Not so much the cosy club these days, but the cut-throat corporation.
While I’m still in denial about Diogo Jota leaving for Liverpool (for up to £45 million with add-ons apparently), I still know which version Wolves I’d prefer, no matter how tough a transfer like this is to take.
Where once the likes of Edwards, Batth and co were consigned as a comfortable clique when treading water in the Championship, we’re now dispensing with one of the most talented kids to ever play in that league, in an attempt to ride the crest of a wave in the echelon above.
And while I can just about see the logic of doing so, I feel it’s a mistake and one we’ll regret.
The super-sleuths among you may have seen it coming when listening to Nuno’s interview after signing his contract extension. Tellingly, he said: “If our players go to big, big clubs in the Premier League, it is a sign that they have been working good and hard. What we did in the past can only show us the way in the future.”
Forty-four goals in 131 games is in the past now, as were some virtuoso displays that genuinely took the breath away. To obliterate the championship (alongside the limited Bonatini and mercurial Cavaleiro) at the tender age of 21 was an effort of freakish proportion. In fact, I can think of no other player of that age to adopt such a fearless approach to that notoriously obstinate league from Satan, which has chewed up and spat out many players of bigger reputation and stature. As was always the case with Diogo, he never took a backwards step and faced it all up with the effervescence of a kid in an amusement arcade. Our Pinball Wizard.
Memories of a Bolton pummelling at home – featuring a no-fear emasculation of Clogger Wheater – are still fresh, as were unplayable Premier League displays away at Newcastle in 2018/19, home to Leicester City and Brighton last year. And then there was the magic of the FA Cup.
But were they too few-and-far between? While I remember his brace at the AMEX with such fondness, I forget he hadn’t scored in the nine games before that fixture and in the 10 games after it. Nuno wouldn’t have.
And if adopting a Moneyball approach to the side as we know it, Adama Traore made 13 goal creating contributions (four goals and nine assists) to Diogo’s eight (seven goals and one assist) last season, including a handful of performances as wing back. Tellingly, Pedro Neto was beginning to contribute during this time, too.
Maybe Traore has joined the ‘sacred cow’ club over our beloved Little Wolf, who most would have classed as unsellable once. But maybe a replacement of similar electricity will really put the project into fifth gear?
As Nuno added: “A lot of people have been, a lot of people have come in. The team has evolved; has grown as a squad. It is something normal in football. Players go to different clubs because they need to, some of them want to. When new players come in, the project is moving forward.”
If a replacement hits the ground running – or Podence and Neto live up their own infectious levels of promise – then there might be method to this apparent madness.
It’s a big ‘if’ though and if you were putting me on the spot, I’d lean towards the madness.
Aside from his tender years which his performances have unfairly consigned as irrelevant (he was born after Euro 96 if you all want to feel old), you sensed his best was yet to come. A quick-fire hat-trick against Espanyol suggested he could poach like the best of them in time, while slaloming runs Old Trafford and the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (if memory serves) were the stuff of a Life of Riley soundtrack and a Trevor Brooking superlative, had they ended in a goal. You sensed that such netbusters were just a drop of the shoulder away.
Rather than a glass ceiling which Doherty, Cavaleiro and Costa had surely reached, Diogo was approaching the tip of an iceberg. His recent goal for Portugal was more evidence of that, in a barrelling run and finish that became his bewitching trademark.
Maybe imitating a player that many of us would call our favourite is missing the point though.
“The standards are very, very high,” said the gaffer.
Vamos Diogo and thanks for the memories. You’ll never walk alone.