The second episode of Ask Wolves series two sees technical director Scott Sellars provide answers on investment into the first-team squad, the strategy regarding players coming in and going out of the club, and the importance of developing Wolves’ young players.
Johnny Phillips: Scott, fans are obviously familiar with your role at the club now and the impact it has on the first-team. How do you assess the first-team performance this season? We have four games to go still when we’re recording this, but how would you assess it?
Scott Sellars: I think if you look at the start of the season: new manager, a lot of players away on internationals, obviously the Euros, so a new manager, a short time to work with the squad. Last season we finished 13th, this season we’ve been in the top eight for the majority of the season, so overall, I’d say a really positive season. I think the emergence of some of the younger players, I think of obviously Max [Kilman] this season and how he’s emerged. I think the debuts of [Luke] Cundle and Chem Campbell, obviously players I know well from the Academy, and then just the performance of the team overall. I think of the night at Old Trafford, going to Tottenham, taking Man City to a very dubious penalty with ten men and Arsenal we lose the game in the last five, ten minutes, so some of the performances I think have been outstanding. Obviously, with every season, every coach, every manager, every technical director will say, ‘Oh we should have picked a point up there, we could have done that,’ but overall, a big transitional period in the summer, that always gives you some concerns – is it going to work? – but overall, I’m really happy.
JP: Do you feel there’s been a disparity between some performances and others? Is that natural in a league like this, that you are going to get the good and bad days?
SS: I think in the Premier League if you don’t perform, then you’re going to have a tough day and there’s been some frustrating moments where probably we feel we could have gone into the top six and we’ve probably just not quite done that and that will be probably the only area that I would say I feel we could have done a little bit better at times. But, overall, the attitude, the desire in the boys and the staff, as well and the whole football club, to really progress this year I think is something we should all be really proud about.
JP: Absolutely. Do you put some of that down to squad depth, maybe?
SS: I think squad depth is always difficult because, ultimately, we are a club that likes to bring our own players through and if I bring another central midfield player in, we never find out we’ve got obviously an excellent young player in Luke Cundle. So, there’s always a balance between depth. And then probably, if I’m honest, we were at our strongest when we had the most injuries and the least number of players, so there’s always a balance in that and also making sure that you haven’t got lots of players hanging around who haven’t got a chance to play or very experienced players who aren’t going to be happy as well, so it’s always a fine balance. I think perfection is always something you’re looking for but, again, as a football club, we’re always looking at giving younger players a chance.
JP: And supporters are obviously keen going into the summer to know the plans. Do you envisage it being a busy summer?
SS: I think, as always, we’ll look at what we’re going to do to progress really. I think, as I’ve always said, to find players that are better than the players we’ve got is never that easy, so we’ll be speaking with the manager, speaking as a staff and saying, ‘Ok, well, again, we want to progress next season, can we get into the top six, what do we need to do to get into there?’ It’s not always about buying 20 players, but maybe looking at one or two key positions that we want to do something with.
JP: And if we could talk specifics regarding a couple of players, what was the thinking behind Adama Traore’s loan move to Barcelona and what do you envisage happening now?
SS: I think that, ultimately, Adama didn’t want to stay, he doesn’t want to sign a new contract, was offered, in our opinion, a very good contract. I think it was a situation where we had to look at that, he wasn’t playing, so wasn’t actually given an opportunity to show his skills, his ability, couldn’t get into the team, so we felt at the time probably to go to his hometown where he’s from, obviously he’s got a close affinity to the club and he wanted really to push that to go, that for all parties really it was the best option. We wanted him to go there, show everyone what he could do in Spain, obviously being back home, but ultimately, like with us, he hasn’t had the minutes that he probably wanted himself.
JP: And will that affect what happens in the future in terms of the fee you’d like for him or anything like that do you feel?
SS: I think it’s still to be decided. Obviously, we’ve got one or two things we can look at and it’s certainly something we’ll discuss in the summer.
JP: Realistically, what’s the club’s strategy with Ruben Neves?
SS: Ruben’s a top player; Ruben’s been fantastic this season and I think showed again his quality, also I think showed how happy he is here, so I think that’s something we as a club know as well. The ideal situation is we want him to stay, and I’ve spoken to him about it. But I’m also realistic that when you’ve got an outstanding player then the top clubs are going to come and try to see what the situation is. Again, it will be discussed, and what’s right for the club, and will certainly be something we’ll look at.
JP: Supporters are looking at the striker situation, saying there’s not much strength in depth there and then when you look at central midfield, possibly Ruben Neves moving on and Joao Moutinho’s age, they’re looking at those as areas that really need strengthening, what do you think?
SS: Yeah, I think it’s fair to say that, ultimately, we would say that we haven’t scored enough goals really this season and you’re always looking at opportunities to try to do that. I think Fabio [Silva] has shown again that he’s really developing this season and obviously Raul [Jimenez] has come back from an obviously traumatic injury and is still settling in, I still think he’s finding his feet. It’ll be a situation where we have to look at the end of the season, review everything. Ok, we haven’t scored a lot of goals and what are we going to do about it?
JP: Can you clarify the make-up of the scouting set-up, particularly with regard to the impact of Brexit and how that might mean you’ve got a further reach than before?
SS: Yeah, I think it showed last summer where we signed Yerson Mosquera from Colombia. That was something we probably wouldn’t have been able to do before, so the market’s wide open and it’s something that we’re always looking at. We do a lot more work now in South America than we’ve ever done, probably the MLS and, obviously because of our ownership, with Asia as well, so we’re always looking at all the markets. I think, like you said before, Brexit has really opened up the market, apart from obviously still having an eye on the youth development side where it has really closed it down up to 18 to only sort of the British market.
