22 April 2012… Wolves 0 Manchester City 2. A defeat that consigned Wolves to a return to the Championship, the footballing equivalent of purgatory. And for me and many other Wolves fans a time to feel the hurt, take the pain before moving on. At least for us Wolves fans, unlike many other fans, the Championship is still considered to be a temporary state for Wolves even if the purification process takes many years as it did pre our one season return to the heavenly atmosphere of the Premiership in 2003.
How long Wolves will stay in the latest limbo will depend on whether the new manager Stale Solbakken can return us to the promised land and become the next Messiah of Molineux. The question in the heads, if not yet on the lips, of all Wolves fans is can he deliver promotion if not this season then next?
The signs so far are promising. He appears to be the real deal and a refreshing contrast to the previous regime and the portents of doom that have been swirling around Molineux in recent times. The positive indicators include;
- the sacking of Terry Connor within weeks of the new season starting showing strong leadership (whilst Wolves fans are a sentimental lot there were no good football reasons for keeping someone who was more involved in setting up the relegated team than Mick McCarthy)
- the signing of quality ‘footballing’ players including Sigurdarson, Doumbia, Peszko, Margreitter and Boukari
- an intelligent managerial style mirroring the thoughtful approach originally conceived on the continent and based on an emphasis of a psychological edge, self awareness, personal ownership and the use of detailed analysis and methods including action learning and review
- a track record of winning 50% (losing 26%) of the games he has been involved in as a manager
- a personal tactical belief and mantra based on zonal defending. A concept which some Wolves fans are struggling to get their heads around. For those who are not ex defenders (ok Wolverhampton and Sandwell Sunday Leagues may not be the best place to see these tactics for real) zonal defending or block defense requires defenders to be disciplined and stay together in a compact manner, not following the attacker but patrolling a specific patch of territory on the football pitch. It means that as well as requiring the defenders to show discipline and personal responsibility the system allows the the ball to be worked systematically up the pitch using the defence as the foundation of attacking moves. In other words a patient probing approach involving more completed passes and increased possession.
- an overriding game plan. Wolves have scored first in 90% of their games so far. No coincidence. Wolves have the second meanest defence. Yet Wolves are only 15th best in goal power. No coincidence. Defence takes precedence. Solbakken’s teams are not going to score too many goals but they won’t conceed lots either. A good sign for any future step into the Premiership.
For all these reasons and more we could be seeing the early signs of the Premiership dynasty that Chairman Morgan seeks. At 44 Solbakken has a good 20 years plus managerial time ahead of him. Wouldn’t it be great if he were to see out most of that time with Wolves. When one considers the average tenure of a football manager in a role is just 2 years, this would be an enormous achievement. Whether Stale eventually goes stale and fails or stays and succeeds will determine the outcome of the rest of the decade for Wolves. For me I wouldn’t bet against him becoming the most successful Wolves manager since Bill McGarry and John Barnwell in the 1970’s.