It has been a whirlwind few years for Wolves, having suffered back to back relegations to League One, returned to the Championship at the first time of asking before eventually gaining promotion back to the Premier League in 2018 and have since claimed European football. While many of the players involved in Wolves’ incredibly quick rise have rightly received praise and will be fondly remembered for years to come, there are some players who were less fortunate and were unable to write themselves in the Wolves history books after suffering injuries.
We look at five players who have played for Wolves in recent years who were prevented from showcasing their best over a longer period of time at Molineux, who may have been a saviour in some of the darker years, or been part of the truly special seasons under Kenny Jackett and Nuno.
Emmanuel Frimpong joined Wolves on the opening day of the 2012 January transfer window on loan from Arsenal until the end of the season. However, he ruptured a cruciate ligament in his right knee during a 2-1 win at QPR which ended his season and also ended Wolves’ season, a result which proved to be the club’s final win in the Premier League as Wolves were ultimately relegated to the Championship following the sacking of Mick McCarthy. The tricky and direct midfielder quickly became a fans favourite, a shining light in an extremely poor season.
His performance in the home defeat to Aston Villa is perhaps his most memorable performance, a game where he was also stretchered off with another injury to a standing ovation and chants of ‘sign him up’ despite only joining the club a matter of weeks beforehand. The following two transfer windows saw Frimpong linked with a return to Molineux, but this was a move that did not come to fruition as managers came and went in the black country.
Frimpong meanwhile did not make the cut at Arsenal and went on loan to Charlton and Fulham before signing permanently to Barnsley, only to move abroad to Russia one year later to play for FC Ufa. It was a case of what might have been for Frimpong who showed plenty of promise as a youngster at Arsenal and in the Premier League during his brief spell at Wolves, exactly the kind of player a Molineux crowd adores he could have made his mark in English football in gold and black.
Having initially joined Wolves on loan following Fosun’s takeover in 2016, Helder Costa became Wolves’ record signing just six months later signing from Benfica for a reported fee of £13m. After impressing on his full debut in the League cup against Cambridge United, he scored his first league goal in a memorable win at St James’ Park against Newcastle United under Walter Zenga. He proved to be a vital player for Wolves throughout that season and gained national media attention, particularly after his impressive performance in the 2-1 win at Liverpool in the FA Cup. He scored 10 goals in 25 games under Zenga and Lambert, the former of which genuinely believed he could play for Real Madrid.
However, after an injury towards the end of the season, Costa would go on to score just six more goals in old gold and blank as Wolves stormed to the Championship title the following year under Nuno Espirito Santo and then claimed European football for the first time on their return to the Premier League. Costa did have some good moments following his injury, such as the final goal in a 3-1 win at Tottenham at Wembley but was never quite the same on his return. The winger lacked consistency and confidence but had also been joined by a vast array of attacking talent which meant he needed to improve on his game as soon as he returned to the team, something that was always going to be a difficult task following a lengthy layoff. He has since shown to be promising yet inconsistent at Leeds United, providing minimal contributions to their title-winning campaign this year.
Michael Kightly made over 100 appearances for Wolves having joined in 2006 initially on loan, a move that was quickly made permanent from Grays Athletic. The pacey winger played a crucial part in the promotion season under Mick McCarthy but ultimately departed the club in 2012 in search of more Premier League football following the club’s relegation to the Championship. Kightly’s first full season at the club was severely hampered by injury which recurred throughout the season where Wolves missed out on the playoffs on goal difference.
Had the in-form Kightly been available for the many matches in which he missed, he may have been the difference between that play-off spot. During the 2008-09 promotion season, Kightly contributed eight goals in addition to multiple assists but once again faced an injury-hit season, missing a large percentage of the year through a broken metatarsal injury. Despite this, Kightly remained a firm fans favourite and made a single appearance for the England Under-21 side. However, appearances in the Premier League were few and far between for Kightly as he once again battled with injuries. A successful loan spell at Watford saw Kightly break back into the Wolves squad in the 2011-12 season where he scored three goals in the second half of the season as Wolves were relegated. It was unfortunate that Kightly’s triumph over injuries and return to form came at a time where Wolves were plummeting to the Championship and he quite simply could not save them alone.
His departure left a sour taste, rejecting a new contract at the club to join Stoke despite the many hours and efforts Wolves had spent on Kightly’s recoveries over the years. Despite this, Kightly could most certainly have gone on to be an icon of the side under Mick McCarthy had he been available for selection and contributed to survival in the Premier League.
After a dismal loan spell towards the end of the 2013/14 season as Wolves were relegated to League 1, Nouha Dicko was signed on a permanent basis just 6 months later having impressed on a short term loan spell at then fellow third-tier club Rotherham United. After scoring a brace in a 3-3 draw against Wolves for the Millers in December, Dicko went on to play a crucial role in Wolves’ title-winning campaign, including scoring a hat trick in the reverse fixture this time for Wolves in a thrilling 6-4 win at Molineux. Dicko continued his excellent of form in the Championship and was the club’s joint-top scorer as Wolves were desperately unlucky to miss out on the Championship play-offs under Kenny Jackett.
The partnership he created with fellow frontmen Benik Afobe and Bakary Sako was about as fruitful as the Championship has seen in recent years, and the following season was met with great optimism. However, Dicko suffered a serious knee ligament injury early in the season in a 2-1 win against Charlton Athletic which saw the number nine miss the remainder of the season. After over a year on the sidelines, Dicko returned to the starting line up under Walter Zenga the following season but struggled for form in front of goal. Dicko scored just three goals under the reign of Paul Lambert and was far from the player he was before his injury.
Nuno Espirito Santo clearly did not see Dicko rediscovering his form at Molineux despite playing a part in the opening stages of the 2017/18 season, but he was sold to Hull City just before the summer transfer window closed. Dicko will always be remembered with positive memories for his great contributions in front of goal under Kenny Jackett, and the genuine love for the club which he developed, but it will always be a ‘what if’ situation as the number nine could have become so much more had he not been a victim of a freak injury.
Long-term Wolves target Michal Zyro finally joined the club in January 2016 but would go in to play just seven times for Wolves but made an impressive return of three goals in that time, including a brace on his debut against Fulham. However, a player who looked full of promise suffered a short set back just weeks into his time in the Black Country with a calf injury which put him out for over six weeks.
On his return, Zyro was on the wrong end of a horror challenge from MK Dons player Antony Kay which somehow managed to go unpunished. The disgraceful challenge did not even result in an apology from the shameless defender who now plays in the National League for Chorley. The injury saw Zyro out for a total of 17 months, as he returned to action in the pre-season under Nuno Espirito Santo. Having featured throughout pre-season games and in the Carabao Cup win at Southampton, Zyro did not suit the new style of play Nuno had introduced to Wolves and was sent on loan to Charlton in the following January before eventually moving back to Poland where he now plays in his home nation’s first division. It was an incredibly unfortunate time for Zyro, who was perhaps one of many victims of Wolves moving forwards so quickly but was certainly hindered by a horrific injury that halted his impressive start to life in England.
There are certainly many more players who will feel they were unfortunate to not stake a claim due to injury at Wolves and will, therefore, fail to be remembered for their successes at Wolves. Who would you like to have seen more of in recent years at Molineux?
Ciaran Barker is part of the Talking Wolves editorial team – you can follow him on Twitter here.