EXCLUSIVE Wolves Blog Meet Kevin Thelwell

In something of a coup for Wolves Blog, we were able to meet Sporting Director Kevin Thelwell recently for a chat about his role at the club, the part he’s played in this season’s unprecedented Championship success and the lofty ambitions of our owners.

Thelwell has always been something of an enigmatic figure at Molineux, going largely unnoticed when things are going well, but a target when the bad times cast a shadow. It was great to get his first-hand insights on the past, present and future of Wolves to make some of our own assessments on his tenure.

In a thorough, two-hour interview, the headline news is that he strongly believes Ruben Neves, along with his fellow match-winning stars, will still be here next season. Moreover he reiterated the ambitions of FOSUN, stating that they want to ‘win things’ and challenge the Premier League pecking order.

If Benik Afobe does sign permanently in the summer, then it shouldn’t surprise anyone either. While neither confirming or denying this, his ‘watch this space’ answer and subsequent smile suggested that this might well be a bit of business to take place.

It’s also clear that Thelwell himself played a much bigger role in recruitment than many might appreciate, with the Jorge Mendes link simply being leaned on when required to help get a foot in the door. Yes, the connection to the super agent helped facilitate meetings, but any accusation that he was dictating the transfer policy of the club is wide of the mark.

Tellingly, any other clubs interested in Neves and Jota last summer could have made an approach, but nobody came in for them! In fact, of our major recruits, only Willy Boly was courted – and those were Championship suitors. With hindsight, it appears that Wolves had a tremendous advantage when in fact they were simply the only ones brave enough to gamble on some of these talents, with the likes of Jota playing only 45mins of football in the entire 2017 under-21s championship in Poland and going largely under the radar.

I will split our interview into two blogs. Please see part one below, which concentrates on player recruitment and plans for the future. Part two will arrive in due course, looking at Thelwell’s role in more depth, and what a typical day in the life looks like for the sporting director.

Player retention

WB: Will our star players – including Ruben Neves – be with the club next season? The worst-case scenario for us would be starting the Premier League season with a worse squad than we have now. Because they have performed so well, it makes us fear that someone could pick them up before we have had the chance to see what even this team could do in the Premier League. Is that a valid concern?

KT: “It is an interesting concern. I would hope that would not be the case. The reason I say that is because FOSUN are very ambitious. Uber ambitious. This club is in a very different space. I think FOSUN want to see the club become a very strong Premier League team and, on that basis, you don’t become a very strong Premier League team if you lose your best players.

“They are not in it for generating money off some transfers. It is all about being a successful Premier League team and winning things – over time.

“You can never say never because you don’t know what the landscape will look like going forward, but my hope is that we will build on what we have done so far.”

Specifically, Ruben Neves’ future

WB: But are we going to see another side of what people have referred to as the Mendes merry-go-round and we are sent new players from his stable as Ruben Neves leaves? Is that a valid concern?

KT: “It is not a concern that is on my radar. If I look at it logically and rationally, I would think it would do him (Neves) the world of good to do what he has done this season in the Premier League. If he went to Man Utd right now (for example), would he be a starter? Wolves fans would of course say yes, as we have seen him play and have a lot of belief in him, but actually, it does him no favours to leave Wolverhampton Wanderers before he’s had an opportunity to play for us in the Premier League.

“And FOSUN certainly wouldn’t want to lose him. No way in the world would they want to lose him. Of course, in the future at some stage he is going to want to move on. Football is a transient business and there are very few who have stayed for 10 or 15 years and played at that top level. The point is that you have got to be ready to replace him when that time comes, but I am hopeful that won’t be for a long time.

Jota, Boly, Neves, Cavaleiro and Costa

WB: Do you see this nucleus of this team being largely the same in the Premier League? Basically, Jota, Boly, Neves, Cavaleiro, Costa…would you expect in all likelihood that they will be here next season?

KT: Are we going to lose them? I would like to think that the answer is no. In fact, I am certain that the answer is no. FOSUN want to be challenging the pecking order.

Benik Afobe

WB: So Afobe…can we expect that he will sign permanently?

KT: Wait and see.

Getting it wrong last season?

WB: Has this season proved that you got it wrong last season when you said in a past Fans’ Parliament meeting that the best mix for Championship success is roughly a 70/30 split between domestic players and foreign players?

KT: “We’ve got a nice blend now. We’ve got British and European players, some of them have been here for a year already and have settled which has paved the way for others to come in.
The bit you mention about percentages (roughly 70% to 30% UK and foreign players) was correct in the past, but the league is changing massively. It is the sixth biggest league in the world, so why can’t it change? There are some great footballing teams in there as well, such as Fulham and Brentford. We have shown that the league can evolve.

