Ask Wolves sees supporter questions answered by Jeff Shi and the club’s senior management team and the full transcript of the fist instalment, covering transfers, strategy and the Academy, can be found below.
Johnny Phillips: So, the club has had 633 questions, many of them showing a lot of thought, many showing a lot of concern as well, but all hoping for a chance to speak to you, either individually or as a group, so we might as well crack straight on. The main subject was obviously transfer funds, so, Jeff, it feels natural to come to you – many asking will funding and resources be made available to Nuno?
Jeff Shi: The funding is ready of course, it’s ready, but if the question is about whether the owner will spend more money in the club, I think we have some barriers to conquer because the financial fair play is there, especially after we’ve lost so much revenue from the ticketing office and from the stadium, so I think in the next season it will be tough for us to manipulate under the financial fair play rules. I think we have to find a way to update, to upgrade, the squad, but in the meantime to be careful about financial things.
JP: How would you do that, Scott? Does that involve selling to buy? What ways can you upgrade the squad?
Scott Sellars: I think, speaking to a lot of people in football, it’s going to be a different window. I think Covid has affected everybody. I think, certainly, the words we’re going to talk about a lot is being creative, so maybe swaps, maybe loans, which we’ve done very well in the past, loans with obligations, so yes, I think it’s certainly a window where everybody’s working hard to try to find solutions and, as Jeff says, certainly try to support Nuno and help with the squad.
JP: Do you feel, Jeff, that Nuno needs every bit of support he can get when it comes to this window in particular?
JS: Yes, it’s about the club, it’s not really only about the one person, I have to clarify that. I think we will have a talk after this season to define the strategy for the summer and, from history, every summer, we do something, so next summer will not be different from that. It’s about how to review the last season and how to do better for the next season. I do think we may need to enhance some positions in the squad.
JP: There was one interesting question from Tim Bilida and he asked if money was made available, does that come from Fosun and then involve debt added on to the club or is it different, where you generate it as a club?
JS: I think it is public information that we have some debt from some banks and also it’s very common for every club in the Premier League, and our debt level is normal. And the funding Fosun, I think it’s the kind of debt without interest, so it’s equal to some kind of investment into the club. I don’t think too much about that; it’s more about ourselves, for the club itself, can we sustain, can we make a very healthy financial running, and also prepare, or reserve the money for the future; it’s very important. I don’t want to have a club always thinking about the next day, what will happen, but the good thing is we have gone through the difficult period for the last 18 months, now we are at a good position and we don’t have any financial crisis and also we have the base to prepare for next season. So, to our fans, I don’t think they need to worry about that; we will do everything to enhance ourselves.
JP: The transfer strategy obviously concerns fans and they all have very strong opinions on which players should be coming in and which players shouldn’t be coming in. Will Jones, Sam Marshall and a few others talk about the youth prospects that Wolves have been signing and then the here and now and what’s needed then. Scott, in terms of that, where do you stand on whether or not the club should be bringing in younger players or they need to have those sort of oven-ready Premier League players?
SS: I think all squads should be balanced, if you can. If you have a squad of 18-year-olds, you’re going to have problems, but at the same time if you look at some of the young players we’ve bought, I always say, well, where are they going to be in two or three years? 18-year-old Fabio scoring goals in the Premier League, where’s he going to be at 21? How valuable is he going to be in the future of the club? So, it’s always about getting a balance. I think if you sign lots of 32-year-olds who we can’t sell on or they’re coming to the end of their careers, then I think that’s a bad strategy. So, I certainly think it’ll be a better balance. We certainly feel, as Jeff said, that we need to improve the squad but also the first 11, and we’ll be trying our best to find the best solution and if he’s the best player and he’s 20 years old, then we’ll do that. If he’s a 28-year-old and we need him in the squad, then we’ll certainly look at that, but I think as a football club, we’re always trying to invest in players with futures, but we also have to be mindful of getting the right balance.
