Sporting Director speaks positively of the future
It has been a busy summer for quite a lot of people at Wolves, including Sporting Director Kevin Thelwell.
Busy but also very exciting, is the view of the Wolves chief after a hectic spell which brought new ownership, a new Head Coach (Walter Zenga), assistant (Stefano Cusin) and general team manager (Andrea Butti), and a flurry of new first team signings which ran into double figures.
“Busy would be a very good summary of the whole process” says Thelwell.
“It is obviously a very exciting time at the moment.
“We now have some really solid investment to take us forward with a group of people in Fosun who are very ambitious and very keen to help us build on what we already have and try and get to the Premier League.
“So while it has been a little bit busy and a little bit chaotic, we have all welcomed that because it means we are effecting change and evolving into what we hope is a club and a group and a team that is going to challenge this season.”
Thelwell’s own role has changed in title over the summer.
The departure of Jez Moxey as CEO saw Laurie Dalrymple promoted to Managing Director, and Thelwell to Sporting Director.
There may have been tweaks to his role as a result, but the over-riding job description has remained fairly unchanged.
“It is not hugely dissimilar to where I was before,” Thelwell confirms.
“There was a change with the Chief Executive’s position becoming one of Managing Director after Jez left.
“Jez and I used to work very closely with the Head Coach which was Ken and to make some informed decisions on the football about what to do with the group going forward.
“Now it is the case that I work closely with Jeff (Shi) and Walter (Head Coach) to do the same, and make informed decisions about the group going forward.
“So it is not dissimilar to the previous role, although maybe a little more autonomy as Jez always had a very big say in how the club was organised which was how Steve Morgan wanted it.”
On then to recruitment, which has perhaps been the major feature of all the change over the summer.
Wolves had to start late, with the ownership switch only being resolved towards the end of July, but they quickly made up for lost time.
Since the end of the 2015/16 season no fewer than 12 senior players arrived through the Molineux entrance doors, although several had also headed for the exits.
“Right from the off at the start of the summer it was clear it wasn’t going to be a simple process,” says Thelwell.
“The recruitment team and I were building not just one or two plans but probably three plans for lots of different scenarios.
“Because of way transfer window works, we had to very flexible in our approach.
“Of course in an ideal world we would have loved the takeover to happen earlier and to have had an opportunity to sign players who were available earlier in the window and maybe not later on.
“That said, we have made a lot of signings and are very happy with the players who have come in.
“It might have been less stressful had it been earlier, and everything being organised later has given Walter a more difficult job as he has to gel together a big group of players to move forward.
“So we have been slightly behind others in terms of preparation but the outcome is the same and we are very pleased with the players we have recruited.
“Hopefully we will see the fruits of that as they start to get to know each other a little better.”
In terms of the volume of the numbers which have arrived, Thelwell believes it was needed both to increase strength in depth and also carry the squad through to January with the loss of the emergency loan window.
And he also believes the recruitment, and future recruitment, has now been strengthened by the Fosun Group’s takeover adding further strength to the existing system in operation at Compton Park.
“Speaking from a very positive perspective, I think we have got a much stronger scouting system and resource than we ever had before,” says Thelwell.
“Fosun want to make sure they use their resources to the best of their ability and if there is an opportunity to scout players who previously we couldn’t, then we should use that process.
“All the information gets centralised to a central point which is the club, and then we make informed decisions around the choices of the players available.
“That has never been any different.
“And it is quite right that the Head Coach has the final say as he has to work with the players on a daily basis.
“As previously, we have player profiles, positional profiles, and search for a certain type of player in a certain position, and come up with recommendations to fit those profiles and the coach will make a choice.”
Thelwell continues: “In terms of all the players who have come in, if you look at the squad before we were lean.
“We were in a great position from a takeover perspective, because contracts had been managed well, we had no one on too long a contract, and some coming to an end which we weren’t going to renew.
“We needed new players, and new blood to add to the group, and we have done that.
“And, based on injuries, I still don’t think we are too heavy.
“We still haven’t got Dicko, Williamson, Graham or Zyro, and have lost Lee Evans as well.
“I actually think we are in good shape in relation to the number of players in the building, especially when you take into account that we no longer have the emergency loan window.
“Whatever you have now that is it, and we needed a bigger group to carry through to the January transfer window where we can reassess the situation.”
One area which has come under scrutiny has been the Academy.
Over recent years many Academy scholars have been handed their opportunities at first team level, but, with the new investment, and a bigger first team squad, the bar has been raised.
Thelwell is confident there will still be plenty of opportunities for the club’s younger players to stake their claim, with several not far away from knocking on the door.
“Right from the outset, Jeff’s point was about the importance of young players,” he says.
“Our Under-23 lads have been given the opportunity to play in the Checkatrade Trophy, when some other teams have decided not to enter or played a greater amount of senior players.
“Our young players getting that opportunity is a real positive.
“In years gone by we have looked at about 35 to 40 per cent homegrown as a general rule of what we want.
“That has now slightly changed, but there is still emphasis on young players getting an opportunity.
“I was able to look out of my window last week and see a 16-year-old, Morgan Gibbs-White, training with the first team, and players such as Niall (Ennis), Bright (Enobakhare), Sylvain (Deslandes), Connor (Ronan) and Connor (Johnson) have also had those chances.
“There are lots of opportunities for young players to be given the same opportunity as previously and that remains a key focus for the team going forward.”
One, slightly older, player who returned to the club during the transfer window was Richard Stearman, signed on a season-long loan from Fulham having previously spent seven years at Wolves.
Stearman was sold to Fulham a year ago, with the club stating they wanted to ensure those younger players were given more of a chance at senior level.
Now he is back, with his experience and character likely to play a key role in such a much-changed squad.
“Walter wanted a bit more strength in depth in that position, and more experience in that area,” says Thelwell.
“We had an issue with Ethan (Ebanks-Landell) in not being sure how he would recover from his foot injury and whether the Head Coach could rely on that.
“In my view you always have to look at these situations on an individual basis.
“Dominic can play at centre back, but he has been a right back in the majority of his career.
“And that would only leave Danny (Batth) and Kortney (Hause) as centre backs.
“We wanted somebody who we could rely on, who has done well for us, has a feeling for the club and a connection with the fans.
“Richard is a good fit, especially when you consider he wasn’t involved too much at Fulham.
“We were aware of the fact that when we decided to take him back people would be asking questions.
“But football changes, and you have to change with it.
“He was available and we feel he is a good fit and can be a strong influence on the team.”
In summary then, and despite the disappointment of Tuesday’s 4-0 defeat against Barnsley, Thelwell believes there are many reasons to be cheerful.
“Tuesday night was obviously a disappointing result but it had been a good start up until then and in football sometimes nights like that can happen,” he says.
“Walter made his feelings known after the game and both he and the staff and players will be more determined than anyone to produce an improved performance at Newcastle on Saturday.
“I think there is a lot more to come from this group of players now they are here and the window is shut.
“There is an opportunity to get to know each other better and build up more cohesiveness and the team spirit to help move us on.
“We could maybe have taken more points already, but my view is that I can only see it going one way, and Fosun are clearly focused on getting Wolves to the Premier League.
“There is a real opportunity for all of us to support that, and the way to do it is to get behind the team in these exciting times.
“Let’s hope we can show that in our performances in the coming weeks.
“The fans at Molineux are fantastic, and the more that come, the stronger we will be for it.
“Let’s get behind the team, and see where it takes us.”