Nuno and you

WB: Did you feel compromised when Nuno came in?

KT: “Did I feel compromised? The sporting director is not the rainmaker in my opinion. It is very much oil and glue really. When thing get sticky, you have to oil those wheels and get things moving again. If there are problems you have to stick things together and patch things up to get everyone together. It is not that role where you have one guy that makes all the decisions about football and recruitment. It just doesn’t work that way and I wouldn’t want it to work that way. Certainly not here. It is a collaborative approach.

Conclusion

The meeting was extremely uplifting and gave more reason to believe that we’re not in it to make up the numbers in the Premier League. Moreover, we can look forward to a brave new world in the top flight with this season’s star players in place. Thelwell is ‘certain’ of this. Of course, he did caveat this with the reminder that nobody knows what the future holds. But to hear so many bold replies to this line of questioning was extremely reassuring.

For part two of our interview, we will relay the answers to questions about Thelwell’s role, Nuno’s brilliance and other topics. We’ll also touch upon what I felt was a really interesting line about this season’s Championship success…

…More than the title, the clean sheets, the win ratio and everything else, Nuno and the club have been passionate about leaving a genuine Championship legacy that can be held as a beacon for future teams who participate in it. In short, they wanted to reinvent the way football is played in what is the sixth biggest league in the world. It doesn’t have to be kick and rush and blood and thunder, laden with domestic players with ‘Championship experience.’ There is a more beautiful way to succeed, and the club are proud to have been able to prove that.

More of that for another blog soon, but in the meantime, thanks so much for Kevin and Max Fitzgerald for sparing the time and allowing us in, it was massively appreciated.

Up the Wolves!

Comments

  1. theDOOGooder says:

    Absolutely brilliant Ben!

    We had a quick chat about this at APV a couple of weeks ago but now, after reading the ‘Full Monty’, I am really impressed at:-

    A) You getting KT to agree to the interview in the first place. It obviously means that the blog is taken seriously by the club, which is great news.

    B) The breadth and depth of questions that you fired at him and his openness in his answers.

    C) The positivity of the club and the scope of Fosun’s ambitions.

    It all bodes really well for next season… and many seasons to come.

    Excellent, excellent stuff!

       8 likes

  2. Thomas says:

    Good write up mate and thanks for your efforts in securing that interview.

    From my own perspective the only thing I’d add is simply that I liked KT and thought he spoke a lot of common sense.

    I felt similarly about Lambert when we sat down with him of course but the key difference is Thelwell seemed more progressive and forward thinking.

    I left feeling reassured that we had someone like him overseeing all the key areas of the club.

       6 likes

  3. Louie Silvani says:

    Great work Ben!

       3 likes

  4. Lovely article, looking forward to read plenty more. Lets hope Fosun will buy wisely, with quality before quantity, and for most – keeping the biggest stars. The future is ever so bright for Wolverhampton Wanderers.

    Vargas/ Norway

       4 likes

  5. Great work Ben, firstly in securing the interview and secondly, in giving us such an informative precis of what was forthcoming.
    Whenever things have been going badly in recent seasons, KT seems to have been right in the firing line, but, like the manager, he can only work with the tools he is given. He, and Nuno, now have a complete tool kit in place and we can only be confident that they will indeed get the job done.
    I’m not sure I can cope with all this pre-season confidence. I’m just not used to it. But from KT’s words, my confidence is not misplaced and our heroes are on an upward trajectory to the very top.

       3 likes

  6. Dorset Wolf says:

    Brilliant Ben what a future we have in the past i think KT has been judged unfairly.

    Look forward to part 2.

       3 likes

  7. vicsmith says:

    Well Done Ben and thank you for sharing. As mentioned elsewhere, I am very pleased that the club hierarchy recognise this site and the members of Wolves Blog. The site does not suffer fools and that is why we like it. Of course the standard of the writing by your good self puts to shame some so called journos who can only make up stuff (especially regarding future recruitment). Well Done and thank you for everything.

       5 likes

  8. AmberWolf says:

    OK, that was unexpected, and very interesting.

    Ben / Thomas please keep up this level of reporting as its as fascinating as it is revealing. in fact this is a coup getting an interview normally reserved to the print and broadcast media. Congratulations, that shows just how well Wolves Blog is viewed by the club and proves that this is the No1 Wolves fan site we all know it to be, and frankly it’s all totally deserved.