JS: I have to add: for a player and what he is now is not equal to what he will be in the future. So even if a player scores 20 goals in a season, then to me he can score 20 goals again next season. So it’s always about the future; when we buy players, we think about the future. There are a lot of failure cases in the past in the Premier League, where clubs spend a lot on a player – 30 million, 40 million for players – scoring 20 goals in some other countries, but they never work here, so it doesn’t mean when you buy a famous player or a name you know, it doesn’t mean success, I don’t think so. It’s more about, no matter where he is or how old he is, it’s about the potential and that’s based on our job from the scouts to value the player, to see the potential, so we don’t buy a player only for the history, the record. So young players, old players, it doesn’t matter so much. It’s about whether we can have a balance and whether all the players that come here can be a better player for the future.
Matt Wild: I think we’ve got a good blend of players, a good balance in old and young. We’ve got the youngsters, Fabio, Ki, Morgan – Max when he came in was only 21 – and we’ve got the older ones, we’ve got Conor, we’ve got Raul, Willy, Joao, and I think we’ve always had that from when Nuno came here, so I think it works really well.
SS: And Ruben and Diogo and people like this were players that came in as very young players, not seasoned professionals, who probably a lot of people hadn’t heard of, but look at what they’ve done for the football club, and I think there will always be a strategy of looking at young talent.
JP: I think one area where fans are concerned when it comes to young talent, and Jeff makes very fair points there, but can young players get you into the top six, the top four, which is what fans and the club are ultimately striving for. David Cecil, Lee Jevons, David Fraser and lots of people here just have a fear about potential, saying is it too much for them to shoulder in terms of getting the results here and now. Where do you stand on that?
SS: Again, I think it comes to balance. If we look at what the club’s bought, in Joao, in Rui and people like this that are seasoned professionals, that have certainly added to the football club and where the club is now, there is no doubt that their experiences have certainly helped some of the young players. So I understand that, but it comes to getting the balance right and also, with more experienced players, they are a lot more expensive, and there’s not always a sell-on and they’re not always a long-term future, so certainly getting the right balance is something that we talk about a lot.
JS: And also if you’re a top talent, it’s not really important about your age. If you say like Pedro Neto or Fabio Silva, I think they can get into any team in the Premier League, so it’s not really about age. Age is important, but sometimes your peak will happen at an earlier age or when you are very young, so I am not so concerned about it. It’s more important not to think too much about the age, it’s about how they perform on the pitch that’s very important.
JP: Matt, Simon Spragg has got a question that maybe you might be able to handle. He wants transfer business to be done early, but it’s going to be a strange summer, I think. My inclination is that it might not be done early, where do you stand on this?
MW: We’ve been talking about this a lot with Jeff, but I think it’s going to be really difficult, because of the Euros, and we were just talking about this. We’ve got players who could go through to the 11th July, who are going to need a holiday. People realistically might not be back with their clubs until the end of July, so I really don’t think a lot is going to be happening until August. The transfer window shuts at the end of August this year, so I think it could go right to the wire – hopefully not with us in general. We do normally like to get our squad in order. I think we’ve always tried to get the squad in order before the season starts, but I think, unfortunately, the Euros will prevail in that.
JS: It’s not only about us. It’s about the agency, the players, the selling club, the buying club. Generally, by my experience in the last five years, people tend to do deals in the last minutes, I don’t know why, but I cannot control it. For me, personally I want to do deals as early as possible, but sometimes I cannot control that. In general, always one or two deals will happen only in the last minute.
JP: Is that anything to do with maybe other clubs – selling clubs – thinking Wolves are someone they can keep hanging on for a little bit longer because it’s a club that has invested?
JS: No, I think it’s because, sometimes for the players, for the agents, they have multiple choices, so they have to wait, and wait, and wait, and sometimes the two clubs are negotiating about the price and whatever, so until the last minute, of course, we have always time to talk, talk, talk. So only when the final time comes, then we have to sign the deal, so that’s very normal, you don’t want to have a worse deal, you always want the best deal, so you have to wait.
JP: The squad size is an issue with a lot of fans – Richard Perkins, Richard Evans and tens more. Scott, perhaps this is best directed towards you. It looks, with injuries, as if that squad size came back to haunt Nuno a bit this season – where do you stand on that and do you think it will change?
