Let’s just put this season to bed, eh…
Jon Dadi Bodvarsson
Appearances: 24 (24)
First impressions aren’t always everything they’re cracked up to be. Through August and September it looked like in Bodvarsson, we had found a serious answer to our lack of any kind of credible striker which had plagued us since the departure of Benik Afobe. Hard running with an ability to unsettle defenders through sheer effort, he knocked in two goals at Rotherham and Birmingham with well struck finishes…and then, not much. An injury picked up after a Herculean display against Brentford was effectively the death knell for his season as after he returned, he didn’t look anything like the same player. This has been partly attributed to him continually playing football since the summer of 2015 and there is perhaps some merit to this; switching from a summer league in Norway to a conventional calendar in Germany and then playing in Euro 2016 for Iceland genuinely has given him little by way of a break. However, I’m not sure you can attribute his loss of ability to control the ball or win anything in the air merely to workload. As the season progressed and his goal drought went on, he became more and more desperate to score which ended up affecting his decision making in the final third. The effort levels never dipped, but most of his appearances in the final three months of the season in particular were wholly ineffective. Quite clearly we cannot go through another campaign where we get so few goals from our strikers and there isn’t much evidence to suggest that Bod is going to score anything like prolifically at this level; in five seasons in Norway, Germany and England, he averages fewer than a goal every six games. He undoubtedly does need some time to recharge his batteries because that kind of workload is abnormal, but it’s unlikely to be the solution to his fundamental lack of instinct in front of goal.
Appearances: 12 (8)
Here we go with first impressions again. Teixeira came on at Rotherham on the opening day and immediately set up our equalising goal; starting wide on the left against Reading the following week, he was hands down the best player on the park. Playing very much with his head up and showing off his tight technical skills, he looked like he could be a creative force to be reckoned with. The problem when you bring in this kind of player from the likes of Portugal though is that inevitably, they’ll hit a hurdle in terms of the intensity and physicality of this league. In Part 2 of the review I mentioned how Helder Costa visibly improved his upper body strength in particular to allow him to thrive in English football. This kind of adaptation seemed to be beyond Tex. The talent he had was quite clear but attempts to play him in central midfield were an abject failure, and with us signing Ivan Cavaleiro his opportunities in the wide areas became more limited, although he did score twice at home to Brentford when he got the nod ahead of his fellow Portuguese. Essentially he became more and more of a luxury that we couldn’t afford, especially as under Zenga we weren’t playing a system which allowed for a number 10 playing in a free role, divested of defensive responsibilities. It’s not that he shirked those responsibilities or looked visibly cowed by what he was facing, it’s just that he wasn’t up to it. With Zenga gone and after a decent sub appearance at Blackburn, it looked like Rob Edwards had decided to give him a go in behind the striker at home to Derby…alas no, he was back in central midfield again and after an abject 32 minutes (both personally and collectively) he was hauled off. The end was nigh as that proved to be his final start in a Wolves shirt. It was apparent that under Paul Lambert he would be little more than a bit part player and he was sent off on a sub-loan to Nottingham Forest at the end of January where he failed to play a single minute of football. I don’t think anyone doubts that Joao is a talented footballer. He’s simply never going to make a sustained impact in this division unless you make a hell of a lot of allowances for including him in the team, and it’s debatable whether his end product justifies that.
