Wolves may be set for a tactical readjustment ahead of the 2022/23 season. The signing of young centre back Nathan Collins from Burnley has combined with Bruno Lage changing Wolves’ system from a five man defensive line to a four man one. This potential long-term departure from the system that was the foundation of recent Wolves success has begun to lead to discussion among fans: what’s next for Conor Coady?
Coady is one of the most influential characters at Wolves and is loved by all his colleagues – both playing and non playing staff. The 29-year-old has been the club captain since 2018, with his distribution and marshalling of the backline leading to 10 England caps. However, physical limitations have led to some questions about his vulnerability as part of a centre back pairing. Added to the significant outlay on Collins (and last season’s blossoming from Max Kilman), for the first time in five years, his status as a sure-fire starter may be in doubt.
Coady has been an almost ever-present for Wolves since 2018. However, on a couple of occasions last season he was substituted by Lage when chasing games, to allow the side to move to a more attacking formation. Coady hasn’t shown any obvious dissent, but Lage clearly sees his playing time as dispensable, and the captain may well be set for fewer starts. Coady might be faced with a choice as to whether he wants to play the last of his peak years in a bit-part role or whether to seek regular starts somewhere else.
There is no certainty that Lage will totally eliminate the five at the back approach. He also spoke glowingly about Coady during the 21/22 season and evidently values his leadership. It’s very possible that Wolves regularly play with five at the back next season, especially as Collins’ ability to step out of defence might allow a more attacking approach in that formation. Coady’s footballing intelligence may also see him as a potential starter in a four in some games if Lage puts his faith in him.
The World Cup
While Coady might be comfortable with a reduction in playing time, he also might have England duty in his sights. With the World Cup beginning in November, Coady will be desperate to be on the plane to Qatar. Having not seen the pitch in a Covid-marred Euros last summer, he’ll be conscious that there is a chance to go and win the tournament, with England among the favourites.
Like Lage, England manager Gareth Southgate values Coady’s off-field contribution, but a crowded field of potential centre backs may mean that minutes are vital – and not having such a prominent role in his club side could make selecting him difficult. That might be a chance that Coady is unwilling to take.
If Coady decided to leave Molineux, it is difficult to see where he might end up. He is one of the hardest people in the Wolves squad to put a valuation on, because his influence and ability has flourished in very specific circumstances. At 29 years old he also represents a financial risk.
From Wolves’ perspective, Coady would need to command some notable financial return. His departure would leave a gaping hole in the dressing room, and the ever-rumoured potential departure of Ruben Neves (who takes the armband in Coady’s absence) would further hit Wolves’ group of leaders.
This value to Wolves as a captain and effective central centre back likely outweighs the value he could offer to a bidding club. While some teams have deep pockets, many teams won’t want to spend money on a player who might command high wages and offers next to no re-sale value. There is no obvious destination for Coady to go and play 90 minutes every week to enhance his World Cup selection case.
For Coady to be anywhere other than Wolves in September relies on a few unlikely seeming dominoes to fall and I am certainly not ushering him out the door. He should be given the chance to play a significant role in Wolves’ defence next season. There is also a lack of obvious teams to convince Wolves to part with him. Wolves won’t want to lose a man who has been so impactful in the success of the last half decade. Finally, with three years left on his contract, there is no evidence that he wants to leave. He represents so much of what has seen Wolves’ stature as a club grow, and he looks set to be part of that, at least in the short term.