SS: I think it’s certainly worked well in terms of giving young players opportunities, opportunities to work with the first-team. Especially in my previous role as Academy manager, it was a great opportunity for young players. I certainly think the injury situation and I think having the short break between the two seasons has put a massive pressure on the players and I think that’s been a major part of the injuries. But certainly we need to reflect on, and look at and try to solve that, but again I don’t think it will be going to a squad of 28 players because I don’t think that works either, but we’ll look at extending the squad and making it stronger to cope with injuries. We always talk about how many players we want for certain positions and certainly that will carry on.
JP: Why do you think a really big squad doesn’t work – it does with some clubs?
SS: I think it’s our model and I think every club’s got their own way of working. I think the top clubs will generally use 15 or 16 players. Obviously, this season’s been different because of so many games in such a short spell, but I think over the three-year period that we’ve been in the Premier League, I don’t think anybody could say that model’s not worked. This season it’s been difficult, but I don’t think we want to rip it up because one season’s been difficult. You know, Raul’s injury is a freak, it’s not something that can be always controlled, but it’s certainly something we’ll discuss, and we’ll look I think at extending it, but not extending it to massive numbers of players.
MW: I think that’s been one of our advantages that players are coming here and they know they get opportunities because we have got a small squad, so I think that has been one of the benefits for players coming in. Although, that said, it has been very, very tough with injuries. Especially as we’ve had two or three seasons before when the injury rate has been really, really low, so having another challenge has been hard.
SS: Some of the young players’ development in that opportunity as well I think is really key.
JS: Yes, also it’s a chance to give the young players, especially from our Academy, a better chance to play. So sometimes when we have many injuries it’s a bad thing of course, but it’s also good for the young players to step up, so it’s about whether they can step up immediately or if we have to wait. So if we have a strong Academy, and a strong young talented squad, we have no problem.
JP: The people responsible for bringing young players here came up in conversation with a lot of the fans and the reliance on Jorge Mendes – reliance was the word used – do you think the club is over-reliant, Jeff?
JS: No, we don’t rely on any agency, I have to clarify that; we work with all the agencies. But, first of all, we don’t work only with Jorge, we work with many different agencies, but why the people, the fans perceive maybe there are more players in the squad from Gestifute, what I can say is that all agencies are providing a service to the club, so of course it is our value, our favour to pick the right guy to help us. The right guy means he, or they, can provide a first-class service to us. So when you have a good agent and a not-so-good agent, who will you pick? So to protect the club, to help us to have a fair deal, the terms are easy to negotiate with and always providing us good choices, who will you pick? Of course, you will pick the best one. When you have already had some kind of experience for first-class seats, you will not go back to economic seats, so that’s the truth. But Gestifute cannot cover every market – so maybe in Portugal they are strong, but we also have many more agents who work with us. Especially after Brexit, I think we have more chance to explore the market in South America, in Asia, so I think we need more agents to work with us. But, in nature, who can provide the best service to us we will choose to work with them, so it’s not about reliance on anyone, even Jorge Mendes my good friend, I want to say that.
JP: He’s your good friend but he often charges high prices and some fans have said are the fees excessive?
JS: Matthew can say something on that.
MW: I think first and foremost let’s not forget we’ve bought some top talent in for some very competitive transfer fees. I personally think that we’ve made some real value in the players we’ve brought in – Jota, Neves, Neto, we’ve bought them for relatively low transfer fees. The proof is in the pudding with Diogo, who’s gone to Liverpool – we’ve probably made 30 million profit. Ruben’s value has gone up. Neto’s has gone up. Raul Jimenez now, so why would we not continue to have a relationship with them. I think the evidence is there. I don’t think they’re charging any more fees than what is out there in the market.
JS: I think for the fee it’s fair.
JP: It’s an interesting point you made about the profit that Diogo Jota will eventually realise because Michael Vann has asked is it becoming more like a business Wolves and are we losing sight of where you want the actual team to be on the pitch?
