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Sky Sports' Johnny Phillips: January always a poor market to work in

By Johnny Phillips | Wolves | Published:

They say move for me, move for me, move for me, ay, ay, ay. And when you’re done I’ll make you do it all again.

Nuno Espirito Santo the head coach / manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers. (AMA/Sam Bagnall)

Maybe Tones And I had the transfer window in mind when she wrote Dance Monkey.

Who moves for who is what many supporters become preoccupied with at this time of year. The cycle of each window brings with it so much hot air and bluster that it becomes hard to identify what really matters.

There is rarely any business of substance to be done during this mid-season opening, but it does not stop the clamour to be first with news that might not even exist.

For Wolves supporters, it would be unwise to become too wrapped up in what happens between now and the end of the month. That said, there will still be developments that point to the future. It was interesting to hear Nuno being so adamant in early December when asked about this month’s window.

When quizzed about whether or not he would be strengthening the team his reply was emphatic: “Yes, for sure.”

He went on to add: “The decisions will come when they have to come, but it’s clear that we need to bring in players.”

Certainly the squad has been stretched to near its limits and another big injury to a key player similar to that sustained by Willy Boly in autumn could have a detrimental impact on the remainder of the season.

Nuno does not usually make such firm pronouncements. Maybe there was an element of frustration in his comments, which came at a time when his name was being touted as a potential successor to Unai Emery at Arsenal.

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Yet it is hard to envisage the head coach being happy with adding players to his squad for the sake of it. The squad is looking thin, but that does not make any difference to the market. Much will come down to the availability of individuals who can genuinely offer improvement to the first team squad.

It would be pointless bringing in a player who needs time to adjust and develop to the current situation. That would merely clutter the dressing room and distract the coaches from the work at hand.

It is important to look at what stretches out ahead. Here we are in January with the club in a situation it has not been in for generations.

On a domestic level Wolves are well placed to challenge for European qualification over the remaining four months of the season, whilst in Europe itself there is a pathway to even greater success.

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It is not the time to flood the squad with makeweights or unproven talent. The January market is a poor one to operate in. Spend wisely with as much certainty as possible or do not spend at all.

Last January, the big transfer was Miguel Almiron’s switch from Atlanta United to Newcastle United.

The four clubs with the biggest prize to play for (involved in either a Premier League title race, a Champions’ League campaign, or both) – Manchester City, Liverpool, Spurs and Manchester United – did not make a single signing, they merely moved players on in order to streamline the squad.

A year earlier Everton spent big in January on two signings who were supposed to illustrate the club’s ambitions going forward.

Now, both Theo Walcott and Cenk Tosun are emblematic of the club’s desperate failings. It generally takes astronomical spending in January to get it right – as Liverpool did so spectacularly with Virgil Van Dijk in 2018.

There is a long way to go this month but if it ends with Nuno feeling genuinely frustrated, then it is a conversation to be had with the ownership in the summer. Wolves have grown very quickly in a short space of time, but that does not mean they should be expected to outlay vast sums each time the window opens.

A look at the total expenditure since Fosun took charge illustrates that they have been prepared to invest when necessary.

The January window is usually far more relevant for fringe players. The unsettled Patrick Cutrone is keen to relocate to Italy where he will have a chance to put a disappointing few months behind him.

Benny Ashley-Seal was given a run-out against United in the FA Cup, more with a view to putting him in a shop window than being under serious consideration for the Premier League and Europa League campaign.

Now would be a good moment for him to go out and test himself lower down in the EFL, where there has been firm interest from a number of clubs at League One level.

A player once highly thought of who returned to the club was Bright Enobakhare, with his bridges burned at Wigan Athletic.

There is no future for him at Molineux and it is hard to see what his next step could be.

Perhaps the best way to approach the remaining few weeks is to be open-minded about any activity that takes place.

There may be a great bit of business to be done, but it is more likely there won’t be.

Either way, the bigger picture has not changed. Wolves are continuing to grow. It will be a good thing to see the back of this window and devote more energy to the actual football again.

Until the next one opens, at least. It is a cycle we seem destined to be forever trapped in. Or, in the words of Tones and I, “And when you’re done, I’ll make you do it all again. All again.”

Johnny Phillips

By Johnny Phillips

Sky Sports Soccer Saturday pundit, giving his thoughts on football across the country

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