Monday 14 October 2019

'Wolves have lost 86 games in four years. There's a lot of damage done'

Paul Hayward

The contrast was brutal. Brighton with their packed stadium, vibrant team and play-off dates with Crystal Palace; Wolverhampton Wanderers with their sullen, twice-relegated rabble and a £16m parachute payment as a reward for failure.

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Wolves are now the first club to have twice suffered relegation from the top to the third tier in successive seasons. As Dean Saunders' team crashed into League One after two first-half goals from Kazenga LuaLua for aspirational Brighton, there were echoes of the great farce of 1983-86 when Wolves were demoted three years in a row.

Saunders, who left Doncaster in January to take over from Stale Solbakken, leaned against a wall at Brighton's Amex Stadium and told the whole story: "I can probably sum it up like this: the team got into the Premiership five years ago and hung on in there; Steven Hunt scored a goal on the last day (in 2010-11) to keep them in the league; then they got relegated with 25 points; then they lose Steven Fletcher, Wayne Henderson, Matt Jarvis and Michael Kightly, which is 40pc of the team that gets relegated.

"Then you've got some players thinking a Premier League club would come in for them. They've seen their mates leave and treble their wages. They've had their wages cut themselves. Then the new manager (Solbakken) comes in and signs eight players. He tries to mix them together and play a certain style of football. And that's not worked. Then I've walked in to try to make sense of everything that's happened.

"There are players on three-year contracts, four-year contracts. That's probably why some people have turned the manager's job down."

The task now is one of mass culling, which Saunders sounds enthusiastic about – Hunt is one of five Irishmen along with Kevin Doyle, Stephen Ward, Kevin Foley, and Matt Doherty who face uncertain futures.

Saunders hopes owner Steve Morgan and CEO Jez Moxey will approve a plan for a purge, followed by a search for replacements with the right "attitude".

Above all, Saunders painted a picture of a neurotic playing staff. "I have to speak to Steve and Jez and get a strategy in place instead of rolling around, collecting players and thinking you're going to be all right. The mentality is still not right," he said.

The Premier League's umbilical cord to clubs it relegates will not be cut for Wolves, who collect another £16m handout, despite dropping to League One and losing 23 of their 46 Championship fixtures, yet could still field a side on Saturday with Karl Henry, Roger Johnson, Jamie O'Hara, Doyle and Doherty.

"However I do it I've got to build a team that's got the right culture, where everyone's working for their wages, they all want to win, they're all proud to play for Wolves," Saunders said. "I'm going to try and get the club back in the Premiership and they've got to believe me when I look them in the eye and tell them that."

Morgan, who is worth about £510m, said: "Today is a sad day at the end of what has been a horrendous season. As chairman I take my responsibilities very seriously; we have failed our supporters, and the city, and for that I am truly sorry."

"They've lost 86 games in four years," Saunders added. "That's a lot of damage, a lot of s*** Sundays.

"Out of a crisis you get an opportunity, and we can't miss it. If you had four managers in 12 months in Boots the chemist, ask the staff how they would feel. They wouldn't know whether they were coming or going." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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