JS: I think it’s not about the business, it’s about for every season, even from the head coach, we need to do some refreshment, just because if you have the squad, the 20 players, the 25 players, always just the 25 players, it doesn’t work. Every season is a new challenge, you always need some new blood to come in and the Premier League is very challenging and changing very fast, and with the same identity, the same squad, you cannot handle everything. You can see the results, like Sheffield United, you can see that, and maybe with the same squad, but the new season will be so different to them, and to us it’s the same. So even from a sporting and technical view, we need some changes every season. And also for players, sometimes they need to change because for them when you’ve been in a city for three or four or five years, sometimes you need to change too, not only for the money or the new club, it’s about some change to challenge yourself again. So, for example, I don’t think Diogo if he stays here he can perform at the same level as he is doing at Liverpool because it’s a new environment with different teammates and so that is the reason that can encourage him, spur him on to do better. So even for the player, for his own benefit, or even if he can be a better player, sometimes we have to change. And also it’s about the two clubs and if we can sell a player, get some profit in, then we can use the money to buy some other positions we need more, it’s a good deal. So, for the deal of Diogo Jota, I think it’s the best deal, even the best deal in the five years after I came here because it’s benefitting all the three parties – the player, the buying club, the selling club – it’s not always like this, you know, sometimes when a buying club buys a player, then they think oh, he’s not so good. Even for a selling side, I don’t want that to happen because I hope to maintain a good relationship, and when we sell players, the player is from Wolves and we have done good things for him and he can do even better, or at least at the same level, there, so it’s a good thing for us. So, if you are using the example of Diogo Jota, I think it’s the perfect deal for us, I am very happy about this.
JP: Scott, as a player you won promotion to the Premier League and enjoyed a successful career there – there’s a lot of questions asking why aren’t Wolves looking towards the EFL in general and more home markets, can you answer that?
SS: I don’t think that we’re not. I think we’ve looked at some of the successes. I think you have to be straightforward that a lot of our players were Championship players – Conor Coady, Ruben Neves, they all played in the Championship for Wolves, so we understand what a strong league it is. The difference is sometimes the cost and the transfer fees – as we’ve seen with Ollie Watkins and people like that, and they talk about [Ivan] Toney now at Brentford – the transfer fees are very high, and sometimes is it the best value? But it’s certainly a market we think is very appealing and also a good gauge for players that could easily come into the Premier League, so it’s something we do look at.
JS: Yes, also, Scott, you mentioned this morning that, like Willy Boly, Ruben Neves, Diogo Jota, they were all from the Championship, right – we were from the Championship, so we know a lot about the market there. The only thing, as Scott said, is it being the right deal. The right deal means commercially, financially, sporting-wise, it should be right.
JP: I’ve got a technical question, which Matt and Scott might be able to share. The director of football role – there isn’t a director of football title as such and we’ve been asked – Adam Arnold, Chris Noon, Luke Scale are all saying are Wolves going to appoint a director of football? Can you maybe explain your roles and where they fit into that?
JS: Let me say first, the title is a title, but for me Scott is either technical director, sporting director, director of football; it’s the same to me, so he is doing the job for the three titles.
JP: You’re providing value for money.
SS: I think it’s terminology isn’t it. I think a lot of people still don’t quite understand what director of football, sporting director, technical director. I think ultimately I’m doing the role that Kevin [Thelwell] was doing, with a different title. So I think it’s a terminology thing rather than anything different from that.
JP: And, Matt, does your role slightly overlap as well?
MW: I think it overlaps them all. I’m here to support Scott, to support Jeff, to support Nuno and to support the players. From all aspects, from football administration, football operations, signing players, helping players settling in to helping running the services off the pitch here at the training ground. So it’s a full-on job, but having the two of us here with Jeff, I think it really works.
SS: I think hopefully it’s putting people who’ve got specific roles and expertise or knowledge in certain roles. My knowledge is technical, my knowledge is football, my experience is football; Matt’s a fantastic support to me in what he does as well, so I’d like to think as general managers we work very well together and that’s the best way for us as a football club.
MW: Scott’s been in it an awfully long time; I’ve known nothing else, I came into it when I left university, twenty years ago. I’ve worked with Barry Fry for two and a half years so I’ve seen everything there is it to see in terms of transfer negotiations, so I think between us we’ve got a lot of experience and a lot of hands-on experience, so it’s been invaluable.
JP: Well, talking od deal negotiations, Matty’s asked is there any chance of a longer deal for Ruben Neves?
MW: Yeah, I need to clear this up because Max, our head of media, was talking to me about this. I think in the press or our fans are thinking he’s only signed up to 2023, but in fact he is on contract until 2024, so he’s still got another three years, so fans don’t need to worry that he’s going to be going anywhere, or he’s going to be out of contract any time soon. So, yes, he’s still got another three years on his contract.
