Welcome back folks, it feels so good to be back into daily writing again. I have really missed it! Anyway, as I said yesterday we will be playing the European Super Cup against Schalke and then a few league games. Who knows how far we will go together, eh? It is like we have to start our relationship again right from the beginning.
A while ago I added the Argentine, Brazilian, Spanish and Italian leagues in the background as I have a feeling that I will want to move abroad once the Wolves decade comes to an end. I have an inkling towards South America as I have never managed down there and it could be quite good fun. In the meantime, we were off to Poland to play Schalke.
Before we start I guess I should introduce you to some of the players, so you get to know some of the key characters that will be involved in this journey together. The team I selected for the Schalke game was:
Yannick Van Osch – the Dutchman joined us for just £47k from PSV a few seasons ago when it was looking likely that club icon Carl Ikeme was going to leave at the end of his contract. Yanny spent a season on the bench and then took over, and since being number one has won the PL twice, the CL, the FA Cup and the League Cup. I’d call that value for money.
Tony Aubry – Aubs joined us from Bordeaux for £800k to be cover for Bernardo Carlos at right wing back. Since Carlos has buggered off to Arsenal for many a million, Aubs will be the right back and vice-captain this season. He can also play centre-back and must be on the verge of a French cap.
Jim Whiteley – when Big Jim is not writing about betting, he is one of the finest centre-backs in the game. He joined me as a raw 18-year-old for £4.9m six years ago and has won everything going in the game other than the World Cup which, let’s be honest isn’t going to happen as a Yank.
Regan Poole – Reegs was a bargain £350k from Southampton. Taking over from Natters at the back, Welsh international.
Andrew Adams – Addo has battled with club captain Tommy Rowe for the left back spot for the last three seasons and will probably rotate a lot this season, even as first choice. England international, always averages above 7.50
Sergi Darder – Dards joined us for about £5m from Liverpool where he was on the list. As a replacement for M’Vila he has been solid, if not that spectacular, in the half back role. Yet to get a Spanish cap.
Rogan Reid – Reidy finally broke on to the scene last season and won himself a spot in the failed World Cup campaign. A convert from the left flank to centre midfield he is possibly the leading English midfielder.
Onder Subasi – Subs is a Turkish wonderkid who is yet to live up to his potential. He is likely to be the first choice DLP, but needs to start influencing games.
Luka Jovic – Luka is in his second spell at the club, having joined for £5m from Red Star. 26 league goals (and many, many Europa League, FA and League Cup goals as well – no idea why the career stats don’t show these) later he was off to City for £52m. 9 appearances at the Etihad and he was back at Molinuex where he has struggled to recapture his form. However, a man-of-the-match performance in the Champions League Final might have changed all that.
Hervin Ongenda – Onny is possibly the player I respect most in the game currently, maybe just ahead of Tommy Rowe. Onny joined us from PSG for £225k and was terrible for three seasons, and I just could not sell him. Then injuries and sales saw him in the starting line-up for a run and he started smashing the goals in. He now has over 50 league goals, loads in Europe and the domestic cups too. Top player.
Benik Afobe – Big Ben is one of my originals, in fact along with Tommy he is the only original player left. What a striker, England missed out by not picking him. He is a guaranteed 15-18 goals a season, more if he stays in the team. He will be fighting for a place in that front three, as on the bench I have Aubameyang, Hagi and a young English prospect, Oseni.
I’ll talk about the subs as and when they get a part in the script. So, Schalke! Was it going to be a war in Warsaw?
8 minutes in and Onny played a clever one-two with Aubs, charging down the right. The Frenchman then threaded the ball through to Jovic, running in behind. Luka took one touch and fired home, Wolves one goal to the good! We quickly doubled that, Subasi crossing to the far post and Luka, again, arriving with impeccable timing to guide it home. Jovic was clearly in the mood as before the clock even reached twelve minutes he was peeling away celebrating a hattrick! Reidy and Onny linked beautifully and Luka again slipped the ball into the far right hand corner for 3-0. I had a feeling we had this game sewn up when Addo crossed to Reidy arriving at the near post and he volleyed it home. Yes, 4-0 after just 15 minutes. Things quitened down, Subasi nearly made it 5-0 just before half time but his shot was beaten away. In fact Schalke got the last goals of the first half, Calleri stealing in at the near post to score from close range and then Meyer hitting us on a break from our own corner to make it 4-2 at half time.