Appearances: 2 (1)
And yet sometimes, a first impression can tell you everything you need to know. With Nouha Dicko still on the comeback trail as the season started, we needed reinforcements up front and we elected to sign Gladon from Heracles Almelo for £1m in late August. From the outset it seemed a puzzling target to pursue; his career had largely been spent in the Dutch second tier with reasonable but far from spectacular scoring returns. It’s pretty well established that signing forwards from the Eredivisie is a bit of a lottery; for every Ruud van Nistelrooy, Henrik Larsson or Luis Suarez, there’s a Mateja Kezman, an Afonso Alves or a Ricky van Wolfswinkel. But all of those players were regular scorers in the top tier in the Netherlands. If the standard there is so variable as to make projected returns highly unreliable…well you can draw your own conclusions as to how good the Eerste Divisie is. He had played for Heracles in the top division in 2015/16, but had made just three starts. So the question of how he came to be on our radar is a puzzling one. Information has leaked out at some point that he was the personal choice of Walter Zenga but this is dubious on a couple of counts; firstly, it’s easier to chuck Zenga under the bus as he’s no longer here and will almost certainly never work in English football again (there’s probably more chance of Mick Fleetwood hosting the Brit Awards again) and secondly, why would a coach who’d spent much of the last decade working in various tinpot Middle Eastern leagues be so intent on signing a fairly obscure Dutch striker? The likelihood is that someone else, still at the club (cough…Kevin Thelwell…cough) was actually responsible and would rather bury that news. Anyway, the uninitiated have probably realised by now that this one didn’t work out. He was handed a start at home to Burton and looked like a League Two player. No pace, a Maierhofer-style ability to seem to shrink when jumping for a ball and an awareness of the offside law that would have shamed Jeremy Helan. Other than a League Cup start at Newcastle and a brief sub appearance at Wigan, that was that. Following Zenga’s departure he failed to even make a matchday squad and it was evident that he has absolutely no future here. We don’t play him in the U23s, as what’s the point of having him play ahead of our developing young forwards. Unless Heracles wanted him back (and it seems they didn’t), he couldn’t move in January as FIFA seem to think the world will collapse if someone adds to a tally of playing for more than two clubs in a season. So if you ever wanted to know what a footballer who doesn’t play football looks like…have a glance at Gladon’s Instagram account. He goes out for dinner with his girlfriend a lot. He takes a lot of trips back to Holland. Nice work if you can get it. We’ll inevitably end up writing off that £1m fee and we shall try not to speak of him again.
Appearances: 9 (5)
The problem with having dross like Gladon in the first team squad is that it blocks opportunities for young players. Bright didn’t make a single appearance for the senior team this season until Lambert arrived at the club. Immediately the new manager was impressed by his raw talent and he had a brief run of starts around Christmas and New Year. While everyone knows that he has a lot of natural ability – he can run with the ball, beat a man, offer a genuine creative threat and a degree of unpredictability – what is lacking at the moment is any kind of tangible productivity. His decision making at first team level is sadly lacking at the moment, as he tends to pick the wrong pass at the wrong time, or when put in a position to score, chooses the wrong option in terms of finish. These failings don’t seem to manifest themselves at U23 level so perhaps it is an issue of confidence, or yet to feel at ease when promoted to the seniors. It’s easy to forget that he’s still only 19 so there’s plenty of time for this to come, yet he does nevertheless find himself at a bit of a crossroads; there is no longer any benefit to him playing at U23 level as he has nothing left to learn from that standard of football, but he doesn’t seem especially close to becoming a regular first team starter at this point. Loan spells tend to be an exceptionally overrated device but in Bright’s case, it would probably be of benefit to him to find a club where he can at least get a few months of prolonged exposure to senior football. We need to make sure that his talent is nurtured in the right way.
Appearances: 19 (6)
For much of the last 30 years, we’ve had a distinct lack of class in our midfield. Plenty of willing runners, but not many players who can dictate play or provide a real calming presence. Saiss theoretically provides those things, but the issue is more with what he can’t do rather than what he can. For it’s all well and good to be able to play the odd eye catching pass, to be comfortable in possession and to at least outwardly be a decent physical presence, a lot of that is negated if you’re terminally slow in both mind and body. And let’s be clear, he is slow. Slower than watching Das Boot. Slower than spending a weekend in Rutland in the exclusive company of Nick Faldo. Slower than Dave Jones is to ever recognising that he might be a tiny, tiny amount at fault when it all goes pear-shaped at one of his clubs. You get the picture. There are plenty of deep-lying midfielders who can’t really run; Jonjo Shelvey is one and he’s just won the division with Newcastle. It’s not so much that that’s the issue, it’s that Saiss is slow to react to danger, meaning the defensive side of his game isn’t especially good, and isn’t quick to think when he’s on the ball, which means he gives it away or gets dispossessed fairly often. So we can’t really use him as a dedicated defensive midfielder, and he isn’t really capable of being a metronomic presence to help us keep the ball and create from deep. He does have qualities and there’s something there to suggest that we can make use of him, but it seems a fairly long shot at the moment. He wasn’t helped early on by Zenga’s tactics which had him holding hands with the centre halves with next to nothing ahead of him within 50 yards, and then was hampered in making an impression on Lambert by missing January and early February at the African Nations. Given our general paucity in midfield since Kevin McDonald decided that effort was something that he didn’t need to bother with any more, Saiss doesn’t look too bad in comparison with what we’ve got. In comparison to top 10 midfields in the league…I’m not sure there’s too many he’d get close to breaking into.