JP: And when Raul Jimenez got injured it thrust Fabio Silva into the spotlight and many felt he wasn’t ready and then immediately they looked at the price tag, as we touched on earlier, where do you think that signing stands, do you feel it stands the test?
JS: I want to say, Fabio at the beginning I thought he is the top player at his age in the world. Now, I think it has even proved that, because not so many 18-year-olds have played in the Premier League, score four goals, five goals, and maybe you can hear more names around the world, OK some wonderkid here or there, but no one is playing the same as Fabio is doing now in the league, in the toughest league in the world. You can do something maybe in Germany, in Portugal, but it’s different from the Premier League, so I still keep my position, I say that he is at least top three, or top one, best wonderkid in the world at his age.
JS: Yeah, yeah, it’s true. And, of course, everyone has subjective views about a player and maybe some say, OK, he’s not so strong, he’s not so fast, but when you look at football, you can see a very, very smart player there and also it’s not easy to find a good striker, you know. A striker normally takes time to become a good striker, but at 18 years old to be so good, it’s amazing. So I like him the most. And after he came here it’s more interesting because, before, I didn’t know much about his character, his personality, now I see him training hard every day, always smiling, doesn’t care too much about what the fans say, always focusing on the training ground and doing something very good. So you can see the obvious growth and improvement in the last four or five months, it’s because he has a good character and personality and it’s very important, so that is my view. I make the decision to buy the boy and it’s truly because I believe in him to be one of the best players not only in Wolves but in the Premier League in the future.
SS: Yeah, I think an 18-year-old boy to come from Portugal; he had no pre-season with the football club. There’s an adaption period that I’ve seen in my years in football. I remember seeing David Silva in his first season [at Manchester City] find it difficult, David Silva, who for me is one of the best Premier League players ever. I think there’s an adaption period. I totally agree with Jeff, I think his character is outstanding. I think he’s had a difficult time, and how he’s come through it, now you can see the potential in him as a footballer. You can see why people talked about him so much as a young player and I think he’s come through it really well. There’s no doubt it was a season we thought he would be learning off Raul, getting parts of the season, really learning about the Premier League, and obviously he got thrust into it a lot quicker, but I think now you’re really starting to see him settle into the football. The boy can score goals and can finish and I think he’s really clever. I watch him quite regularly in training and I think his finishing quality is very high and I think he’s come through the whole season really well and we’re really hoping, and looking for, a positive season next year as well.
MW: It’s a lot of pressure on his shoulders, isn’t it? You know, the transfer fee that everyone’s talking about and then losing Raul so early on at the start of the season. He’s just sort of thrown into the spotlight, but I think he’s coped really well with it, I think he’s done really well.
JS: But, Johnny, there’s something I want to say to our fans. When new players come, a new player comes, try to welcome him more, you never know what will happen, you cannot predict.
JP: Do you think they’re quick to make judgement in some areas?
JS: Sometimes I feel if they don’t know the name, they feel doubtful or negative, but if you look at the track record of our club for transfers in the last five years, it’s pretty good, I think, maybe one of the best in the Premier League. So sometimes it’s about trusting the player, also about trussing us. We don’t do things wrong very often.
JP: Well, one last question on new players, Euan Morgan has asked, could you do a job at left-back, Jeff?
JS: Sorry, I am right-footed!
JP: There’s no point dwelling on sold players too much, but Matt Doherty and Diogo Jota have come up a lot. What was the logic for parting with them both?
MW: Well, I think Jota we’ve already spoken about. The transfer fee was an opportunity too good to turn down really. I think any Wolves fan who ever thought we could have sold a player for that amount of money, I think it would have been too good to be true. So I mean that’s the reason behind Jota. And Matt Doherty…
JP: Why sell him? Some would say he’d reached the absolute peak of his performance levels and maybe that’s borne out this season, would you go along with that?