I gave the lads a kicking in the break, I don’t tend to do much other than bollock them at half time to be honest, and we came out for the second period. The friendly advice paid dividends immediately, Ongenda running through and getting our fifth. 5-2 became 5-3 and again we were hit on the break from our corner, something that never happens. Meyer ran half length of the pitch and finished superbly. The cup and, I presume a place in the World Club Championship, was ours and I decided to focus more on the brilliance of our attacking play than the fact we got hit on the counter more times than I have ever seen.
We had five days to get our breath back before we started the defence of our Premier League crown against new boys Leeds. I named an unchanged starting eleven and we trotted out at Elland Road hoping to make them wish they were still in the Championship.
In a move I hope to see repeated throughout the season, Aubs crossed the ball into the middle and Onny arrived with a banging header to put us ahead. That was the only event of note in the first half, and it led to the standard Darwen half time chat. The lads game out with their ears ringing and Reidy took the initiative, driving through midfield, feeding Onny who found Big Ben. Bang, 2-0. Reidy had his eyes on the man-of-the-match award when he fired home number three, from a well worked short corner. Leeds just couldn’t keep the young man out of the game, as it was Reid who got fouled in the area for the 84th minute penalty. Onny drove it home. I was quite pleased with the start of our title defence.
We had a week to prepare for the first league game at the newly refurbed Molineux. Finally, the ground had been expanded to over 40,000 seats. I dabbled in a little transfer activity, picking up another Barca striker who was on the list and had 4.5 star potential. Using some of the Guido Merry methodology, he will only improve at the club and if he does not make it in our first team he will sold on for a profit for sure.
At this early stage in the season there has been no need to rotate the side, so we greeted our fans with another unchanged XI. I was able to give the only team talk I ever give the side before a game, when it is available – go and carry on from where you finished the last game. I don’t bother with anything if this is not available to me. Aubs nearly got us off to a great start, a stinging long range effort tipped wide. We did go ahead, and once again it came from a move created down the right. Aubs found Jovic, who’s first time cross was acrobatically volleyed home by Onny. The boy already looks good for another 30+ season! He hit the post late in the first half, and it looked like we would come in just one goal ahead. But no! Luka found space, slipped his partner in and Onny slotted home his second.
We started the second half slowly and a lad I have been scouting for three years in the hope Man City finally put him up for sale pulled one back. Remember the name, Dave Beech. We restored our two goal advantage, Hagi hitting the post and the clearance bashing into Subs, who was delighted to claim the goal. Hagi, on as sub, is starting to settle. He laid on Onny’s hattrick, pulling it back and leaving the man with an open goal to tap into. It was a nice 4-1 win and eight goals in the first two league games set us up nicely for the trip to Old Trafford.
United have been a funny side in this save. They have won the Premier League four times, the Champions League once, the FA Cup once and the League Cup four times but they are certainly not the side they once were. Van Gaal resigned having won the title and three cups in a little over two seasons in the job. Next in was AVB, now the poxy England manager, and he went on to win three titles and seven cups in nearly five years. He was sacked having lost the title to us. In came the then Red Star Belgrade gaffer Mladen Dodic, and he left trophyless after one season, last season. They have now turned to Inzaghi, and I am probably giving us the kiss of death by suggesting I am not massively worried by the trip up the motorway to Manchester.
Quickly talking U21’s, the new lad from Barca netted a hattrick on his debut for the stiffs. That is interesting to me. The League Cup, which I need to win again, gave us Stoke as 3rd Round opponents. The Champions League, which I also need to win again, gave us Milan, Anderlecht and Monaco as our group opponents. Quietly pleased with that to be honest. Barca transfer listed another one of their youngsters that I have been tracking for three or four years, and I hoped to nab the 22-year-old midfielder for £875k. £25k for him to play in the U21’s for a bit seemed a little excessive, but he could be another bargain buy.
The week between matches allowed the side to be refreshed and unchanged, despite Hagi impressing me off the bench for Afobe last time out. We were facing Depay and Fierro, both of whom have great scoring records against us, but their back four looked old and weak so I fancied us to net a few. United controlled the early stages and we needed Van Osch to be alert several times. Our first real attempt to get the ball down and play resulted with Addo being cleaned out in their area, and the penalty was given. Onny placed it low to De Gea’s right and we were ahead. Although we grew in confidence, United pegged us back. Depay shot from distance, Van Osch parried out and Brennan followed up from a very tight angle to level the match. With Afobe and Whiteley having poor games I hooked them both at the break. On came club captain Tommy Rowe at left back, Addo moving central, and Hagi.