    Kevin Thelwell I’ve always thought comes across as a very considered, thoughtful and decent man. Lets hope his view of Fosun and our current crop of wonderkids from Portugal are true. With the basis of what we hope will prove to be a capable squad with a number of quality additions to come, next season will be very interesting especially if some of the more serious transfer rumours become fact.

    As for Afobe, I have very mixed feelings, when he came from MK Dons, I thought we’d got a really great addition, and initially it was magical, but then Sako left and Dicko was injured / a shadow of his former self and things turned sour. I think his sojourn at Bournemouth has shown he lacks the quality and skill to be a great Premier League striker, needing more chances to score a goal. He may make a good backup, but I worry about his mentality sat on the bench and whether he would become a disruptive influence.

    I’d rather we did a Neves / Jota and took the chance on a couple of top draw youngster’s that could be incredible, than spend 10million or more on what could be a second string player.

    Hurry up with that second article we can’t wait…………..

       4 likes

    • Wight Wolf says:

      Couldn’t agree more about Afobe. I was disappointed to hear that Bonatini is unlikely to stay. While he is not a top drawer striker or even a particularly good target man his hold up play is far better than Afobe’s and he is a much cheaper option, still young and potentially a very useful alternative to an out and out striker.
      Looking forward to part 2 Ben and thanks for the info.

         4 likes

  9. basherbaz says:

    Great Article – Thank You.

    Just pondering the Work that Nuno has done and will do in the premier. Would I swop him for any other Premier mangers ?, No way only Man City and Spurs play the quality and style of football we have produced this year. Man utd have produced a lot of dross this year and considering the money they have spent it has not been invested wisely.
    In Nuno we Trust.

       4 likes

  10. Roger Anderson says:

    Ben the KT interview is certainly a coup for the blog, brilliant.
    Great interview almost like wiping the cobwebs away from the enigma that was KT. He was very clear, concise and positive.
    Look forward to part 2

       3 likes

  11. Clive says:

    Nice to see you back from your travels, Benny Boy, with your shirt still on your back!

    KT must be doing something right, as our Jeff don’t suffer fools, see Jackett and greasel exits!

    I have been saying for ages to anyone who will listen, and that’s not many, that Wolves are NOT being run the traditional way, i.e. as a business to make short term profits by recruiting, nurturing and then selling talent.

    No, we are going to keep the good players, sign more, and proceed to the dizzy heights of Champions League football, by playing liquid football, the Nuno way, bamboozling all before us.

    Fosun don’t need the money from quick transfers, they want the kudos, the prestige, and the long term success of a brilliant football team, to give them “face” in Asia, which will lead to profits worldwide from tv and marketing merchandise.
    We have to get our heads round this way of thinking, and forget the greed driven past of our previous owners.

    As to Afobe, there is one very good reason why Bournemuff lent him out, and why we should not sign him…….he’s crap.

    I think the surface of Nuno’s and our potential under Fosun and Jeff has only just been scratched, and next season is going to be a doozie.
    Burnley in Europe, for fuck’s sake?
    I am salivating at the thought of Stephen Ward up against Helda Costa, Ivan Cavaleirro, and Diogo Jota!

    Bring on the dancing horses, I cor wait!

       6 likes

    • Larry Talbot says:

      Do I sense a slight tendency toward misgivings viz a viz young Benik then, Clive?

         1 likes

      • Clive says:

        Noooooo, whatever gave you that impression??

        Never go back, that’s my motto.
        He was too good for us when we sold him, was shit in the Prem with a mickey mouse team like Boredmouth, and he will be even more shit for a brill Prem team like wot we will be next season.
        So yes, very slight tendency, or what you said!!

           1 likes

  12. Back to transfer stuff. I’m sure most of you have already thought of this but I am Canadian so a little slow.
    Ruben Neves’ cost is spread over 5 years. So instead of £15.8 million for the year Wolves bought him, it is £3.2 million for each of the 5 years starting the year we bought him.
    OK, Wolves have, presumably, a lot of players’ costs in this state. And they will add Jota, maybe Boly and Afobe and the other possible signings from the loan agreements last summer.
    Here’s where it gets interesting, if I understand this correctly.
    Let’s assume that Wolves sign all of their players to 5 year contract, just for this example.
    If they spend £250 million on players this summer and they all sign 5 year contracts, doesn’t that count as just £50 million each year? So, in theory, they can spend 5 times more than their FFP “cap” allows. They can, in theory, spend £350 million and it would only count as £70 million each year, which the Television revenue will more than allow.
    Of course, there are other expenses that will increase, like player wages, but this leveraging could mean they can spend a lot more on players, if they want. They could do a Man City and still fit under the FFP rules.
    Of course, they can’t do that every year but if they do that this summer, it would possibly get them up to a level where player signings can level off or the cost be offset by players being sold.
    Am I understanding things correctly or am I missing something.