JS: I do think Matt is the kind of player suiting a style. At that time, the team, or the head coach, wanted to change the style a bit. So for a certain team, Matt can do a very good job, but if you want to change to maybe a more possession-based team, I think we need to maybe have a different profile of player, so that’s one of the reasons. And, also, I do believe Matt himself wants to move because he has been here for ten years, so I think it’s the right moment to move to a new club, to challenge himself again. So it’s a good deal. I think for a commercial sense we think the deal is good and for the player he can go to a new club, and also for the future, if we want to change our style of football, maybe we need to make some changes.
MW: We can’t keep the same squad each season, you know we’ve got to freshen it up, so there’s always going to be changes.
JP: Talking of freshening it up, Matt, is FFP [financial fair play] going to be an issue now going forward? A lot of fans have sort of identified that as a problem area.
MW: FFP for us has two strands to it. So we’ve got the Premier League profit and sustainability laws that we have to stay within and we’re doing really well in the Premier League, but the Premier League profit and sustainability is calculated over three seasons, so we’ve got 19/20, 18/19 and 17/18 – 17/18 we were in the Championship, I think we lost 55 million that season, so there’s only a certain cumulative amount of losses you can have so we have to make sure that we’re falling within that. You’ve then got the other side of it with UEFA – it was great that we got to the Europa League in our first season, but that, in effect, created other challenges, because we are now part of UEFA’s financial fair play rules and because we got in in the first season we had two previous seasons of really high losses, which means that we were never going to meet their break-even requirement. You then have to enter into settlement agreements with UEFA, provide future financial information, set out your stall for the next couple of seasons, so we are working within these sorts of parameters to make sure we fall within their break-even requirement further down the line so we don’t have to pay any fines, so it’s a lot more complicated than what people see.
JP: There is a history in the game of people just paying fines and getting on with it – where would Wolves stand on that?
MW: I don’t think we would.
JP: What about Brexit, Scott, it’s going to have some sort of impact isn’t it on future transfers and where the club look, I guess?
SS: Yeah, I think having both my heads on, as previously Academy manager, that means that at the younger ages we can’t sign anybody outside of England under 18 and we’ve used that market quite well in the past, with some of the young players, like Christian Marques and Hugo Bueno and people like that, so we can’t do that. From the older age groups, obviously the market opens a little bit more, but they’ve now got to fit the criteria of the points, and we did a study and I don’t think we could have signed Pedro Neto, so there’s a lot of talent that we have signed before Brexit that is now going to be more difficult. So we certainly have to spend a lot of time on it; it’s not just looking at the player and saying he’s a really good player, we’re going to have to go on to the GB calculator and see if we can actually sign the boy, so it’s made the market more difficult. But it does open up South America, as Jeff said before, Asia, North America, so again we’ll certainly be looking all over.
MW: Sorry, just going back to FFP, it’s always going to be a battle, but one thing is for sure: transfer fees are going to keep going up, player wages are going to keep going up and intermediary fees are going to keep going up, so we’ve got to look to grow the business and we’ve got to be looking at increasing revenue. If we want to be a big club, we’ve got to not just focus purely on the football team and generating transfer fees, we’ve got to look at other avenues, and like we said before, Scott said be creative.
JP: And I think we’re going to come on to that in a bit with Russ [Jones] and Vinny [Clark] later, about the wider business, which will be quite interesting. Roger Clark has asked if there are any lessons that you may or may not have learnt from this season? Is there anything in particular this season that’s taught you anything?
JS: I think for injury prevention maybe we can do better. Because we had a very good record in the last three seasons from 17/18 to now, maybe we were too confident about what we have been doing and maybe this season is a reminder to us that we could have done better and we will learn from this. We are doing something on the pitch, also we are trying to upgrade, so I hope for next season we can do something to have a better medical record.
SS: Yes, I think it’s been a season like no other season, and I think when you reflect on that – I’ve been a player, so I think to play the number of games the boys have played without a lack of rest, I think is a recipe for disaster. I think if it was just us who had injuries we would be really concerned, but injuries across the Premier League are up, so I think, yes, certainly we are always trying to be progressive, we are always trying to look at different ways of improving – pitches, we’ll look at the medical side of it, we’ll be looking at everything, but I think that’s been the thing you would say has changed the most in the season is the number of injuries. Some of the injuries are nothing to do with pitches, like Raul, but we’ve got to get on with it, and again looking at the squad size is something that we would look at, having looked at the injuries again, but certainly we’ll be looking again.
