With the transfer window closed, Connor handed his P45 and prized assets cashed in, now Stale Solbakken can begin the job he was appointed to do!
When Mick McCarthy was relieved of his duties in the wake of a humiliating 5-1 drubbing at the hands of our most hated rivals, Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club was thrown into a tempest that we have seemingly been unable to escape ever since. I wrote in the close season of my hope of a fresh start under the exciting managerial prospect of Stale Solbakken but in truth he has be hamstringed since day one!
With the hangover of the McCarthy regime- all MM’s staff, countless squad members who were surplus to requirements, an undying loyalty towards the former boss from some players- the settling in period for the former Norwegian international was never going to be easy. Perhaps he wasn’t expecting it to be as difficult as it has been however.
Firstly, he has had to deal with the most prized possessions clambering for the exit door! I noted on this website in July the importance of holding on to Steven Fletcher and Matt Jarvis if at all possible, but in my heart of hearts I always knew the likelihood was that these two would be heading back to the Premier League before the end of August. To see Michael Kightly walk away was an altogether more gut-wrenching experience.
Kightly was a McCarthy success story. Arriving for a tiny fee from non-league Grays Athletic, Kightly immediately endeared himself to the Molineux faithful with his sheer determination and no shortage of skill. A key element of the Championship winning team of 2008-09, Kightly then went through three years of injury hell, with no one ever seemingly knowing exactly what was wrong. If anyone owed this club a season it was Kightly, but he chose Stoke! With our less than loving relationship with Stoke, that one stuck in the throat! A player that Wolves had stood by when he was on the brink of an injury abyss had walked away when a team could have been built around him.
By the time Big Sam pounced for Jarvis and Steven Fletcher declared his “#headsgone”, Solbakken must have been counting down the seconds to the window closing…as were the fans!
He did do some business of his own though in a drastic departure from the previous regime’s mantra of young, hungry, British players. Solbakken was apparently looking at players with all the talent in the world, who came with the caveat of “under-achiever” “new young prospect” or “lost his way”. Doumbia, Sigurdarson, Margeriter, Peszko, Sako, Boukary…hardly the Edwards, Henry, Collins and the oh so British troop that McCarthy signed. Largely though, it is Stale’s boys that have been the shining light so far!
Tongo Doumbia is an imposing midfielder, good with the ball at his feet, intelligent off the ball, more than adequate in the tackle and by far the most impressive performer of the season. Bakary Sako has two goals from two appearances from left wing and Slavomir Peszko is the kind of livewire, jack in the box winger that Stephen Hunt used to be before his legs stopped going ten to the dozen as they once did.
Solbakken’s problem is not what he has recruited, but what he was left with. Too many players on the books who are not part of new plans and are eating away at the wage bill; Decisions like mutually agreeing to cancel the contract of Nenad Milijas are a clear indication of the high earners that will need to be moved on. McCarthy left a deep squad, but with a level of quality that plateaued. There were few stand out players!
And then there was good old TC. Many will say that Terry Connor lasted too long and outlasted too many managers; others argue that he saw us through 2 promotions and 2 Premier League survivals. The outpouring of gushing praise from players past and present when he was sacked suggest a man who was very good at his job, but it had become very obvious, very quickly that he would not last with Solbakken at the helm. Johan Lange was recruited as “First Team Coach” and to anyone who cared to look seemed to be the “right hand man”. Connor had become a marginalised figure- manager at the conclusion of last season, ball collector after the warm up this season. Connor leaves the club after 13 years and is part of many great times during that spell, but it seems to be the right move if as Solbakken noted they had different “philosophies”.
With the window closed, the squad finalised (apart from loans) and Solbakken now the clear leader, hopefully we can start a season that has stuttered thus far. Defeats on the road to Leeds and Cardiff were poor performances, a home draw to Derby wasn’t pretty either. Wins against a developing Barnsley side and Northampton in the cup offered some green shoots of life.
If we are to ascend the league, Solbakken needs to solidify his defence and fast! Ronald Zubar and Stephen Ward, both Premier League regulars, have been rattled all too easily at this level. Both have made real errors thus far and the return to fitness of Kevin Foley may be the tonic! Foley was Player of the Year in 2008-09, ahead of a 26 goal Ebanks-Blake.
Ebanks-Blake and Doyle also need to find their feet! Both have proven track records at this level and should excel but they have never been able to work together. This is still a mystery as both have all of the tools to score in the Championship. The hope is that goals for Doyle on international duty may just spark him into life.
I sincerely hope that now Solbakken is working on his terms he can mould the team into his own. The players that have shone this season have been his recruits and it is seemingly taking the old guard time to adapt and adjust. Jez Moxey’s refrain in the local media of “it may get worse before it gets better” may not be what the fans wanted to hear but this needs to be a year of transition, a year of realistic expectations. I just hope Solbakken has the understanding of the crowd and is given the time to do a rebuilding job that is so desperately needed.