When the Premier League season kicks off this week, you may notice a certain Portuguese flair at newly promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers. Even when they won the Championship last season, Wolves still had a notable influence from the Iberian Peninsula.
The coach, Nuno Espirito Santo, is Portuguese. Three members of Nuno’s staff are Portuguese. The squad contains seven Portuguese players, including Ruben Neves, Rui Patricio and Joao Moutinho. The latter two have been regular call-ups for Portugal’s national team, and even Neves has five caps for the senior side.
Neves’s move to Wolverhampton raised several eyebrows across Europe. After a strong summer with Portugal at last year’s Euro U-21 Championships, not to mention three seasons with Porto, the then-20-year-old midfielder drew widespread interest across the continent from some marquee clubs.
However, in July 2017, Wolves spent a club-record fee – believed to be around £16 million ($27 million) – to sign Neves from Porto.
It’s not uncommon for a Championship club to spend big on one signing. But it’s clubs such as Newcastle United, Fulham, Aston Villa, Burnley and Norwich City – all of whom had recently received giant parachute payments following Premier League relegation – who splash that cash.
Wolves hadn’t been in the English top flight since 2012. They were even relegated to League One in 2013, hence the curiosity behind Neves’s move.
But Wolverhampton have some significant help. The club was taken over by Fosun, a Chinese investment group, in July 2016. The owner is Guo Guangchang, who has an estimated net worth of £4.8 billion ($8.1 billion).
Fosun also has close ties to super-agent Jorge Mendes, both personal and professional. Mendes is mostly known for representing Cristiano Ronaldo and other high-profile players. But Mendes and Guangchang are close friends. Guangchang even bought shares in Mendes’s holding company, Gestifute. Now the Portuguese agent is an “advisor” at Wolves, which drew the ire of other Championship teams.
ABola write that Nottingham have turned to superagent Jorge Mendes as the English side wants the Wolves treatment in order to attack promotion to the Premier League at full strength.
The sale of Vukcevic, who has a €15m release clause, will give Braga an "extraordinary income". pic.twitter.com/HGS7RD9kLz
— Jan Fredrik Hagen (@PortuBall) June 21, 2018
They claimed that Wolves is breaching a rule that states agents are not allowed to have any influence over transfers at a specific club. However, after investigating, the EFL stated that there were no issues.
However, Mendes’s influence at Wolves is very evident. Nuno and Neves are Mendes clients. New acquisitions Patricio, Moutinho and Raul Jimenez are as well.
Wolves will be paying a €3m[A Bola]-€5m[Record/O Jogo] loan fee for Raúl Jiménez, in addition to his €1m/year salary. Wolverhampton have a €35m[Record]-€38m[A Bola] option to buy on the 27-year-old Mexican striker.
Jorge Mendes brokered the deal. Obviously. pic.twitter.com/4Lkb6hFELZ
— Jan Fredrik Hagen (@PortuBall) June 10, 2018
In fact, nine of the projected starting 11 for Wolves are all tied to Mendes. Only Conor Coady and Matt Doherty have a different agent, and Coady is the only locked-on starter between the two.
Since the takeover, Wolves have spent nearly £100 million ($169 million) on new signings over the last three summer transfer windows, per Transfermarkt. With clubs benefitting greatly from the colossal Premier League TV deal, Wolverhampton could loosen the purse strings even more in the future.
Even now, Mendes clients are being “offered” to Wolves, and neither side are trying to keep it under wraps. AC Milan striker Andre Silva was linked, although the Italian club set a reported asking price of £40 million ($67.6 million), which might price out the English side.
These dealings have provided a very strong squad for Nuno. It’s a team that is very capable of finishing in the top half of the Premier League, especially with Patricio and Moutinho in the fold. Both are significant upgrades at goalkeeper and in midfield, respectively.
Nuno is also a tactically astute coach. Few clubs outside of the “big six” will have Wolverhampton’s tactical flexibility, the ability to control a match or cede possession in favour of a counter-attacking system.
However, engaging in these activities with Mendes comes with a great warning. Back in 2015, Valencia’s squad had a heavy Mendes flavour, and even Nuno was the coach at the time. But the players never gelled and a few managers, including Nuno, were relieved of their duties along the way. The Spanish giants were mired in mediocrity for a couple of seasons and there appeared to be no way out.
Eventually, Marcelino was hired before the start of last season and some of the more unproven Mendes-represented players were offloaded. The Spaniard regained control and eventually guided Valencia into the top four, securing a spot in the Champions League group stage in the process.
For now, it appears that both parties are on the same page. But make no mistake about it: this is the club that Mendes built.