The fight for top six places in the English Premier League is now more competitive than ever with teams like Leicester City entering the equation to aim for European qualifications. Amidst this, another team that is staking their claims to ensure a European spot is Wolverhampton Wanderers. The ‘men in orange’ who got promoted to the top flight in 2018, have ensured back to back seventh place finishes in the league (season 18-19 and season 19-20) while qualifying for the Europa League in their first season.
Commonly nicknamed as Wolves, Wolverhampton Wanderers have been recently under the spotlight due to the influx of Portuguese players into the team. The squad currently has as many as nine Portuguese players, the likes of which include- Rui Patricio, Ruben Neves, Jao Moutinho, Nelson Semedo, Miranda, Vitinha, Podence, Pedro Neto and Fabrizio Silva. The coach himself is Portugal’s former goalkeeper Nuno Espiritio Santo. The number of Portuguese players in the team is quite astounding. To put things into perspective-- Benfica, Porto and Sporting Lisbon-- three of Portugal’s top clubs have respectively three, six and eight Portuguese players in their squads. Seeing these numbers, one would be excused for calling Wolves the ‘Portugal B Team.’
West Midlands is the home of Wolverhampton Wanderers which is geographically situated at the centre of England. The recent success of the club can be attributed to one man who is pulling the strings for the club behind the scenes, Portuguese football agent Jorge Mendes. Known as the ‘Super-agent,’ Mendes represents some of football’s biggest names including Cristiano Ronaldo, James Rodriguez, Diego Costa, De Gea and Jose Mourinho. Mendes’s very own football agency named Gestifute represents over a 100 players, including the ones mentioned above. A majority of these players (almost 80 per cent) are from Gestifute’s home country of Portugal. Chinese Investment Company Fosun International reportedly owns 15 per cent share of Mendes’s agency. Mendes also convinced the owners of the investment company to buy the football club.
Fosun International bought Wolves in 2016. Despite spending big amount of money that year, results were not satisfactory. Under Mendes’ recommendation, Wolves signed Nuno Espirito Santo as their manager. Nuno has a long history with Mendes as he was the agent’s first ever client back in 1996. The former Valencia manager has been instrumental for Wolves’ success, as he helped the team get promoted to the Premier League and finish seventh in the league table twice.
Mendes’ business relationship with Wolves owners and long standing personal relationship with the manager Nuno means that the agent is the club’s go to guy for players. As a result, Mendes has been able to set up a conveyor belt that is helping to transport his clients, most of whom are Portuguese, to the club. Hence it was not a surprise that the club replaced departing right back Matt Doherty with another one of Mendes’ Portuguese clients - Nelson Semedo. Nuno and Mendes have together created a little Portuguese colony in the West Midlands.
The relationship between Wolves and Mendes has undergone scrutiny. However, investigations from the English Premier League concluded that as Mendes holds no official role at the club, no rules are being breached. According to the owners, Mendes’s role at the club is strictly advisory and nothing more.
Wolves may have a big role to play in shaping Portugal’s future national team. World Cup winning teams of Spain (2010) and Germany (2014) had a core of players from Barcelona and Bayern Munich respectively. Spain and Germany had seven players from Barcelona and Bayern Munich respectively in their corresponding World Cup triumphs. Wolves, with their plethora of Portuguese talents, can serve this as core for the Portuguese national team for Euro 2021 and World Cup 2022. Add Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva, Jao Felix and Diego Jota into the mix, the team all of a sudden looks like a title contender. A lot can happen between now and 2022. But with the talent that Portugal has in their arsenal, one would fancy the Euro 2016 champions’ chances of lifting the World Cup.
The writer is an undergraduate student studying at Dhaka University. He is an avid cricket lover who hopes to see the day Bangladesh wins the ICC World Cup. He can be reached at- [email protected]