JP: We’ve had one question in from a supporter saying he’s read that Matt Hobbs is chief scout and Ben Wrigglesworth is chief of scouting, what’s the difference?
SS: Well, I think Matt’s in charge and Ben’s not. That keeps it simple. Matt is head of recruitment, head of scouting and Ben works very closely with him and obviously they work closely with me. Two people I know really well, so yeah that’s the structure.
JP: What qualities do they both bring to the club?
SS: I think both are very different. I think Matt’s been a scout a long time and it’s been in his family a long time, he’s really good with people, really good at communicating to people, I think really good at selling Wolves and I think we do that really well and people are really intrigued and interested in us is a football club. And Ben’s a bit of a data freak, and he loves all the videos and he loves watching games. I remember him with Yerson as a good example, him saying he’d watched Yerson at ten past two in the morning, watching a game and seeing a young player who he thought was interesting, so yeah a real passion for finding players and both very diligent as well.
JP: Are the relationships you’re building up with other clubs a really important thing? Obviously, we’ve seen a couple of youngsters coming through from Manchester City and the idea of bringing them in, in particular, seems quite impressive.
SS: Yeah, I think people just assume that recruiting is always about you’ve got to spend £100 million and I think we like to think of ourselves as a football club who like to look at things a bit differently. Obviously, my experience of some of these younger players I knew from Man City from my time there were players that I knew were available and that we could bring in that I thought had high quality and high potential and obviously a good relationship with Man City that they’re happy for players to come here because they know we’ll continue to develop them.
JP: Yeah, how hard is that when the window opens and the level of competition you’ve got with other Premier League clubs steps up a bit?
SS: Yeah, the Premier League now is a league where players want to be and obviously the clubs want to spend the money and there’s lots of other competitors. But yeah, it’s something that I certainly really enjoy and I enjoy that period, although the last day can be a bit messy.
JP: You touched on it before about the duration of time you’ve been here and the progress that has been made but, overall, how has the technical recruitment and the Academy side of the club built during your time?
SS: I think this season’s probably a good example. The under-18s have got to the Youth Cup semi-final, the 23s are second in the second division with a very young team and they’ve got the Premier League Cup semi-final tonight, so I think the foundations are very strong. It’s something that, obviously, I’m very passionate about and some of the clubs that I see really progress, sometimes it is the development and sometimes young players breaking through and really raising the standards of the club, so that’s something I believe in massively. So, from a development and technical point of view, I’m really happy, and we’ll still continue to work hard to try to improve that, again, and ultimately, Luke Cundle and probably Chem breaking through a little bit this season has been a prime example of that.
JP: And do Fosun see that in terms of the support they’re willing to give you?
SS: Oh, massively. From the first day that Fosun came in, I was working in the Academy and they said the Academy was vital. It was going to be the big area that they wanted to develop players. And again, if we look at development players, we look at the performances of Morgan [Gibbs-White] and Dion Sanderson and Ryan Giles and Matty Sarkic, all probably performing at an elite standard in the championship and three of those boys have been here since they were eight. So, there’s been a lot of hard work over the years by people to really give these boys a chance and I’d like to think they’ll come back into the football club and progress with us as well.
JP: The reason supporters hold the first transfer window of the Premier League era in such high regard is because the signings came off and they really worked. Will that be possible to replicate down the line do you feel? Do you think that you can get a window like that again?
SS: I think at that point we needed to spend a lot of money to get to compete in the Premier League. I think we used that market really well in terms of quite a few of the players were loans with options, so I’d like to think that we’re always looking at opportunities to make deals and to bring in players that are going to improve us. I think it has become more difficult because we’re now a Premier League club that’s now established. So again, as I said earlier in the interview, it’s very difficult to always find players better than what you’ve got; at that point, it probably was easier, but I think that we are always looking to progress and if there’s a player out there that can make us better and we’ve got the money to spend and we think it’s the right deal, we’ll certainly try to do that.
JP: In that sense, have Wolves sort of hit a glass ceiling and they can’t progress, or do you feel Wolves can find another way of getting through into the top six?
SS: Well, I think if you look at the football club, I came here seven years ago and we were just promoted from League One, so if you say we can’t progress, then I would probably say you’re probably wrong. I think the club is progressing on a regular basis. Last season was frustrating and obviously Raul’s injury and the season didn’t go as well, no fans, which I think is massive for us as a football club as well, so yeah, that was probably our first season that we haven’t [progressed], but again, this season we’ve progressed from last year. Again, as I said at the start of the interview, I want to progress. I’m realistic; I don’t expect us to go and spend the same amount of money as Man City or Liverpool, but I certainly want us to try to progress and I think certainly on the field we’ve shown we can compete.
JP: We’ve seen with the numbers though at the top end of the Premier League that perhaps you do have to spend significantly. Are you suggesting there is a way around that?
SS: I think that, ultimately, as I said earlier, to find players that are better than top Premier League players is difficult, but we’re always looking and we’re always doing something and I’d like to think if we really need to, then I can speak to the chairman and maybe he can help in that way, but it is difficult and I’m realistic.
JP: And how much of what you’re doing in a sense is down to what you can reinvest from profits of players?
SS: Yeah, I think, like I said before, there’s probably some players that will be moving out and I’ll certainly be pushing and driving hard to get that money to spend. I certainly get the sense that would be the feeling of what I’m allowed to do so anything that does happen I want to spend the money and certainly try to improve the squad and try to make us progress.
All 11 instalments of Ask Wolves series two are now live in video, written and audio format and can be found by clicking on the links below: