Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Where to now for Wolves?

Like bookies who pay out early, and despite the fact mathematical possibility that Wolverhampton’s three-year stint in the Premier League can still be extended, it’s time look at the men in orange and work out what steps they should take as they prepare for a non-Premiership existence.

  1. Distance yourselves quickly from panic-hiring Terry Connor
“TC” has been the subject of almost equal amounts of mirth and pity in his stint as Wolves’ manager – he has been the archetypal “deer in headlights” and patently not the inspirational gaffer the club needed to avoid a humiliating slip.  It’s now too late, and despite several years’ worth of good management, Wolverhampton Wanderers are now known as a club less lupine and more headless chicken.

The problem is this doesn’t reflect so poorly on Connor, as he is so obviously a poor fit.  It exhibits a reckless lack of foresight from owner and administrators, while offering Alan Curbishley the position for six months – multiple times – displays criminal naievete.  As leaders, CEO Jez Moxey and owner Steve Morgan’s role is to create and implement the club’s broader vision – unfortunately for Wolves, their actions were the epitome of myopia.

A full and frank admission of culpability and a blatant search for the best available manager (Steve Bruce?  Lee Clark?) would go a long way to restoring administrative credibility in the eyes of Wolves’ supporters.

  1. Employ a manager who’s not Terry Connor
When Mick McCarthy was fired in mid-February, club Moxey and Morgan pleaded the case for an exhaustive search which would reap an experienced manager able to exhort the playing staff into missing the drop.  They flirted with several names, took what seemed like aeons to select a boss (but was in reality eleven days) and ended up promoting Connor, McCarthy’s 2IC, who cut an increasingly inept, befuddled and morose figure on the sideline. 

Tony Adams has a new challenger for the title of Premiership’s Worst Ever manager.

Bruce has form at obtaining both promotion and getting sides to stick in the Premiership.  Curbishley’s star has somewhat faded since his glory days nearly a decade ago at Charlton Athletic, while Lee Clark oversaw a dubious forty-something game undefeated streak at Huddersfield Town.  Without paying significant reparations, these are the three most likely candidates for the Wolves’ position.

It bears considering Michael Appleton as a left-field candidate, who has had a reasonable term as Portsmouth manager in very difficult circumstances.  This is of course pure speculation and he is still an inexperienced (but well-regarded) gaffer, but as Pompey’s situation is still critical his services could well be available at year’s end.

  1. Work out who stays and who goes
This may end up being one of the easier parts of the job at hand – Wolves have players who are able to perform at Premier League level who will be desirable to ascendant or rebuilding clubs. 

The first step which often accompanies relegation from the top division is trimming a corpulent wage bill.  This occupation is helped by the fact that most of Wolves’ best players won’t tolerate a season (or more) in the Championship and will want to leave. 

Examples of prime sale targets include the dischordant Roger Johnson, the professionally-reckless Karl Henry, the efficient Steven Fletcher and the somehow-still-sought-after Kevin Doyle.  Keeper Wayne Hennessey (although injured) could still bring in some coin – and backup Dorus de Vries is more than capable at Championship level.

Those to look at keeping would be the underrated Stephen Ward, central defender Christophe Berra, midfielders Michael Kightly, David Edwards and one of Stephen Hunt or Jamie O’Hara.  Obviously with transfer market flux these are simply guesses based on nothing more than research and common sense.

  1. Refurbish a jaded and one-dimensional squad with class from the lower divisions
Norwich, Blackpool, Brighton and Swansea have all proved over the past two years that there are quality players available at cost price in the second and third tiers of English football.  Norwich’s best side features almost no players who were purchased from Premier League; Swansea’s entire squad was compiled for less than 12 million pounds.

Although he’s owned by rivals WBA, striker Chris Wood might be available for the right price, as could Derby defender John Brayford, Watford youngster Sean Murray, Peterborough’s Lee Tomlin, Blackpool revelation Thomas Ince or even Bristol City’s wannabe-Socceroo Neil Kilkenny.  The investment, likely to be significant by Championship standards, could well pay long-term dividends as they did for Reading.

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