Gary O'Neil's Wolves rebuild is well underway – so what comes next?


Almost two months remain of the summer transfer window but already Gary O’Neil’s first bespoke squad at Wolverhampton Wanderers is beginning to take shape.

The contrast between last summer and this at Molineux could hardly be more stark as O’Neil sets about putting his own stamp on a squad with which he has already exceeded expectations.

A year ago, Wolves found themselves in the midst of a selling spree designed to keep them out of trouble in terms of breaching the Premier League’s profit and sustainability rules.

The strategy worked, with Wolves forecasting that the figures from the financial year that ended on May 30 will keep them within the PSR limits for the latest three-year rolling period.

But the result was that O’Neil took charge four days before the first game of the season with a squad lacking numbers and a team-building operation still in flux.

What followed was a frantic final few days of the window that saw the unexpected sale of Matheus Nunes to Manchester City trigger a late flurry of signings — Tommy Doyle, Santi Bueno and Jean-Ricner Bellegarde all arrived in the final hours — made possible by the Nunes windfall.

This summer has been very different. Wolves got out of the blocks early and have already completed three key signings.

The most notable is clearly Jorgen Strand Larsen, who Wolves hope will finally fill the long-standing vacancy for a first-choice No 9.

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By effectively agreeing to splash out £25million to sign the Norway international from Celta Vigo — his £2.5million loan will become a £22.5million permanent move when he makes a relatively low number of appearances — the club underlined their belief that he is the man to lead their attack.

The 24-year-old will be the focal point of an attack that will also include Matheus Cunha, Hwang Hee-chan, possibly Pablo Sarabia and potentially even Pedro Neto. More on that shortly.

But two more key signings have also been secured in the form of Rodrigo Gomes and Pedro Lima for a combined fee of £25million.

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The Athletic 500 transfer ratings: Rodrigo Gomes to Wolves

Both are young players — Gomes at 20 and Lima turning 18 on the day he signed for Wolves — but the club envisage both playing a part in the first-team squad next season as they find their feet in the Premier League.

The signings represent an outlay of around £50million at the start of a window in which Wolves are looking to essentially break even on fees.

Step forward Maximilian Kilman, whose move to West Ham United will recoup around £36million of the money even after his former club Maidenhead have taken the 10 per cent of the profit to which they are entitled.

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Maximilian Kilman playing against West Ham last season (Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Much of the shortfall should be made up by the expected sales of Fabio Silva and Daniel Podence, who are surplus to requirements.

The sale of Kilman is the clearest sign yet of a change of policy under O’Neil. Wolves might have chosen to sell the centre-back a year ago, with some figures in the club advocating the acceptance of a bid from Napoli.

But they resisted the move, with former boss Julen Lopetegui, who will now work with Kilman again at West Ham, and sporting director Matt Hobbs seeing him as key to their plans.

While there is no suggestion that O’Neil pushed for the sale of Kilman, he clearly feels he could build the team he wants without his captain, and that the fee West Ham agreed to pay could be more useful to Wolves.

The big outlay on Larsen is another sign of O’Neil’s influence, with the head coach making a traditional centre-forward a priority for the summer.

Elsewhere, Wolves are still working on the basis that Neto will be the second and final ‘big-hitter’ after Kilman to depart. They have long expected to lose the Portugal international and their plans have not changed, but much will depend on the right fee being received.

So, where does it leave Wolves’ squad in terms of depth — an issue O’Neil was keen to address after the fade-out at the end of last season?

With three new additions, two of whom play in a front line that was badly affected by injuries last season, the squad will effectively be where it needs to be if and when Kilman is replaced.

Wolves will not rush into doing so, but it would be a major surprise if at least one new centre-back did not arrive before August 30.

But while it is healthy in terms of numbers, more fine-tuning is still expected before the window shuts at the end of August as O’Neil continues to reshape the squad in his first ever summer window as a manager.

Hugo Bueno could yet leave, either on loan or permanently, in which case a new left wing-back will be needed as understudy for Rayan Ait-Nouri.

And if Neto does depart it is likely Wolves will look to add another forward.

But in terms of raw numbers, the squad is not far away from where it needs to be. And after the relative chaos of a year ago, O’Neil is in an unexpectedly strong position.

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Jorgen Strand Larsen to Wolves: The Athletic 500 transfer ratings

(Top photos: Getty Images)



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