Jovic forced a worldie of a save from De Gea straight from kick off, but on the hour Fierro reminded us he was on the pitch, 2-1. Reidy then hit the bar with a free kick and our tails were up again. Onny found space, 2-2! Still United came at us, Fierro had one ruled out for offside, Brennan hit the post. They got their third with fifteen to go, Fierro unmarked at the far post. It looked like it was over, then Reidy jinked into space and laid it on for Hagi. Goal!! The young Romanian son of a legend got his first goal for the club! There was even more juice left in the game, Hagi denied a clear penalty before Reidy picked the ball up deep and drove at the United back four. They backed off and he shot, De Gea saved and Ongenda was there again for his hattrick. Incredible scenes. We held on for a famous win, in the words of the commentator “what a game!”
Twelve goals in three games softened any doubts that we might not score as many this season. We had a two week break before the QPR game, and in that time (which took an age to pass because of the end of the transfer window) another two players that I had been tracking became available. Both were under 23 and would get time to develop in the U21’s before a final decision was made on them – enter centre back Roberto Serrano from Real Madrid and Eze Vitti from Colon. Combined outlay? £3.8m. Bargains, bargains everywhere!
Worryingly, young Reidy was in the office on deadline day saying he wanted to go to United. I reacted the way I always do in those situations, promising I would sell him if they matched my valuation – which I would. Throughout my time at Wolves I have never kept a player that wanted to leave. Many have ended up staying as a result, and some have even come back from the dead so to speak, like Ongenda. A huge sigh of relief was taken the window slammed shut, no more players out. Onny picked up the Player of the Month award, Subs picking up the Young Player version. I got my hands on another Manager of the Month, which was nice. It wasn’t all smiles though, Dards reminded me that I had promised to strengthen the squad after the mass exodus. Considering we won the Community Shield, the European Super Cup and the first three league games with the players I promoted and/or signed, I would say I’ve done ok, eh Dards? Nope, and the manager who has taken Wolves to being the largest club in the world has been doubted. Now, in these situations many a manager would bomb the player out without giving him a second thought. Not me, to be honest he is a very good half back and makes my team better, no matter what his opinion. I gave the usual dull reply in a press conference, not wanting to talk about the matter. Oh, Hernandez got a brace in his second game for the U21’s.
Finally the QPR game arrived. I hate International breaks, though I could have been busy in this one if I had taken either offer from Spain or Holland. Did I mention England turned me down? The International fixtures took it out of Pooley and Luka so Tommy and Auba came in for them. Auba has been with us for years now, signed for just £275k from Real Madrid. He was been a great servant and rarely let us down. Tommy Rowe is the greatest player ever to wear a Wolves shirt, he trumps even Billy Wright in my opinion. He started off as a central midfielder, then shifted to left midfield, and then retrained as a left back and has been England’s most consistent full back for the last five seasons. Has he won an England cap? Has he balls. The fact that he will not have played for his country by the end of his career is a huge disappointment. I also gave the nod to Hagi over Big Ben following his recent substitute performances.
QPR didn’t touch the ball in the first 28 seconds, by which time we had been awarded a penalty. Rowe ran into the box and was chopped down. Ongenda, 1-0. Although we dominated the first half we could not add to our lead, cue a half time kicking. It worked, as ever, and Onny doubled the lead on the hour, following up a fumble by their ‘keeper. Yet another goal for the little man. He doesn’t just score them, he can create too and his no-look pass through the QPR back line set Afobe racing through. The sub passed it past Robles for 3-0. It was a solid, unspectacular victory that made it twelve points from twelve on offer.
Next up, AC Milan in the Champions League. It was our first midweek game of the season, so I made a couple of changes. Pooley was back in, Addo was a little tired following the weekend’s game. Luka also started, in place of Auba. I tend to use the “rest” option on training quite a lot once the season really becomes two games a week, but I didn’t feel the need to just yet, even with just three days between games.
They were hard to break down, to say the least. We had to wait til nearly half time to go ahead, Reidy slipping in Luka for 1-0. Having finally broken through, we allowed them a cheap equaliser before the break! We were frustrated, we couldn’t dominate them and then Reidy got a straight red for a poor tackle. We had twenty minutes to survive with ten men. We held on for two, Milan going 2-1 up straight away. We dug deep and somehow found an equaliser, Subs hitting one on the volley that hit the post and went in off the keeper. We let it slip again though, Milan scoring with a minute to go. It was a first defeat of the season, and a disappointing way to end this write up. Thirty eight shots, sixteen on target and we failed to win the match.
So below you can see how we have started the season, top of the Premier League already and aiming to stay there. In the other screen, you can see how the boys are performing on the KPI’s I watch closely. The main worry at the moment is the goals conceded column, but nothing is leaping out as an issue Pooley’s passing stats being way down.
Tomorrow we start with Arsenal and hopefully will get the CL campaign properly underway!