Appearances: 7 (0)
This one really, really should have worked out. Borthwick-Jackson made a series of highly impressive appearances for Man Utd last season, even managing to overcome the obstacle of being managed by Weird Uncle Louis. We were (and still are) desperate for a left back and this seemed to be an option very much worth taking, even if it was a loan with virtually no chance of it ever becoming permanent. Sadly, it didn’t work out. Zenga’s early insistence on changing the back four every single game for no apparent reason meant that CBJ had no opportunity to put a run of games together, and when he did play, his inexperience frequently showed as he’d have a ropey 15-20 minute spell even when he was having a reasonable enough game overall. What was most disappointing was his inability or unwillingness to close down wingers and allow them to get a ball into the box unopposed. We already have Matt Doherty to do that, thank you very much. He was certainly very decent on the ball, but if you aren’t doing the defensive basics properly…well, that’s been our issue in that area for ages. When Lambert came in, he decided that he wanted more “experience” at the back and went with my begloved mate at left back. I’m not sure that “experience” is that vital when it’s experience of defending like Doherty does, but that’s by the by. His mind was made up and Borthwick-Jackson failed to make any further appearances. As we failed to sign another left back in January and United refused to return a portion of the loan fee we’d paid, he was left stranded here doing nothing much at all for the remainder of the season. A sad state of affairs for a promising young player who has now wasted a year of his career at an important development point, and one which has probably ended chances in the short to medium term of us getting any further players on loan from Old Trafford (indeed, it’s largely accepted that during our goalkeeping crisis in December, we were rebuffed from taking Sam Johnstone on an emergency basis). We have to assume that the failing lies on the side of the player as well as the club, hopefully it’s something that all concerned can learn from.
Appearances: 29 (1)
If you’re going to have a mixed bag of a season, it’s always better for perception that the good bit comes at the end. After only starting 12 of our opening 32 league games – where solid performances against the likes of Birmingham and Villa were interspersed with rocky displays against Sheffield Wednesday and Fulham – he established himself as a regular starter from the start of March onwards, producing a series of increasingly more authoritative showings. His potential has been evident since he arrived at the club yet like most young defenders, it takes time for it all to come together on a consistent basis. As the season has progressed, his work on the ball has improved markedly with less of the panicky hoofing of the past, while he’s started to use his natural pace and strength much more effectively. At this stage, he should very much be considered as our number one centre-half – and there should be more to come with him still yet to turn 22. A rough time against Brighton at home shows that he is not yet the finished article and he does undoubtedly need a partner that offers both more solidity and a sense of a permanence as continually swapping centre halves is not a formula that often works in this division. But in a season of relatively few positives, Hause can certainly be considered as one.
Appearances: 7 (0)
It’s a little unfair to judge young Harry at this stage; last season he was our fifth choice keeper and wouldn’t have expected in his wildest dreams to have been playing any first team football this year, let alone walking out at Anfield. Injuries to Carl Ikeme and Andy Lonergan, coupled with our aforementioned failure to land an emergency loan keeper and Jon Flatt’s lack of recent competitive action at the time led to him being thrust into action against Fulham in mid-December. You could at least say that he didn’t look overawed by nerves, and through his appearances there was the odd decent save. He also isn’t Andy Lonergan, which is very much in his favour. However, there’s a long way for him to go before he’s anything like ready to play at this level. Crosses present a major problem for him at present; no keeper will like to be beaten by a header off a set piece from three yards out as he was at Cardiff. A handling issue handed Barnsley a consolation goal at Oakwell and the manager went on record to pin the blame for Huddersfield’s only goal at Molineux on the keeper (Dave Edwards giving the ball away under no pressure and then letting his man run off him seemed to escape Lambert’s gaze). He’d barely played any U23s football before this year let alone moving into senior football and he simply needs far, far more experience – be it in Academy football or out on loan down the pyramid – before he can be considered a serious option.
