Its August 6th, 2016. The sun is shining as over 2,000 Wolves fans descend on South Yorkshire for the opening game of the season against Rotherham United. It was a summer full of uncertainty but shortly before the season began the news Wolves fans had been waiting for was finally confirmed, the club had been taken over by Chinese conglomerate Fosun International. It would be a moment that would change the modern history of the club, but it was not all plain sailing from the off.
After a disjointed pre-season, Wolves fans could not wait to get started. It was a new era, a new glimmer of hope with new owners and a new Head Coach Walter Zenga. And if there was one game from the season that could sum up the first year in charge for Fosun, it would be the opening day draw at the New York Stadium. After all the pre-match excitement and hope, Wolves found themselves 2 goals down after 20 minutes. George Saville halved the deficit before the break bringing the hope of a comeback, only for Dominic Iorfa to be sent off early into the second half.
However, Walter Zenga’s men salvaged a point after an excellent finish from summer signing Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and were unlucky not to win the game as Joe Mason missed a great opportunity late on. The game also proved to the birth of the iconic Icelandic clap which would prove to be a signature celebration for Wolves fans throughout the season, led by Euro 2016 Icelandic hero Jon Dadi Bodvarsson.
We take a look at the players that were in action that day, their contributions to Wolves and where they are now.
Carl Ikeme – Retired
In a season of many inconsistencies in the Wolves team, Carl was just about the only consistency. No one could have foreseen the challenges our number one would have been facing a year on from Fosun’s first game but as he had shown us over many years at the club, he rose to the challenge and beat it. I think I speak on behalf of many supporters when I say I would love to see Carl take up a permanent role at the club, which Jeff Shi has said would always be available to him. It was heartening to see the support of the fanbase throughout his battle with Leukaemia, and the fundraising efforts to go alongside it. Carl was our rock in goal for a number of seasons but for a while, it was our turn to be his. Carl won so many games for Wolves on the pitch, but it is the battle he won off the pitch that was certainly his best. A true Wolves legend without a shadow of a doubt.
Dominic Iorfa – Sheffield Wednesday
Having broken into the side under Kenny Jackett the previous season while also earning his place as a consistent member of the England Under-21 squad, there were big hopes among the Wolves faithful for right-back Dominic Iorfa. However, as the club moved forward under Nuno Espirito Santo it became clear he would have to move clubs in order to gain first-team football and prevent his career from stagnating. Following a largely successful loan spell under Mick McCarthy at Ipswich Town, Iorfa was sold to Sheffield Wednesday for a fee in the region of £1.5m and has become a fans favourite in Yorkshire. He is now a regular starter for the Championship club under Garry Monk playing predominantly at centre back. He certainly has the ability to be a Premier League footballer, it was perhaps unfortunate for the youngster that the takeover came when he did, but will he realise his Premier League dream at Hillsborough?
Danny Batth – Stoke City
Having come through Wolves academy as a youngster, Danny Batth was one of few shining lights in Championship relegation season under Dean Saunders. He then proved crucial in the League 1 winning season under Kenny Jackett and took the captains armband from Sam Ricketts the following season. However, Batth’s form in the championship drew criticism from a large section of the fanbase, with numerous errors leading to goals conceded. Nuno Espirito Santo decided Batth was not good enough for the Premier League following promotion and he was sent out on loan to Middlesbrough working under Tony Pulis. After a relatively successful loan spell on Teeside Batth made the £3m switch to Stoke City where he is a regular starter in the struggling Championship side’s defence. Batth could find himself relegated to League 1 for the second time in his career.
Kortney Hause – Aston Villa
Having signed from Wycombe as a youngster, big things were expected from centre back Kortney Hause. Hause broke into the side under Kenny Jackett and was impressive enough to earn himself numerous England Under-21 call-ups. However, his career stagnated somewhat with injuries meaning he missed the majority of the promotion-winning season under Nuno and couldn’t force his way into the side. He was sold to rivals Aston Villa following a successful loan spell for a fee believed to be in the region of £3m. He initially struggled to gain a regular starting place under Dean Smith but has managed to force his way into the struggling Villa side, with his last performance coming in their 1-0 defeat against Wolves at Villa Park.
