Several months ago, chairman Jeff Shi summoned Wolverhampton Wanderers’ administrative staff to a meeting and asked what they would need to cope with Champions League football.
It confirmed both the extent of his and owner Fosun International’s ambition although a more pertinent question might have been how, after promising Nuno Espírito Santo “limitless funds earlier this season, the Chinese conglomerate plans to comply with Financial Fair Play (FFP) protocols.
Chris Wilder probably wonders like everyone else although, as his Sheffield United side prepares for tomorrow’s visit to Molineux, he has a much more pressing problem to solve: Plotting a ‘double’ over the Championship’s runaway leaders after beating them at Bramall Lane earlier this term.
“They have brought a lot of players in and make decisions and who I am criticise any of their decisions,” Wilder, whose team are seventh, said. “They are sat in their position and if they do spend, they have spent well and are still organised and playing as a team.
“You still have to do that if you are heavily backed. There is skill in getting the maximum out of what you have got, just as much as getting the maximum out of what we have got.”
Wolves have spent over £50m in the transfer market since Fosun’s takeover in July 2016, with Benik Afobe the latest high-profile arrival following his deadline day move from AFC Bournemouth. The centre-forward, whose wages will be covered in full by Espírito Santo’s employers throughout the duration of his loan, joins Rúben Neves (£15m), Helder Costa (£13m) and Ivan Cavaleiro (£7m) on the payroll while a deal, understood to be worth over £12m, was recently brokered to acquire another loanee, Atlético Madrid’s Diogo Jota, on a permanent basis this summer.
With Shi recently telling the Express and Star newspaper that potential FFP issues are “too far away”, Wolves’ strategy to avoid a breach appears to be based solely on reaching and then succeeding at top-flight level. Eleven points clear at the top of their table, their gamble seems destined to pay-off, at least in the short-term. However, with clubs prohibited from losing £39m or more over a three season rolling period, any loss of form could have serious ramifications.
United, who captured Lee Evans from Wolves during last month’s window, are also expected to include fellow new signings Ricky Holmes (pictured), Ryan Leonard and James Wilson in the squad which travels to the Black Country.
“We are delighted about Lee,” Wilder, asked if he was surprised at Wolves’ willingness to lose the Wales midfielder, said. “He fits in with what we are about and has been outstanding in both of the games he has played. He’s a young, enthusiastic player who wants to do well and improve and we are delighted to have him.”