MW: I think from my side the Covid situation, not having a break, having to work with so many protocols. I think for me, working with the players and the staff, it’s really taken a toll on everyone. Mental health is so prevalent at the minute and it’s been on my mind that we have a lot of players from overseas – how are they coping with it? A lot of them haven’t seen their families for a long time, they’re trying to get them over, they’re being blocked because of quarantining and being on the red list. So that’s one area I’ve been focusing on for the last couple of months, trying to facilitate or integrate a player care provision within the training ground just to provide some day-to-day support for them – are they OK? What do they need help with? What do their families need help with? Because it must have been really, really tough.
JP: It’s interesting that, because supporters may only see what’s going on on the pitch, but behind closed doors players have gone through a lot, haven’t they, like the rest of us obviously, like a lot of supporters themselves, but naturally it will take a toll.
MW: It will definitely. Leander was having his family coming over for Christmas and all of a sudden we’re in lockdown again and they can’t come. Nuno’s hardly seen his family all season. It’s really, really tough.
JP: Let’s finish with a few quick-fire questions. The loan policy, Scott, there’s over 20 players out on loan – why so many?
SS: I think the loan policy is used for different reasons, so for some boys it’s to give them experience of playing league football, which is vital in some of the players’ development. Some players if they’re not required here, we need to get them out, and again can we give them the opportunity to play, because we talked about before we don’t want 28 players moping around because they’re not playing, so give them the opportunity to play and I think, as we’ve seen, some of the loans have been really successful. If you look at Rafa Mir, Rafa’s had three or four loans while being at the club, his last loan at the moment has been fantastic for the player. And they’re still our players, we want the best for them, we’re not just washing our hands of them, we want them to develop. And ultimately, again, if we talk about being creative, Rafa may make a lot of money for the football club in the future, so I think it’s always going to be part of our policy of what we do with players, and it will always be looked at from different points of view – experience, development and obviously trying to develop an asset as well.
JP: And is the scouting side of it your domain as well? Who’s in charge overall for scouting?
SS: The head of scouting is Matt Hobbs, who’s been at the club quite a few years. Obviously, I work very closely with Matt. Scouting for all of the scouts this year has been in front of video screens, I’m afraid. We’ve got some fantastic people who work really well to get all of the analysis and the data together to provide profiles on all of the players we’re looking at and all the leagues all over the world. But I think for scouts who like to be out and about, it’s been a really difficult year, but it’s something that we’ve had to do in-house and work very closely with, and we’re really pleased with the work people have done in very difficult circumstances.
JP: And James Smith asked, closer to home, the Academy, what’s your plan with that and how do you generate a system where you can get the best local youngsters?
SS: I think it’s something we’ve been working on for a lot of years. It doesn’t happen overnight. I’ve been in the academy system a lot of years. If I look at now in the West Midlands, I think we’re really strong, we’ve got some really high-quality players coming through, and I think all the best clubs should be built on the foundations of the academy and the young players coming through. If we look at this year, Owen’s breakthrough season; Owen is American by birth, but he’s been with us since he was 14 years old. So we’ll always continue to do that, and as I said before, we have the elite group that train with Nuno on a regular basis. A lot of the boys are under-18 at the moment, and the under-23s at the moment, the majority of them are under-18; the under-18s at the moment we’ve got a lot of 15-year-old boys in there, so we’re really trying to push that. It’s something that Jeff’s very passionate about, but I think Fosun are as well and the football club, and we’ll certainly try to develop that.
JP: Matt, we touched on Covid just now when we talked about the players. Has Covid changed any targets in the short term, has it made the club reassess anything they do, their vision?
MW: I think it’s been two seasons into one. The protocols that we’re all under, and continue to be under, has been like nothing before. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve been really appreciative to the government that we’ve been able to keep playing. It’s been not only good for us, but for the public as well to watch football, but what we’ve had to work under – we were kicking off at all weird and wonderful times and days and having to have different hotels than we’d ordinarily use, we’re travelling on two buses. At the training ground, we’re having to social-distance, apart from when we’re on the pitch. We can’t all eat together as we’d normally do. At matches, the team might not even be in the same dressing room; you might have to have the starting 11 in one and the subs elsewhere.
