Experiencing promotion with Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2003 was one of the highlights of my career.
The aim for Wolves this season – survival in the Championship – is more modest, but if they hold onto Helder Costa and continue to develop young talent, a promotion push next season isn’t out of the question.
Wolves looking good for survival
The last three games have been absolutely monumental for Wolves’ chances of survival. Paul Lambert pulled off some exceptional results after taking on the job in November, but then they had that awful run of six defeats on the bounce between early February and the first week of March.
So I’m sure there were a lot of nerves going into the game against Rotherham, and away to Brentford. But they got the job done in both matches. The manner in which they won at Griffin Park – with two very late goals – will have given them unbelievable confidence. So too the 3-1 victory at Fulham last weekend.
It’s not over yet. We’ve seen Bristol City win two in a row, and Blackburn Rovers are unbeaten in four, so Wolves certainly can’t take their eye off the ball.
There are no easy games in the Championship, but with games against the likes of Brighton & Hove Albion, Leeds United and Huddersfield Town to come, Wolves have to keep performing at a good level.
But as it stands, I’m confident they’ll stay up – even if the sides around them have a strong end to the campaign.
Costa is a sign(ing) of things to come
There’s no doubt Helder Costa is a hugely talented player. And his signing also showed how the dynamics have changed for Wolves since the new investment.
I was surprised they could spend £13m on a young player. Obviously times change in football, but when I was at Molineux, Kenny Miller was comfortably our most expensive signing at about £3m. So I think that’s a sign of the big ambitions that [club owners] Fosun Group have.
The issue now is holding onto him. Costa’s performances have unsurprisingly drawn attention from some of the big Premier League clubs. But if you’re investing £13m in a player at a club in Wolves’ situation, you’re investing in them to win promotion.
That’s the aim for the next year – and so survival this time out is even more important than usual.
Lambert’s record shows he’s the right guy
Paul’s record since taking over the job is good enough – over the course of a season – to keep the side up. They’ve taken 28 points from 22 games in the Championship since he joined.
And I think with the position they were in when he arrived, just above the relegation zone, survival has to be considered as his remit for this season.
We competed against Paul’s Norwich City side when I worked at MK Dons, and he built such an impressive side there, and took them up a couple of divisions in a row. So he clearly knows what it takes to lead a side to the Premier League.
This term, he’s done a decent job to stabilise things. I hope he gets given the time to take Wolves forward. You see boards of directors chop and change the manager so often at clubs, and it’s not conducive to success.
Managers need three, four or five transfer windows to put their stamp on the club and experiment with formations and combinations. But if you switch managers every 10 months or so, it’s just a merry-go-round, and it’s a cycle that’s proven not to work.
Historically, the club have always brought young players through. Wolves produced the likes of Robbie Keane, Lee Naylor, Joleon Lescott, and others, around the time I was there. And I think if you have any aspirations as a club, you need to nurture that.
Having the finances to bring in players like Costa is great, but you need an identity – and that comes from guys coming through the youth system and learning what the club means.
So it’s great to see that balance of young guys like Kortney Hause, Dominic Iorfa and Bright Enobakhare alongside seasoned players.
When we came up, we had that balance, and if the team are to win promotion next season, that’s absolutely the route they should take. It also gave us a real connection with the fans, which was vital to our success.
The supporters will be absolutely crucial during this run-in. They travel in massive numbers everywhere, and even though the Brentford game was a midweek clash down in London, a lot of the guys I know went down, and there was another really big away turnout.
That support will never die away, no matter what league they’re in, but it would be great for them to be rewarded with a return to the Premier League. And with the capacity extension in 2012, it can now hold over 30,000 – and believe me, if Wolves fans have something to cheer about, that place will be packed, and very loud.
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