Not many things are certain in English football. Maybe the bagful of goals that Harry Kane will score each season, or the several hugs that Jurgen Klopp will dole out to his players and staff, or even the number of rants Jose Mourinho will launch into every season, are predictable but not much else is. Who will win the Premier League or who will get relegated or who will win the Championship? In most seasons, fans have to wait for a long time into the season to find potential answers for such questions.
But, the last season in the Championship was a bit different. As early as September 2017, pundits were predicting that Wolverhampton Wanderers (Wolves) will be able to win the Championship easily. The owners’ good friend Jorge Mendes’ advice was heeded, and a lot of changes were rung in last summer. First, Wolves appointed Nuno Espirito Santo (Nuno) as the manager, pulling him away from the heights of Primeira Liga and Champions League at FC Porto to the hustle and tumble of the Championship. Nuno, in return, brought in seven Portuguese players with him, including the Championship record signing Ruben Neves for £15.8 million.
The results are for everyone to see. Wolves won the Championship at a canter with a comfortable lead of 9 points over the second-placed Cardiff. Now that the immediate target of promotion has been achieved, Wolves next target would be to stretch their run in the Premier League to as long as possible. If anyone thought that Wolves and Nuno will make a lot of changes in the squad to achieve this new target, they would be correct. Including their youth squads, Wolves have let go of, loaned out or sold 23 players this summer. But they have also signed (including loans being made permanent) nine different players this summer. And yes, most of the players coming in this summer are also Portuguese or have played in Primeira Liga.
2018 Summer Signings
The French central defender played 37 of the 46 league games last season after he joined from FC Porto on loan last summer. He also scored three goals in attack making him a substantial aerial threat as well. His aerial prowess will, of course, hold him in good stead in the Premier League as well. Nuno must have felt some confidence in the French man to make his loan deal from last summer a permanent move this summer.
Jimenez became the first new signing for Nuno this summer, just before he joined up with his Mexican team in Russia for the World Cup. Jimenez is not only a veteran of 62 international caps and 14 goals for Mexico but he has also played for Club America in his homeland winning two Liga MX titles. From Club America, he moved to Athletico Madrid, where he spent a relatively short time before moving to Benfica in Portugal. In 120 appearances for the Lisbon club, Jimenez has scored 31 goals and assisted 15. He averaged a goal or an assist every 75 minutes last season, leading Benfica to the league victory.
The Portugal goalkeeper was the second new signing for Nuno this summer. Wolves signed him from Sporting CP in Lisbon, where the goalkeeper has played for the last 18 years since he signed for them as a 12-year-old. Patricio has made 460 appearances for Sporting CP, including 26 in the Champions League and 49 in Europa League, and has kept 179 clean sheets.
Last season’s second-highest goalscorer, Bonatini, has made a permanent move to the Molineux after last season’s loan stint. Although he is Brazilian and signs from the Egyptian club Al-Hilal, he has played earlier in Portugal for Estoril. Bonatini scored 12 goals in 43 appearances last season and was instrumental in Wolves establishing an early lead in the Championship. Nuno will be hoping for a similar goal return this season.
The Portuguese teenager made league nine appearances for Wolves last season, in which he scored once. He also made four cup appearances. Vinagre has signed from AS Monaco whom he had joined from Sporting CP’s academy.
Jonny Castro Otto
The lone Spaniard to be signed this summer – Otto joins Wolves on a year-long loan deal from Athletico Madrid. The 24-year old fullback can play on either flank and has played his entire career so far at Celta Vigo, for whom he has put in more than 200 senior appearances. He was also a part of Celta’s satisfactory season in 2017-18, where he played all games except two.
Joao Moutinho has been a permanent fixture in AS Monaco’s team for last few years and is the third-most capped player for Portugal. Moutinho signed a two-year deal with Wolves earlier in July to become the latest Portuguese or Primeira Liga-based player to turn up at the Molineux. Moutinho has played in successful teams at Sporting Lisbon, Porto and Monaco and was also a part of the Portugal team that won the 2016 Euros.
Not only are Wolves signing players for the first-team from Portugal, but they are also bringing in youngsters from Portugal to bolster their youth ranks. Paulo Alves joined Wolves’ under-23 side from Liverpool earlier in July but originally he hails from Madeira in Portugal – the same area as Cristiano Ronaldo. Alves had joined Liverpool in the summer of 2015 from Porto.
Other than Benik Afobe, who has been immediately loaned out to Stoke City after being signed on a permanent deal, every other signing that Wolves have made this summer has a Portugal connection. If it were a FIFA Ultimate Team video game, it would lead to a lot of positive chemistry in the squad. Nuno will be hoping that the shared nationality or football background indeed helps to strengthen the chemistry in his squad further and that his team can hit the ground running again this season, just as they did last season. If they do, safety from relegation may not be a difficult target to achieve for Wolves.