It was a summer transfer window of cost-cutting and tension at Wolves, with over £140 million raised in player sales, the exit of head coach Julen Lopetegui and Matheus Nunes being fined before his club record move.
Seventeen players departed in total, including Nunes’ £53 million sale to champions Manchester City, as the club took drastic action to avoid breaching the Premier League’s financial rules.
Now that the window has closed, the full extent of Wolves’ hectic summer can be revealed:
Lopetegui was on £8 million a year and made a honourable gesture to reduce his settlement
Nunes was fined two weeks’ wages for refusing to train, which were discussed in negotiations with Treble winners City
Player exodus will help fund striker search in January
After all the dramatic yet necessary sales of players, Wolves are now in a far better financial position and there is a mood of positivity under Gary O’Neil, Lopetegui’s successor.
O’Neil has arrived with a clear picture of Wolves’ situation and, crucially, believes the squad are capable of performing to a consistently high level.
That view is shared internally by the Wolves hierarchy, who feared Lopetegui’s frustrations could seriously derail the club’s season.
Lopetegui had first voiced concerns towards the end of last season and it spilled over into the summer. After a pre-season friendly against Celtic in late July, he pulled sporting director Matt Hobbs aside in the tunnel and informed him that he could not carry on.
Wolves had pursued the Basque coach for over six years, and the £8 million-a-year salary reflected how important they viewed his appointment.
Talks to rip up his contract were amicable, with both parties wanting a quick resolution, and it can be revealed that Lopetegui agreed a settlement of less than a year’s money with two years left on his deal.
O’Neil was appointed a few days later and the excellent performance at Manchester United, despite a 1-0 defeat, encouraged the club that better times could be ahead.
The player sales did not stop, however. Rúben Neves (£47 million to Al-Hilal), Nathan Collins (£23 million to Brentford), Conor Coady (£7.5 million to Leicester) and Raúl Jiménez (£5.5 million to Fulham) had already left, but the exodus continued.
When Manchester City moved for Nunes, after Kevin De Bruyne’s injury, further turbulence was ahead.
After Wolves rejected the opening £47 million bid, Nunes reacted badly. It is alleged that he took his boots home from the Compton training ground and refused to train. As Nunes declined to even turn up, Wolves chairman Jeff Shi dug in his heels.
Negotiations restarted in the final week and Wolves eventually agreed a revised deal of £53 million with no add-ons. A fine of two weeks’ wages was factored into the final agreement.
Hobbs also struck a separate deal for City’s highly-regarded midfielder Tommy Doyle, who joined on an initial loan. After the sale of former captain Neves, Doyle is regarded as a quality replacement for his ability on the balls and from set-pieces.
Club now in position to sign again
The money from Nunes’ unexpected sale also enabled Wolves some wriggle room on signing a new striker.
While there will not be multi-millions to spend in the winter window, Wolves would rather focus on adding a forward who has been properly researched and analysed by the recruitment team.
Bellegarde, in particular, has been a long-term target for the scouts and analysts and the club hope he can repeat the success of similarly priced additions such as João Gomes.
It could have been worse, too, with other player sales. Napoli had a £30 million bid for Max Kilman rejected. Arsenal inquired about Neto, a long-term target, while Forest had been targeting goalkeeper Sa for most of the summer.
In the end, nine players were loaned out and eight players sold at a cost of over £140 million. Wolves also managed to move João Moutinho and Diego Costa off the wage bill, with both players on salaries of more than £100,000 a week.
So why the mass clearout?
It is a strategy that has frustrated supporters, but shows that Wolves are taking the Premier League’s profit and sustainability rules seriously.
Risking a possible points deduction or transfer ban in future years was a gamble they were not prepared to take.
There is now hope of a brighter future ahead, and in Hobbs the club has a fine operator who has performed very impressively under such severe restrictions.
Wolves return on Saturday week with a home game against Liverpool and, at last, it is time to finally focus on the football.