Appearances: 0 (2)
Another one who wasn’t especially near the first team thinking as the season began, he used the absence through injury of Niall Ennis to fully establish himself in the U23s team and went on to produce a highly impressive run of goals, earning a place on the bench and subsequently making his debut against Chelsea in the process. Unfortunately, in his two brief sub appearances (the other being against Brighton at home), he barely touched the ball. Didn’t help that we were already losing against teams that are miles better than us. His electric pace and calm finishing could well be an asset to us next year off the bench; he probably would have been granted more opportunities this year to show that in the final weeks had the U23s not been engaged in a battle for promotion, which ultimately was more important than the dead first team games. Of course we bottled that particular battle in the end, but we shall gloss over that.
Appearances: 3 (3)
Ignore the fact that he looks about 12, Ronan was showing every sign of being a genuine first team option (and moreover, an improvement on what we’d been sending out beforehand) before a back injury cut his season short in February. Similar to Helder Costa, he’s a lot tougher than his stature would suggest and his passing and dead ball ability look to be absolutely top notch. He’s been spoken of at youth level in glowing terms for some years now and while it’s probably too much to expect that he can command a first team spot for a full season, he should certainly play a role in 2017/18. It’s encouraging that we are bringing through players who are comfortable on the ball and seem to have been coached at some point to pass properly. I mean we might end up knocking that out of them eventually, but for now it’s a good sign.
Appearances: 17 (14)
In some ways, it’s been a fairly subdued debut season for Cavaleiro. On the face of it, a £7m, senior Portuguese international signing for a Championship club should be expected to be making an immediate and significant impact; he hasn’t really done that. What he has done is shown enough to suggest that in the long term, he’ll be worth the investment, and provided enough moments here and there to get a decent pass mark. He’s not a pace merchant in the mold of Costa (although it would be unfair to cast Helder as someone who merely relies on that), more of a natural inside forward who links play and looks to operate from more central areas. Lambert has taken this further and started to use him in the number ten role, concluding that we can’t trust him to do his share of defensive work when he’s employed out wide, which is probably fair enough. This switch should, in time, make use of his ability to beat a man on either side and offer some serious creative threat in what should always be a position where the most technically able are used (and not someone who runs around chasing defensive midfielders and might score occasionally. Hint hint). What is abundantly clear is that when both Costa and Cavaleiro are on the pitch together, we look far, far more dangerous. When both were available in December and January, we played 10 games and scored 17 goals. Through February and March when Cavaleiro was injured, we managed 3 goals in 7 games. Cav returned and we went on a run of 9 goals in 4…before Helder was crocked in the warm-up for the Forest home game and we finished the season with 5 goals in 8 games. Simply having both on the park gives defences more than one problem to deal with and frees everyone up. Unless our friend Mr Mendes has something in line for Ivan, he should be here next season and hopefully can have a bit more of a sustained impact all of his own having had a year to settle in.
Appearances: 2 (6)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; having someone play for us who was born in the year 2000 feels just plain wrong. Bloody kids. After making a surprising debut at Stoke in the FA Cup, Gibbs-White has, like Ronan, shown plenty to suggest that he has been promoted on merit rather than tokenism. Long-term, his future should lie in central midfield where his ability to glide with the ball and pass accurately are best utilised, but for now he has mainly been used out wide, where he has enough pace and dribbling ability to impress for now while perhaps being protected from the fray of a scrap with hardened Championship competitors (although he’s no wallflower, so this needn’t be a strategy we persist with for too long). A hairline fracture to his foot saw him miss the final couple of games but he should be back to take part in pre-season.
