As usual, I was listening to WAGU! on my Tuesday evening journey home from work, wondering why they got rid of the Alan Johnston Paint Trophy and hoping against hope that Wolves would get a mention. As soon as the hardest managers were mentioned, I smiled, knowing that this surely had to be about Ståle Solbakken punching a hole in the dugout following Craig Mackail-Smith’s equaliser for Brighton on Saturday. While that was amusing, a large part of me wished Solbakken’s fist had made contact with Karl Henry’s face following his stupid red card mere minutes later.
But, what really surprised me was the news on the pod of David’s bet that Solbakken would still be manager come Boxing Day. Well David you can probably call up your mate and collect your £10 now – the chances of Solbakken being sacked before then are incredibly low. First of all, Wolves are not a sacking club. I was pleasantly surprised to realise that only two managers have been sacked in the last decade; ironically the only two Wolves managers to get us into the fabled land of the Premier League.
Dave Jones was the first – after the club catastrophically blew up in 2001/02 season (ten points clear at the top of the Division One only to eventually finish third. To make matters worse, the two teams who beat us to promotion were West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham City. Just take a moment to comprehend that – not only do your team blow a ten point lead, but then the two teams to take advantage of this are your two closest, fiercest rivals. It still pains me to think about it), he eventually won the 2003 Playoffs only to finish bottom of the Premier League and be sacked with the club languishing back in the Division One.
As at Southampton, Jones was succeeded, by former England coach Glenn Hoddle. Hoddle came with much reputation, but was a huge disappointment – Tomasz ‘the final piece of the jigsaw’ Frankowski cost £1.4 million, scored precisely no goals and was subsequently shipped out. Finishing outside the playoffs, Hoddle cowardly resigned on the same day that Portugal knocked England out of the 2006 World Cup. I remember sitting, watching Steven Gerrard et al. miss penalties, more worried about the future of my club.
Of course, I didn’t need to be worried as in came Mick McCarthy who turned around a club who could easily have been on a slippery downward slope, winning the Championship in his third season. Two survivals followed, before a 5-1 home defeat to West Brom (yes, them again) hammered the final nail in the coffin, nine months later than it should have been. Terry Connor took over, guiding the club to four points from thirteen games, failing to pick up a single win. Even he wasn’t sacked, instead staying help Solbakken settle in, before finally departing a couple of months into the season.
I guess the point of that history lesson is to emphasise that Wolves are not a sacking club, something that has arguably been to its detriment over the years. But, it is slightly worrying that people are already talking about the possibility of Solbakken leaving. What has gone wrong at the club, currently without a win in six games and languishing in the bottom half of the table?
Obviously, the results haven’t been brilliant, but this is almost certainly coming from a change in playing style that the current squad is not used to. They have spent the past five years playing at a quick tempo, looking to get the ball wide to the wingers then into the box as quickly as possible. But, Ståle is revolutionising the tactics, asking the central midfielders to get on the ball and keep possession. The big question is whether the current crop of players has the aptitude to play like this – there is still a lot of dross in a big squad. Every Wolves fan can tick off two or three players who weren’t considered good enough last time we were in the Championship, yet are somehow still in the squad.
Also mentioned on the podcast was the lack of pace in the team, and this is a large problem, something that hopefully Solbakken will be able to rectify in January. I look at other teams in the Championship, teams with players whose talent could be described as ‘mercurial’. Players who may not be the most consistent, but can spark something brilliant out of nothing. Mick McCarthy built a squad of hardworking players who would ‘put a shift in’, but aren’t necessarily the most talented. It’s is something Solbakken is clearly trying to change – Bakary Sako has moments of brilliance and will probably score or assist well over half of our goals this season, but isn’t the quickest. Unfortunately, new boy Razak Boukari has suffered with injuries since joining – he could potentially be the player we seek.
But, Solbakken still has the fans onside. Yes, there’s the odd fan who gazes at East Anglia, hoping to hear one of McCarthy’s one liners, but generally it is the board that has the ire of the fans. Having sold Michael Kightly, Matt Jarvis and Steven Fletcher to Premier League clubs, every fan expected a little more money to be spent in the summer. Instead, we made a £14 million profit on transfers, which may look decent on paper, but nothing compared to the riches on offer to next season’s Premier League clubs benefiting from a massive new TV deal.
On Saturday we have a tough trip to Watford (and apologies to all Wolves fans as we’ve lost every away match I’ve attended this season – I’m half tempted to sell my ticket…), but after that is a run of three home games in four. While every game in this division is tough (and I think many Wolves fans had forgotten just how difficult this league is), it would take a startlingly poor run of results between now and Christmas for the WAGU! coffers to be depleted.
Written by Tom Bason, We Are Going Up’s Wolverhampton Wanderers blogger
Tom tweets at @toomb306