       2 likes

  13. theDOOGooder says:

    If you’re a bit of a saddo like me and sometimes watch telly around 5pm, check out ‘Four in a bed’ on Channel 4.

    Jim McCalliog and his wife are two of the B&B owners taking part.

    He still looks good.

       0 likes

  14. I always blamed KT for bring those players like Mason, Wallace, Byrne, Saville, etc.

    Water under the bridge now.

       0 likes

    • Thomas says:

      We did talk about this specific period of transfer activity Jim and levelled this accusation at KT pretty much verbatim.

      He pointed out (fairly in my opinion) that Wallace and Saville needed time to adjust and have since proven at Millwall that they’re good Championship players. Saville was someone they thought would get forward and score goals from midfield, again which he has done for Millwall. I can’t remember what was on and off the record about Wallace but if memory serves correctly, KT did say they knew they needed to replace Sako and the money for a like-for-like replacement simply wasn’t there so they got Wallace in hoping he could adapt quickly, which obviously didn’t happen. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me outlining that informally.

      With all those you mention though it was very much a case of dealing with a restricted budget at that moment in time and having to invest in upcoming players in the hope they could step up.

      I suppose you can always say that whatever the budget a bad signing is a bad signing so in that sense, nobody should be let off the hook.

      In fairness to KT he said that all transfers, good and bad, don’t come down to one person’s decision and ultimately there’s a team discussing targets and making decisions.

         2 likes

  15. Twixfix says:

    Absolutely brilliant post Ben … and more to the point it puts Mr Thelwell full into the radar of WOLVES BLOG.

    I do hope that folks within the club read this and glean that we are not numpties.. as Neanderthal Mick would have people believe .. but that we’re knowledgeable, educated and have a voice, a growing voice in what we see at Wolves FC. and how passionate we are to see the club succeed…. (Any chance of an Away Season Ticket btw…)

    I think this is a very astute and positive move by both parties to integrate a powerful media group behind our true love of Wolves..

    WOLVES BLOG AYE WE….

       4 likes

  16. Anyone know when kit will be ready…….? The dog won’t rest until its out. ……!

       0 likes

  17. Clive says:

    Does Bobby Snotgrass miss the play off final since he was booked in both legs of the semi?

       0 likes

    • RickRack (#go Fulham) Wolves says:

      Clive
      It really doesn’t matter is Snotgrease plays or not.
      Fulham to win the play-offs by?
      Yes you guessed it Clive 5:2
      Lmfro

         1 likes

  18. peterobbo says:

    Great interview Ben and a real coup for this blog. Many congratulations to you.

       1 likes

  19. kiwiwolf says:

    Good to see articles like this moving the blog way up in the league of those trusted by the management, it can only mean more in the future and a better standard of information passed on to us, very important to those of us who follow from abroad.

    Well done to all involved, keep up the good work.

       4 likes

  20. basherbaz says:

    Come on Fulham.
    How did the ref not send of Johnson ?.
    Poolis would not have been good anyway and ffs his team could not pass to each other.

       1 likes

  21. What about this folks….?

       2 likes

    • Bedford Wolf (C H A M P I O N S !) says:

      No thanks. Not with black sleeves. Looks more like Cambridge United than Wolves.

         5 likes

  22. Bedford Wolf (C H A M P I O N S !) says:

    R.I.P. Ray Wilson. Left back in England’s 1966 World Cup winning team has passed away aged 83. Ray suffered with Alzheimer’s in his latter years. Very classy left back, always thought Derek Parkin had modelled himself on Ray.

    OODCL

       9 likes

    • sevlow says:

      A gifted and classy defender who played football in an uncomplicated way. He made defending look easy.
      Top bloke.

         1 likes

  23. sevlow says:

    Thanks Ben. A good insight into what goes on behind the scene at the Mol.

    Exciting times ahead methinks 🙂

    As for Afobe. If Nuno can bring on players like Coady, Siass and Cav to the levels he did might he not be able to do the same for Benik? Nuno will know, I trust him, so if Afobe signs I will be ok with that.

       1 likes

    • sevlow says:

      Thomas – I tried to edit the above but was unable to do so as it said “you do not have permission to edit this”

      ???

      Just a heads up

         0 likes

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