JP: What’s the player reaction been to that, when they’re all hugging and celebrating a goal on the pitch but then they have to come off it and stay apart? Does it feel a bit bizarre?
MW: They think I’m like the Covid police, because I’m constantly telling Conor, no you can’t do that, and if you notice, we do the team huddle before we kick off, you’ve probably noticed for the last few games we’ve not been doing it and that’s because with Premier League protocols, you have to social-distance, so it’s been hard for everyone to work under.
JP: No one loves a goal celebration more than Conor – how’s he coped?
MW: Even he’s tried to tone it down – and the manager and the coaching team as well, because they love their huddles as well. I think we’ve all adapted, I think it’s been a season like no other. I think if we finish 12th I still personally think it’s a good finishing position given everything that’s gone on. So we’ll learn from it; we’ve now got a chance for a break – a much-needed break after the last two seasons. I think we just regroup, reset, and go again.
JP: Brilliant, couple more, Clive Smith wants to know, Jeff, were there any conversations that you were involved in around the European Super League?
JS: No, I heard at the same time as the fans.
MW: I called you, didn’t I?
JP: You called Jeff up?
MW: Yeah, we had an email from Richard Masters at the Premier League, just saying he was expecting an announcement that evening and I think then panic set in a bit and I was saying to Jeff, I’m sure it’s going to be a press conference because of all of these clubs supposedly signing up to it and then you start worrying – have they got a broadcast partner? This could have a really detrimental effect to the competition that we’re in. So we’re waiting for something to happen and then just for this written statement to come out, it was bizarre. But we had no idea whatsoever.
JS: I had no idea, but I did talk with some friends about it after it happened, but I said to the friends – some friends in China, some friends in Europe – I told them it’s not going to happen in the UK because the people who are trying to initiate it didn’t know much about the UK market and the industry here. UK football is so special.
JP: There was a feel of sort of back-of-a-fag-packet organisation about it. Maybe you can’t say that! Just to finish off, Harry Mansell wants to know does the negativity amongst fans that sometimes finds its way into the club, be it through forums, be it from the stands, whatever it may be, does it put you off at all?
JS: Of course, I do hear from them and I do want them to be happy, so sometimes I feel not that good when they show me some negativity. Just now I did an email to one of them, because every week I receive several emails from the fans, and I do try to reply to them, and for the email today, I said my major job is not to please the fans by words. It’s hollow, it has no meaning – I can tell you we’ll do better or whatever, but it doesn’t really make the future better. My major job is to do good things for the club by actions not by words. So I don’t want to come out to speak to you every day, it doesn’t help, so you have to save my time to focus on the job inside the club. Then, on the other side, being negative, of course you can show your emotions, football is all about the emotions of course, but my personal experience is, when I sleep, it’s all gone, because the future is always in your hands. I think in the running of a club, negativity is not any use, because if you always regret the past or whatever, it doesn’t help, so only being positive is practical and viable to what we are doing in the club. So sometimes I fear the negativity from the fans will impact the staff inside the structure, so I made a lot of efforts to talk to them – don’t listen too much to the fans, focus on your job. I use Fabio as a good example. Some players, some staff, have the strong mentality to shrug it off and do your own job, that’s the right mentality we want to have. Sometimes I think it may be because Wolves have in history, in the last maybe thirty, fifty years, been not so good at the right level and I heard some fans are celebrating the history, record of the seventies, the longest period in the Prem. I never think about it, I don’t think it’s something worth celebrating but it reflects maybe where the negativity would have come from because you are always worried, concerned that history will happen again, but I want to say to them, OK now, you have to trust us. The five years can tell you something, so in general if you have five years’ good track record, you can maybe do better things in the next five years. People make a difference, so that’s important.
MW: Johnny, if you take stock. In five years, we got promoted, we qualified for Europe, we finished 7th again, we’re probably going to finish 12th, we got to the FA Cup semi-final, we travelled all round Europe last year in the Europa League – it’s been amazing. There’s so much to be positive about and no doubt there’ll be a lot more to follow. It’s been incredible – 7th, 7th and if we get 12th, I think it’s an amazing achievement.