said it was the football that would get fans back, not changing the prices.
Andy James asked on behalf of some Molineux Mix regulars about tickets for the game at MK Dons. Daniel Cartwright asked if he thought there might be 10,000 tickets available and was told by Lynne O’Reardon that there would be 6,500 – and more if they sold out. Matt congratulated MK on their marketing strategy and said: “To beat the 7,000 Coventry took there would be brilliant but we need to have Molineux rocking as well.” Simon Wade thought, with all the away games in March, it might be difficult selling the 10,000.
Hilary Clews said she had been emailed regarding away tickets for future games often going on sale on a Saturday when fans were travelling away. Lynne said that was the best day for opening more windows because of the availability of casual labour at weekends and said she hoped fans would be able to pop into the ticket office before departure. Jeff Bagnall asked about the possibility of away season ticket holders being able to buy on the Internet with no booking fee. Lynne said that group already had the benefit of a week-long purchasing window.
Daniel Cartwright complained that smoking in the South Bank, especially the lower tier concourse, had become prevalent. “I have sent a photo of a steward chatting to a fan who is smoking,” he said. “The area is full of smoke every game and the stewards don't say a dicky bird. It's not even covert. It's under the cameras - and I'm a former smoker.” Matt said it was the first he had heard of the problem and expressed the hope other fans would help police the matter. Paul Lakin promised to investigate also.
Dennis Green asked about the recent vote on safe standing and the decision to experiment with it at Bristol City. Matt issued a reminder that Wolves had been the first club to invite Football Supporters Federation chairman Malcolm Clarke to address supporters (at a Parliament meeting) and provide, through the manufacturers, a demonstration of the special tip-up-and-lock seats. “Since then, we've been keeping an eye on the debate and discussed the Football League questionnaire,” he said. “We said we had been calling for an evidence-based debate for years.” Darren Cash pointed out that the Ashton Gate pilot scheme was for rugby, not City matches. Andy James felt Wolves should have said more on the matter to fans and Jeff Bagnall remarked that the clubs pushing for a return to standing were those who hadn't invested in all-seater stadia and who were trying to save money. “I was involved a little in Hillsborough and can say that seating is far, far safer than standing,” Jeff added. “It won't be any cheaper for fans. It's a designated area.....you'll have one spot where you can stand....it's not free flow like it used to be.”
Dennis Green enquired as to the possibility of a Player of the Year award being introduced by Wolves’ embryonic Disabled Supporters Association, of which he’s secretary. Matt said he thought that was a good idea which could be implemented. Another wheelchair user, Peter Drury, said there was still a problem with obscured views because of fans standing in the North Bank. He also enquired with Lynne about the possibility of relocating to the higher platform at that end of the stadium and was told that availability depended on others not renewing.
Steve Galloway thanked members for their support in his sponsored ice bath plunge and said he had handed a cheque of well over £1,000 to the Birmingham Children's Hospital. With the same worthy cause in mind, he was also keen to spread the word of a charity match between Wolves All Stars and The Fox (Shipley) at The Bowl, Pattingham, on Sunday, March 16 (2pm kick-off). Matt Murray, Mel Eves, Dale Rudge, Don Goodman, Tony Dinning, Jon Purdie, Steve Bull, Jody Craddock and Andy Thompson are among those due to be playing or appearing, along with Sky Sports’ Johnny Phillips and BBC WM’s Steve Hermon.