Matt Doherty – Wolverhampton Wanderers
The only player in action that day that remains at the club is Matt Doherty, with Conor Coady being an unused substitute for the game. However, the Matt Doherty that flies up and down the wing and is a crucial aspect to a top-six Premier League team is far from the Matt Doherty that played left-back at the New York Stadium. Having struggled for first-team starts the previous season following the emergence of Dominic Iorfa, Doherty found himself at left-back under Kenny Jackett, something that Walter Zenga opted to stick with. Doherty was largely ineffective going forward from left-back, he did not look completely comfortable, but provided many solid and consistent performances throughout the season.
Dave Edwards – Shrewsbury Town
Edwards spent almost 10 years at Wolves under many different managers in three different divisions. He divided opinion among the fanbase but was undoubtedly a great servant to the club scoring many important goals in both the Premier League and the Championship. Despite his proven track record, Edwards didn’t quite fit the style of midfielder that Nuno wanted and was sold to Reading for £1m. After just one season down south, he is now back at his hometown club Shrewsbury under former Wolves player Sam Ricketts. Edwards has made a positive impact in Shropshire both on and off the pitch, helping to build a young side with his former teammate while still admits to supporting and watching Wolves whenever possible. Whatever your opinion on his footballing ability, Edwards was and continues to be a fantastic ambassador for the club.
Lee Evans – Wigan Athletic
Signed for Wolves from Newport as a youngster and played an important role in the League One title-winning season, going on to be a mainstay throughout the roles of Kenny Jackett, Walter Zenga and Paul Lambert in the Championship. The general feeling on Evans was that he never quite cut it, proving largely ineffective and twinned with attitude problems, he was sold to Sheff Utd for a fee just short of £1m after a successful loan spell at Wigan Athletic. Many were surprised by this move and doubted whether Evans was good enough to stake a claim as a first-team regular at Bramall Lane. And sure enough, after failing to make an impact he is now back at Wigan in the Championship, having helped them gain promotion from League One the previous season.
George Saville –Middlesbrough
George Saville made 50 appearances for Wolves and was yet another player who divided opinion among the fanbase, with some promising yet inconsistent performances. Saville was regularly involved in the starting 11 under Walter Zenga and Paul Lambert but was sold to Millwall when Nuno took over for £500,000. After a successful two years at the Den, Saville has since moved on to Middlesbrough, transferred for a staggering fee of £8m. Saville has proven himself to be a more than able if not impressive Championship level player, quite how Middlesbrough believed he is worth £8m is another matter… especially when you consider just one year on from his departure from Molineux Wolves signed a certain Joao Moutinho for less!
Jed Wallace – Millwall
The arrival of Jed Wallace from Portsmouth ahead of the 2014/15 season was met with much excitement. Having been an integral part of the Pompey side that won promotion from League 2, many believed Wolves were the perfect club for Wallace to move to the next stage of his career. However, things could not have turned out any different. From almost his first game many were questioning where Wallace would fit into the formation under Kenny Jackett, as he failed to make an impact. Following numerous loan spells, he was sold to Millwall for an undisclosed fee alongside George Saville, where he has rediscovered his confidence and form scoring 25 goals in 148 appearances and has become a fans favourite at the Den. He’s even been linked with a move to the Premier League in more recent times.
Jon Dadi Bodvarsson – Millwall
There were high hopes when Icelandic hero Jon Dadi Bodvarsson joined Molineux which was only increased after his opening day strike to equalise against Rotherham. This was quickly followed up with a super strike in a 3-1 win on derby day at St Andrews. However, it would prove to be a difficult season for the cult hero who would not register a single goal at Molineux. In fact, he only went on to score one more goal all season, coming in April away to Bristol City. He was sold to Reading for a fee thought to be in the region of £3m where he struggled to make an impact. Bodvarsson has since moved to Millwall where he has scored some important goals in an impressive season for the Lions prior to the lockdown.
James Henry – Oxford United
After an impressive loan spell in the League One campaign, James Henry signed on a permanent deal ahead of Wolves’ return to the Championship. He turned out to be an important part of the Wolves side under Kenny Jackett in the Championship in the following two seasons. However, he struggled to make an impact following the Head Coach’s departure and went on loan to Bolton where he rediscovered his form. He was subsequently released having been deemed surplus to requirements. He finished his first season at Oxford as joint top scorer for the club and has now made over 100 appearances for them. Henry was somewhat of a fans favourite in his time at Molineux, particularly in the rather dull 2015/16 season where Henry proved to be Wolves’ best attacking outlet. It is somewhat strange it hasn’t quite happened at a higher level elsewhere for him.