Appearances: 6 (0)
It seemed for a time that Williamson would go through his entire spell as a permanent Wolves player without making an appearance. Injured when he arrived, re-injured shortly after returning to training and nowhere near contention at the start of this season, he wasn’t even handed a squad number in August and prospects of retirement seemed very real. He finally got himself back into contention around Christmas and made his return at Stoke where he performed creditably…and promptly got injured again. In his five appearances since, he’s looked ok…but he’s not the long term answer at all. You wouldn’t expect a 33 year old coming off the back of over a year of serious injury problems to be lightning quick, but you do need some kind of ability to turn and break into some kind of sprint. Any kind of ball played over the top or down the channels with Williamson in the team is going to present a big problem for us. He does do his share of organising the defence, but the likelihood is if we simply signed better players (and didn’t have midfielders at full back, or better yet, had a left back who understood where he was supposed to be standing in the first place), we wouldn’t need him cajoling the entire back four all the time. He’s better on the ball than Danny Batth, but not by a huge amount. And clearly, we can’t rely on his fitness at all. We sent him out early to warm up for the second half against Rotherham and he was clanking away so much it was like we’d sent the Tin Man out in the number 60 shirt. There isn’t any realistic way you can see him starting more than 20 games next season, and if we’re thinking of getting rid of Silvio on the basis of injuries yet he is younger and moreover better (albeit in a different position)…then Willo has to go too, really.
Appearances: 17 (4)
Andi Weimann has spent most of his career in England playing predominantly on the right of a front three. Right back to his Aston Villa days, he’s been insistent that his natural position is as a central striker. I, for one, believe him. Injuries to Cavaleiro and Costa haven’t helped but we have pressed him into action wide on either flank more often than we should have, and his impact there remains relatively negligible. You get a fair amount of effort and honest endeavour, which is lovely and all that, but in terms of attacking output there’s next to nothing. He just fills a gap out there and shuttles up and down, like a Super Cup Football player. If he were to ever get a concerted run up front…then it might be a different story. All three of his Wolves goals to date have been extremely well taken and he offers a genuine threat up there, which we haven’t really had from anyone else since Bodvarsson’s early season form dropped off (and dropped off in the sense that Robert Maxwell “dropped off” his boat). He’s probably never going to be prolific, even at this level. It’s hard to see him ever knocking in 20 goals a season, though that said, it’s not like we’ve seen him yet in a team that provides chance after chance for whoever’s employed as a striker. As a squad option within a pool of four or five strikers, he might well be worth keeping on. Word is that the fee we have negotiated for his permanent transfer from Derby is relatively modest – in the £1.5m region – and as he seems to have no future at all there, given they’ve been intent over the last couple of years on building a squad entirely made up of winger/forward hybrids, it seems likely that he’ll be in for a longer stay at Molineux.
Appearances: 13 (3)
Incoming managers always tend to look to their former clubs for signings and so it was no surprise when Lambert brought in Marshall, with him being one of Blackburn’s better players and his contract due to run out this summer. Blackburn being Blackburn under the Venkys, they made life much more difficult than it should have been, with unrealistic demands over the transfer fee delaying the move until the very end of the window and orange faced shorts wearing serial failure Owen Coyle seeing fit to ban Marshall from first team training. In light of which, you could accept him arriving short of match fitness, but there really was no excuse for him turning up a good stone overweight. This meant that his early appearances were pretty unimpressive, with the unsurprising rustiness allied to him huffing and puffing down the touchline with all the athleticism of Jamie O’Hara in 2013. Credit to him though, he did sort that side of things out and finished the season well. He’s clearly a very decent footballer and a good complement to the other attacking midfield options we have, with some eye catching passes and crosses peppering the final couple of months. It doesn’t seem that we’ll look at using him as a right back as Lambert did when they were both at Ewood Park so he should be vying for a spot with the likes of Jordan Graham and Michal Zyro next season. Healthy competition indeed.