“If you sell Neves, Ruben Neves, you’ll have a riot on your hands”
These were the words echoing from the south bank throughout the final game at Molineux last season against Norwich. The message was very clear: do not sell our golden boy.
The adoration Wolves fans have for Neves has always been clear. But what highlights the extent of this affection is that this was the final Molineux outing for Romain Saiss and John Ruddy, while Joao Moutinho – regarded by many supporters as the finest they have seen in old gold – was yet to decide on his future. And yet these fine servants to the club were largely ignored due to the paranoia about selling Neves.
This epitomises just how important Neves is to Wolves supporters.
Part of this is of course due to his stunning collection of goals, and the deafening rendition of “we’ve got Neves” that follows.
His long range curling efforts against Hull and Sheffield United. His free kicks against Cardiff, Everton, and Arsenal. His deft effort off-the-bar against Manchester United. His powerful first time strike against Villa. The volley against Espanyol. The list goes on.
And then there is that goal against Derby in April 2018. From 35 yards out, he teed it up and with very little backlift managed to send it into the top left corner. That remains the loudest rendition of his song, but for the remainder of the match – and indeed for some time afterwards – the Molineux faithful were left in a stunned state of silence, struggling to comprehend what they had witnessed.
Neves has given Wolves fans some of their greatest memories. But more significantly, he has been the face of the Wolves revolution under Fosun.
Of course, the arrival of Nuno was integral to this, and the head coach undoubtedly held a God-like presence in Wolverhampton. But it was the arrival of a ‘wonderkid from Porto’ that ignited the club’s transformation.
Most fans will surely remember where they were on 30 June 2017 when they saw reports coming out of Portugal that they had agreed a deal for the 20 year-old, who had been linked to Chelsea, Liverpool, and Juventus. Reports suggested that Porto were forced to sell that day to balance the books with financial fair play infringements looming. Eight days later, he was unveiled in the club’s new away kit. A certain Willy Boly was announced the same morning, but as is so often the case, Ruben Neves had stolen the limelight.
It is crucial to remember that until this moment, there were plenty of questions being asked about the club’s Chinese owners, whose first season had been overshadowed by a chaotic three-week trolley dash for players and a managerial merry-go-round. Even the removal of Paul Lambert in place of Nuno had been a messy, drawn-out process.
But the arrival of Neves changed supporters’ minds. They realised not only that Fosun were extremely ambitious, but that they were a lot more shrewd than the previous season had suggested. With Neves’ arrival, the club’s mood and intent had irreversibly changed.
This would be the catalyst for all that followed. Promotion, seventh place in the top flight, a memorable FA cup run and a European adventure all followed. The ‘Cantona effect’ is a widely used phrase in football to describe one man’s arrival catalysing a change in the club’s fortunes and its mindset, and it is an understatement when describing the impact of Ruben Neves in Wolverhampton.
Five years later, Neves is twenty-five and no longer a wonderkid. He has three children, and has been in Wolverhampton long enough to call it a home on more than one occasion. His “I think therefore I play” celebration is imitated in playgrounds across the Black Country on a daily basis, one would assume. He has also captained the side on multiple occasions. Given his pedigree, it could be argued that it’s one of Fosun’s greatest achievement is keeping him at the club for this long.
And yet such is the fondness for Neves that supporters cannot bear the thought of losing him. No one can provide the moments that he can, and no one will have an impact like he has had.
Until this harrowing day arrives, Ruben Neves will continue to be the golden boy.