With a big derby date on Saturday, a lot of the build-up surrounding a season-defining Wolves/Villa clash is focusing on Wolves and their gob-smacking array of talent. It’s only natural that players like Neves, Jota and Cavaleiro draw the eye, but the focus has been drawn not because of footballing brilliance, but of controversy.
Ever since last night’s game when they smacked Leeds United about to the tune of a three-nil victory away at Elland Road, speculation about Wolverhampton Wanderers’ off-the-pitch dealings has increased.
Before the game, there were rumblings of discontent from within the English Football League; clubs and CEOs had complained to league about Wolves, their relationship with the super-agent Jorge Mendes and the impact that it has had on the league.
Over the course of the past 24 hours, it is almost certain that one club is Leeds United, and it is quite possible that Aston Villa have voiced their concerns.
Immediately after his side’s battle (see one-sided) with Wolves, Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani hit social media up to question the legality of Wolves’ link to Mendes:
It’s not legal and fair to let a team owned by a fund whom has shares in the biggest players’ agency with evident benefits (top European clubs giving players with options to buy... why the other 23 teams can’t have the same treatment?). We should play all 24 with the same rules and opportunities (it’s enough to Google it).
Aston Villa have also been busy on the old social. Keith Wyness hasn’t exactly said anything, but it’s clear that he’s at least been researching, among other things, Chinese ownership structures, Wolves’ summer, and the sacking of Paul Lambert by our friends in the Black Country.
Wyness also retweeted a news article regarding Lambert’s sacking at Wolves:
Following this minor-inquisition, it seems like the EFL will be holding their own, inviting Wolves and Mendes to sit down and talk in regards to the situation at Wolves. This is normal, AC Milan were invited to a talk with UEFA to present their plans to comply with financial fair play - which the club had a lot of confidence in - before UEFA shut them down quickly, with sanctions seemingly on the horizon. Simply put, at this stage of speculation, there’s a lot of talk.
This has raised a lot of questions. Did Wolves sack Lambert simply because he didn’t want to sign Mendes’ players? Did Wolves skim off cash on their transfers simply because Mendes was involved, thus getting players at knock-down price? It’s all quite problematic, but it’s not new in football. You only need to look over the sea to Paris where the sovereign state of Qatar practically bought Neymar, then loaned him to PSG. These things happen, and compared to Mansour at Manchester City and Qatar, Mendes is a small fry. That doesn’t discount his importance to the game though.
What I must say, is that I believe Wolves have expertly targeted specific systemic failings within the EFL. FFP, be damned - if a club can exploit the structure of a league, that’s an issue and that loophole needs to be closed. FPP exists to ensure owners don’t lead clubs to ruin chasing glory. However, it’s not clear if those same rules apply to an ‘advisory friend’ - Mendes - who upon leaving, will likely opt to take his high-profile clientele with him. The damage that may do to Wolves would be akin.
It feels extremely strange to say these things, but it’s all true. Wolves and Mendes have every chance of being crooked - as this is hardly the first time that people have had conversations about Mendes and his business (Valencia and AC Milan come to mind), however these groups aren’t really responsible for Aston Villa’s own failings.
Failings might be a harsh term, but it’s completely true. The team dropped 6 points - four of those from winning positions against Hull and Sheffield United - and that cannot be blamed on Wolves. Villa came up short against Cardiff, Brentford and Reading - that too cannot be blamed on Wolves. The frank truth is, there have been many points on the board for Villa to claim this season, and they were incapable of pushing the boundaries and claiming those points. Too much money has been spent to roll in at 3rd come the end of the season.
We can certainly critique the manoeuvrings of Mendes, Wolves, Gestifute and Fosun - but it’s not exactly corking the bat and then going full Barry Bonds, is it? While the injection of Ruben Neves, Diogo Jota and others might have boosted Wolves, the only crime committed on the pitch by them, is simply winning a winnable league. In fact, I certainly feel that a complaint against Wolves is legit - and valid. The timing of all of this? It just seems extremely bitter from a number of clubs who could have done better this season on their own two feet. With that all said and done, if Villa have a complaint, they have a complaint. Villa fans need not concern themselves with any of this, and it would be ideal to bring attention to activities on the pitch, than concerning our minds with than the business-skin of Football, already tinged by decades of nepotism, corruption and in some circumstances, downright evil.
Why shouldn’t we concern ourselves? Well - simply because it’s extremely complicated and that pointing fingers get’s us nowhere. We can’t cry about Wolves bringing in players, because we all know Villa have spent a lot of cash - and could have easily brought in players of an almost similar ilk to Jota and Neves with the cash that they have dropped on Kodjia, McCormack and Hogan. There’s a certain level of hypocrisy there - no, Villa have not broken rules (as far as we know, thanks to Wyness and Xia’s able handling of the situation so far), but the club has still dropped an almost unnerving amount of cash.
There are of course issues with Wolves, but we could achieve a lot more by focusing on our own efforts, and backing our own club to the hilt. The EFL have thus far proven themselves to be at an almost legendary level of incompetency (The Checkatrade trophy, forcing promoted National League clubs to near bankruptcy via the forced installation of actual grass pitches, ownership at Blackpool, Leyton Orient, and the dark situation at Crewe Alexandra), so if anything actually comes of this, you can colour me surprised! However, if it does happen - I’ll also be the first in line to point and laugh.