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Wolves are enjoying a remarkable renaissance but there's an unsettling story behind it

The club are flying in the Championship but Jorge Mendes’ influence is everywhere.

Image: Nick Potts

IT WAS ONLY four years ago when Wolves found themselves in the third tier of English football.

Unable to steady the ship following Premier League relegation in 2012, things got substantially worse before getting better.

There was the usual check-list: a litany of managers, the ownership wanted out, player turnover and then, in the summer of 2016, the club was taken over by a Chinese group – Fosun International – for a reported £45m.

Wolves had just finished 14th in their second season back in the Championship but the top-brass could talk the talk. They promised a ‘long-term project’, whispered about Premier League stability and committed to spending money.

They also had friends in high places.

Super-agent Jorge Mendes – who represents Cristiano Ronaldo, Jose Mourinho and is regularly trumpeted as ‘the most important man in football’, is also a business partner of Fosun.

So far, so fine.

Ronaldo World Premiere - London 'Super-agent' Jorge Mendes. Source: Ian West

But things got a little strange during the 2016/2017 season. Walter Zenga arrived as coach but only survived for 14 league games before getting sacked. Paul Lambert was next to take the reins but another mid-table finish wasn’t what the owners had in mind. So, they sacked him too.

There was also a steady stream of Portuguese players being signed by the club. Silvio arrived from Atletico Madrid. Joao Teixeira and Helder Costa (a club record signing for £13m) both came from Benfica. Ivan Cavaleiro was brought from Monaco.

And then, in the summer of 2017, a new manager was hired.

Nuno Espirito Santo was 22 years old and a goalkeeper with Vitoria de Guimarães when he befriended Mendes, then the owner of a nightclub, in late-1995. Mendes became a close friend, a confidante and when Nuno sought a move elsewhere, he asked Mendes to act on his behalf.

Nuno was signed by La Liga side Deportivo la Coruna and Mendes had his very first client. From there, it was a meteoric rise but the relationship between the pair has remained incredibly tight, despite Mendes now being so heavily immersed in the dizzying upper echelons of world football.

So, there were eyebrows raised when Nuno was unveiled as Wolves boss on 31 May this year and handed a three-year deal.

Mendes’ fingerprints were all over it.

Nuno’s previous job was as manager of Porto. Before that, he had taken charge of Valencia. Both clubs were well-known, decorated and elite.

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Why would he come to a club in the second tier of English football that had just finished another campaign languishing in mid-table obscurity?

Well, Mendes is immensely well-connected to Porto – going back to the days of Deco, Paolo Ferreira, Jose Bosingwa, Ricardo Carvalho, Deco, Costinha and a certain Mourinho.

Manchester City v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Carabao Cup - Fourth Round - Etihad Stadium Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo. Source: Richard Sellers

He also was central to the deal which resulted in Peter Lim taking control of Valencia.

It’s a spider’s web of deals, relationships and influence. And, certainly with Wolves, it doesn’t show any signs of stopping.

Five more Portuguese players joined once Santo was confirmed as boss. Another two followed on loan. The clubs the players arrived from? Porto, Valencia, Rio Ave (another former Nuno management post) and Monaco.

Football Leaks revealed earlier this year that Mendes and Monaco owner Dmitry Rybolovlev had close business ties.

It’s unclear whether Wolves fans are too interested with the unsettling ties the club now has with a cosy cartel.

For the first time in a long time the team is top of the Championship table and promotion is now hotly anticipated.

The supporters remember just how bleak things were, beginning with the dark days of Terry Connor and the slow, inevitable slide out of the top-flight.

This time four years ago, they were dealing with a thumping hangover after a 2-0 home defeat to MK Dons in League One.

They’ll enjoy this, a return to doing well.

It’s optimistic to think anyone will be too concerned about just how the renaissance came about.

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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