Joe Mason – MK Dons
Mason signed for Wolves from Cardiff at a time where attacking options were few and far between, yet he did not manage to stake a claim for a regular starting place under Kenny Jackett. There was renewed optimism at the start of the 2016/17 season as he enjoyed a successful start to the season under Walter Zenga, but his season became hampered with injury. Mason agreed to the mutual termination of his contract in 2019 after falling out of favour under Nuno. His career at Wolves never really got going although he was given very few opportunities and he joined MK Dons at the start of the 2019/20 season after their promotion to League 1. He was a likeable character and had the ability, but a combination of managerial changes and injuries meant he struggled to game any form of momentum in his time at Molineux. Wolves stupidly turned down a £5 million bid for Joe Mason from Bristol City back in 2016 which we still can’t understand to this day.
Helder Costa – Leeds
Quite where Wolves would have been without the magnificent Helder Costa during the 2016/17 season is unthinkable. Costa helped guide Wolves to safety and was lauded as having the ability to play for Real Madrid by then Head Coach Paul Lambert. Following the arrival of fellow countryman Nuno, it was widely expected that Costa would go on to do great things at the club, however, he fell out of favour with the arrival of Diogo Jota and resurgence of Ivan Cavaleiro. Having been unfortunate with injury in the Championship title-winning season, many wondered whether Costa could prove himself in the Premier League. This was unfortunately not the case, with minimal contributions to the side as Wolves reached the Europa League and FA Cup Semi-Final.
He was sold to Leeds the following summer in a £15m deal, meaning Wolves made a profit on the fee paid for him just 12 months earlier. This has since proved to be excellent business by Wolves, as he has failed to live up to the heights of the 2016/17 season much to the frustration of Leeds United.
Joao Teixeira – Chaves
The arrival of Joao Teixeira led to much excitement among the Wolves faithful. On loan for the 2016/17 season, it was clear to see the talent on show following his cameo at Rotherham and his man of the match display against Reading the following week. However, as good a player he may have been, he was certainly not a Championship player.
It is possible that in a more creative system, with better players, much like the one under Nuno the following year, he may have been able to make an impact. However, his way of playing was never going to suit that of workaholic Walter Zenga or Paul Lambert. After several loan spells, including an unsuccessful one at Nottingham Forest, Teixeira now plays for Portuguese side Chaves having been released by Benfica, where he has scored one goal in 28 appearances.
Wolves Manager: Walter Zenga – Cagliari
The arrival of the charismatic Walter Zenga was yet another false dawn of hope ahead of a Championship season at Molineux. He provided much entertainment during his extremely brief spell at the club, but that was predominantly in his press conferences rather than the football his team produced on the pitch. He was almost impossible to dislike, declaring that Wolves are ‘the biggest team in Italy’ upon his arrival, sat next to a bewildered Jez Moxey. Some may argue the sacking was harsh, with the impossible task of moulding a promotion-chasing side with no pre-season and 13 late arrivals. However, results were not good enough for Jeff Shi, combined with a reported poor atmosphere and culture created behind the scenes at the club, meaning he was sacked and replaced by Paul Lambert. He has since had unsuccessful spells in charge of Italian sides Crotone and Venezia but is now in the hot seat at Italian side Cagliari, who he recently joined prior to the Coronavirus pandemic.
When analysing the players that were involved in Fosun’s first game, it is easy to sit in disbelief at the transition of the club in such a short period of time. Many of the players mentioned above are not bad footballers and have gone to prove themselves as solid Championship players. It is perhaps unfortunate for these players that the takeover happened when it did, as under the ownership of Steve Morgan many would have gone on to have a good career at Molineux. However, the change of ownership will remain a historic day in the history of this club, with no room for sentiment in terms of player departures leading to continued success.
The question will always remain in the back of these players’ minds if they were to get a chance under Nuno, what could they have achieved?
Ciaran Barker is part of the Talking Wolves editorial team – you can follow him on Twitter here.