Wolves have never hidden their ambitions. At a business breakfast event in the city in September 2018, then-managing director Laurie Dalrymple spoke of his pride at Wolves’s progress over the previous two years.
But Dalrymple had a message for those supporters who thought their club would sit back and admire their handiwork. “Our mission is to win the Premier League, not to survive in it,” Dalrymple said.
You have to admire the optimism.
Wolves’s progress has been admirable. Fosun International acquired the club in July 2016, after they had finished 14th in the Championship.
Supporters were a little gloomy, having watched their club stutter and stumble through various seasons, players, and managers. The biggest criticism was that Wolves had no long-term plan. Fosun’s first task was to create something for them to move towards.
Following a season of consolidation and subsequent recruitment, Wolves won the Championship title with 99 points in 2018. If they spent lavishly on high-profile players — thanks to a close working relationship with super-agent Jorge Mendes — these were no mercenaries, happy to pick up their salaries and coast through matches. Only Leicester City had beaten that points total in the previous eight Championship seasons.
Wolves surpassed all expectations upon their return to the Premier League. The arrival of Raul Jimenez, Joao Moutinho, and Rui Patricio clearly made a difference, but it was the ability of established players — Matt Doherty, Conor Coady, Ryan Bennett — to step up to the demand of the top flight that was most impressive.
Wolves finished seventh, their best domestic league season since 1980 and the highest finish for a promoted club since Ipswich, in 2001.
But if those in the corridors of power at Molineux want more after finishing seventh, breaking into the top-six cabal is the obvious next aim, not winning the title. But it will not be easy. Never before in English football have the same six clubs occupied the top six positions for three years in a row.
Wolves’s revenue was £26.4m (€28.5m) at the last count. The lowest revenue of the top six clubs was Tottenham, at £428.3m (€463.7m).
Wolves do have form for troubling the top six. Wolves took 16 points from their 12 matches against the top six last season, but only 14 points against the bottom six.
Their manager Nuno Espirito Santo will be keen to iron out that sloppiness. Get it right and they have a chance.
They are a well-oiled machine, in contrast to the uncertainty surrounding Manchester United, Chelsea, and Arsenal.
But Wolves are also not alone in looking up at the glass ceiling with rocks in hand. Leicester and West Ham have both improved their squads this summer, spending £140m (€151.5m)
Everton will hope to be stronger under manager Marco Silva and have an astonishingly deep collection of attacking players to choose from: Richarlison, Moise Kean, Bernard, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Theo Walcott, Cenk Tosun, and Gylfi Sigurdsson. Those four clubs were separated by just five points in the league last season, and Wolves have the added workload of a Europa League campaign, which began on July 25.
If last season’s transfer business was startling — they signed eight players for fees totalling £100m (€108.2m) — Wolves have been more understated this summer.
Raul Jimenez and Leander Dendoncker have been signed permanently, but both were at Molineux last season, on loan. Central defender Jesus Vallejo has arrived on loan from Real Madrid and Patrick Cutrone is an extra striker, but there are some concerns about Wolves’s strength-in-depth, considering the longer, busier season. Any injury to Jimenez, Joao Moutinho, Doherty, or Diogo Jota would leave Wolves considerably weaker.
But just because Wolves’s hierarchy are aiming for constant improvement,the supporters are not worried.
Two years ago, Wolves were beginning their sixth consecutive season outside the Premier League, and had been in League One more recently than the top flight.
If the worst that might happen to Wolves in 2019/20 is falling a few places into mid-table, while they embark on their first major European campaign since 1980, the fans will be happy.