Agony is probably the best word to describe how Wolves fans felt when Sevilla’s Lucas Ocampos headed home in the 88th minute to send the English side crashing out of the Europa League at the quarter-final stage. It was a heart-breaking moment, especially considering the fact that Wolves’ Raul Jiménez missed an early first-half penalty which would’ve given them the lead.
And so the club’s Europa League odyssey comes to an end, and with a seventh-place finish in the Premier League not enough to secure European football for next season, Wolves are set to spend the 2020-21 season focusing on domestic affairs. While that is not in keeping with the club’s ambitions, it perhaps offers a chance to reflect on how far Wolves have come in a remarkably short space of time.
This time three years ago – August 2017 – Wolves were kicking off another season in the Championship, having not tasted the heady delights of the Premier League since they were relegated at the end of the 2011-12 season. Two years later, they were beginning their Europa League campaign having finished seventh in their first season back in England’s top flight.
The aim for the club is to soar as high as they possibly can, to challenge domestically and in Europe – not simply to make up the numbers or serve as relegation fodder. While the lack of European football next season represents a disappointment, there is every expectation both within the club and outside it that Wolves will be back on the European stage very soon.
So much of this success is down to coach Nuno Espírito Santo, who has brought the team out of the depths of the Championship and forged them into an established top-half Premier League outfit. Much of Nuno’s success is evidenced by the fact that the core of this Wolves team is still true to the side that brought them out of the second tier – the likes of Conor Coady, Willy Boly and Rúben Neves.
The difference between Wolves and, say, Fulham, who were promoted alongside them in 2018, lies in their respective levels of ambition. Both spent big in the transfer window that summer, and both were tipped to at least survive, but there was always a sense that while Fulham’s spending was geared towards packing gauze to stem the threat of relegation, Wolves’ was aimed at pushing towards the top half and, against all expectations, realising an ambition that many felt to be beyond them.
Their sojourn into Europe was the reward for that gamble and for the hard work and dedication of players and staff alike. At a time when the Premier League has never been more competitive, with a whole host of sides vying for those coveted European places, Wolves can hold their heads up high and be proud of their achievements this season.
The recent Europa League defeat is a disappointment, but not a disaster. After all, they were playing a club of immense European pedigree in Sevilla, a side frequently mentioned as favourites in the Europa League betting odds for the sheer fact that they’ve won the tournament five times. That is the level Wolves are aspiring to attain, and if the club continues on the right track, those European glory nights won’t be long in returning to Molineux.