By Jacob Horowitz, news correspondent
The city was covered in old gold, the signature color of the storied soccer franchise. On May 7, 2017, the entire city of Wolverhampton celebrated. Fans clamored for a glimpse of their heroes as they paraded through. Sidewalks became seas of jerseys and scarves as light posts were climbed, flags were waved and chants were shouted.
After undergoing a complete soccer makeover, Wolves were crowned champions of their league and secured promotion back to the Premier League for the first time in seven years.
The road to promotion began in the summer of 2016 when Chinese investment firm Fosun International purchased Wolves for 45 million pounds ($59.18 million) following the advice of Portuguese super agent Jorge Mendes. Jeff Shi, the club’s new chairman, quickly promised to, “take Wolves back to the Premier League as soon as possible and to stay there.”
But the first year under Shi’s control was disappointing. Wolves failed to secure promotion to the Premier League, instead finishing one place lower than the prior year.
Changes needed to be made in order for promotion the following season. Shi began by sacking the manager at the time, Paul Lambert. Next, Shi consulted Mendes, once again, on prospective replacements. On May 31, 2017, Nuno Espírito Santos becomes manager. Nuno is a long time friend and client of Mendes’s agency, Gestifute, one of the largest agencies in European Soccer with almost every Portuguese player of note on its client list. As the summer went on, Nuno and Mendes worked together to bring many of his hottest prospects to Wolverhampton.
By the beginning of the 2017-18 season, Wolves starting XI included four Portuguese players. Most impressively, the average age of the four was 23, making Wolves one of the younger teams in their league.
Of them, Ruben Neves deserves a special note: 20 years old, Portuguese, talent equal to that of a future superstar. Neves impressed many with his long range passing ability and his long range shooting ability. He led the league that year in successful long balls per game and is doing so again this year. Every goal he scored since arriving in England was from outside the box.
He is good enough to play on some of the best teams in the world, but Mendes has convinced him in to stay Wolverhampton for the time being.
Since his arrival, Nuno has demonstrated prowess of his own. He employed a unique, modern formation and uses a positive, fluid brand of attacking soccer, emphasized by the Portuguese talent secured with the help of his old friend Jorge. In a preseason exhibition, Wolves beat the Premier League champions of just two years prior, Leicester City, 1-0. The sole goal was scored by a Portuguese player, who was 23 years old, and another client of Mendes.
In the English Football League Cup, Wolves took top-flight Manchester City all the way to penalties and were lauded as the first team to put up a fight against a City side that would go on to win the top-flight. These performances showed that Wolves were ready to play in the Premier League once again.
After another summer of signings, Wolves are poised to make a big splash as the newest members of the English top-flight. Rui Patricio, the best Portuguese goalkeeper in the world and another client of Mendes, came to Wolverhampton despite offers from top-four English clubs.
In only the third Wolves match of the season, Patricio made a save against Manchester City that is already considered by many to be a save of the season candidate. João Moutinho, yet another Portuguese Mendes client, left the top-four French club Monaco to join Wolves and brings significant experience in domestic, continental and international football.
With all the additions made, this year’s Wolves starting XI is impressive. Nuno, Neves and company make a convincing argument for Europa League qualification and at the very least, a top-half finish. At the time of writing, the Premier League is five weeks in and Wolves are well on their way, sitting at ninth place.