03/18 09:17 CDT FA Cup run hardens Wolves' status in English soccer
FA Cup run hardens Wolves' status in English soccer
By STEVE DOUGLAS
AP Sports Writer
MANCHESTER, England (AP) --- It has been abundantly clear for some time that
Wolverhampton Wanderers wasn't going to be a typical promoted team in the
Premier League this season.
Funded by Chinese conglomerate Fosun International. Closely linked with
"super-agent" Jorge Mendes. Owning players from international teams including
Spain, Portugal and Mexico.
"Wolves," as they are better known, were never going to have a problem
preserving their top-flight status. It was simply a case of how high they could
go in their first season back in the big time.
Even they might be surprised how well it is going.
Check out this for a season so far: Seventh in the Premier League, making
Wolves the best of the rest behind the so-called "Big Six"; a place in the
semifinals of the FA Cup, with a very strong chance of making the final; wins
over Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham and also being the
first team to take points off Manchester City in the league.
After achieving promotion last April following one of the most convincing
second-tier campaigns in years, Wolves sporting director Kevin Thelwell said
the "sky is the limit." He might just be right.
Beating Man United 2-1 in the FA Cup quarterfinals on Saturday, to get to the
last four for the first time in 21 years, was perhaps the high point of the
season for the team from an industrial city in central England. The goals came
from two of the 10 Wolves players who have left to go on international duty for
the next two weeks: Raul Jimenez (Mexico) and Diogo Jota (Portugal).
It doesn't get much better for supporters whose team plunged to back-to-back
relegations in 2012 and '13 to end up in the third division.
"What pleases me more is, as I walk down the stands, there are people saying
that they saw the 1950s and '60s and they are still coming to the stadium,"
said Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo, referring to an era when the team was
one of the biggest in the country. "So, to give them back this joy and seeing
our fans going out of the stadium with a smile feels good."
Everton has spent $400 million since 2016. West Ham, now ensconced in London's
Olympic Stadium, sees itself as one of England's top clubs in a few years. But
it might be Wolves who have the best chance of breaking the stranglehold of the
"Big Six," who have had a rock-solid presence at the top of the Premier League
since being shaken out of their torpor by Leicester's surprise title triumph in
The most crucial job for the Wolves board this offseason will be tying down the
futures of some of the team's top players. They include Portugal midfielder
Ruben Neves, who has been linked with Man City, and Jimenez, who is currently
on a season-long loan from Benfica.
The striker has been a revelation with 15 goals this season, meaning he has
outshone international colleague Javier Hernandez over at West Ham, and it
might require a fee of up to $50 million to sign him on a permanent basis.
Mendes' involvement with Wolves, because of his close links with Fosun, could
help get that deal over the line, just like he was influential in bringing
Jota, Neves, Espirito Santo and two more Portugal internationals --- midfielder
Joao Moutinho and goalkeeper Rui Patricio --- to the club.
Key to the team's success has been Espirito Santo's tactic of getting men
behind the ball, before springing them forward on the counterattack with wing
backs Matt Doherty and Jonny Otto playing pivotal roles. Deploying a 5-3-2
formation, Wolves have been among the best teams at restricting opponents to
difficult chances simply by getting bodies in the way and forcing shots from
Seventh looks like the being the highest Wolves can finish in the Premier
League this season, with sixth-place Chelsea 13 points ahead. But winning the
FA Cup for the first time since 1960 is a realistic goal after being drawn
against Watford in the semifinals, which will take place at Wembley Stadium.
"It's one of the best days we'll ever have," Wolves captain Conor Coady said.
"We want to go there and do it right."
Wolves have beaten Liverpool and United en route to the semifinals. Man City,
which plays Brighton in the other last-four match, could await in the final on
That would be some way to crown a season when Wolves announced themselves as a
force in English soccer once more.
More AP English soccer: https://apnews.com/PremierLeague and
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80