With just 24 hours remaining until Wolves get their 2022/23 Premier League campaign underway, Bruno Lage sat down with wolves.co.uk to preview the new season, while speaking about some of the new faces in the first-team squad.
The head coach has also reflected on a pre-season which saw the squad head to Spain and Portugal to support their preparations for the upcoming campaign, with new signing Nathan Collins joining the ranks ahead of the training camp which allowed Lage more time to work with his players. Among that group were also several members of the under-21 squad, and Lage discussed the work of the Academy and how he believes introducing young players who came through the club’s youth system into the first-team can be beneficial for the changing room.
On signing Ireland defender Collins
“We are in a moment where we need to understand – me, Jeff [Shi], Scott [Sellars], Matt Hobbs – what is the moment of Wolves. In the same way that the things in the pitch they can happen in an evolution way, here in the team it’s the same.
“When you look for the team and you see important players like Saiss, Marcal and John Ruddy finish their contracts and leave, we need to replace these players with the best you can, for the best price. That’s why we have some targets and targets for other positions, and we found for the centre-back Collins, because what he can give to us, the way he can play in the line of four because he usually plays in that system.
“I watched a lot of games when he played for Burnley with the line of four and I watched a lot of games when he played for his national team with a line of five. We came to the right conclusion that the right price, the right player, the right man to get involved in this environment because here in this changing room, we have a good environment, we have good people, and we want to bring good people inside to our pack.”
On settling in during pre-season
“It’s very important. That’s why we make the camp also, because it’s opportunity for us to go abroad, to play with different teams, but there’s also the moment that we can stay together. It was important for us.
“The first week over there was just to do training, I didn’t speak too much with him [Collins] in the first week, so he had time to create a relationship with his teammates after that we could start talking about little things and what we can expect from him., he started to play, he was giving good signs, so we are very happy.
“Day by day, it’s about getting better, the involvement with other players is getting better, but the most important thing is that when we spoke to him for the first time, he had a big motivation to come and play for us. The way we look for him, we found our guy, but the way he spoke to us, we feel that good motivation to come, so it was good for us.”
On the summer transfer window
“We are working hard since the first days, so after one season we still have a lot of things to do because I can see the chairman is an ambitious man, me too, and everyone in the club wants to grow up. We want to do this transition, but it’s an evolution.
“We have a lot of players that did a lot in the past and they are still doing, some have now left the club, and you need to continue to improve the squad. What we want every time is to be prepared, and when you look back for the first season and the injuries, the way we started the season with few players after Covid and we took a lot from 14/15 players until the last month.
“It’s important the way you start and it’s important the way you finish, and when you look at that, we didn’t have players like Nelson Semedo, Max [Kilman], Ruben [Neves], Podence and Hwang with some problems and some of them with playing long season. Players out from injuries, players without full energy to give what they’d given in nine months, so this is the kind of things we need to learn. Create a squad, we don’t need to be a big squad, but we need to be a comfortable squad, that if these kinds of things happen again – because it will happen, some injuries, some problems with Covid, we have enough players in our squad to take care.
“Even now, we started the pre-season and we already have a problem with Raul [Jimenez] and we need to solve it. We need to solve it with the players we have in our hands. We have one month to prepare because after that, we don’t have any opportunities to recruit players for us, and it’s a time to understand that if something goes wrong, which kind of players, which kind of squad we’ll build to be prepared for anything.”
On players progressing from Wolves Academy
“We have been working with them since the first days, so I know a lot of the players and I know a lot of the work that our academy is doing, especially these teams; the under-18s and the under-23s. They did a great season last year, the promotion for the under-23s is very important for us because now it’s more competitive and can be a good challenge for us.
“Last season we gave a big chance to Luke [Cundle] and he did ok every time he played for us, Morgan [Gibbs-White] was here and we gave him the opportunity to grow up in a different environment, and now he’s back and we can see the big difference. The main thing is to know the players and after to create a plan for each one.
“We are very happy with the work that they are doing, very happy because we see the way they grow up during the season, and let’s see if something happens, because we need players like Max, players like Morgan, in the dressing room to give the impact. My path is from the academies, so I’m here, I’m falling in love with Wolves, with Wolverhampton, this is my team, but we need to be honest, no-one loves the team like these kids do; like Max, like Morgan, like Luke, like Chem [Campbell] because they grow up here.
“It’s very important for me that I have these people who love the club inside here, because this is the values, this is the culture of the club, and we cannot forget that. If se have the chance to bring players who can bring you something, or they can grow up here, for me, I don’t think twice for the kids to be working here, to become a man and a more solid player.”
On looking ahead to the new season
“After Spain, me and my staff were talking about how the team play against Sporting, because we played Alaves and it was good, we played against Besiktas and it was a different challenge, more hard, and the players did a good performance, Sporting, more hard, and the players did very well. Now we are going up and the enthusiasm is that.
“How they feel, how our team grows, and starts to play that real match that counts. That’s our feeling during this week, we are preparing very well, yesterday was good training, today the same, we have more days to prepare the game, but the most important thing is the way we are training, the way we are playing and the confidence for us, because I’m watching them every day and I want to transmit to my players because they are in a good moment.”