Leander Dendoncker is yet to play a minute of Premier League football, but Wolves must find a way to integrate the Belgium international into the team as soon as possible.
Fosun International’s takeover of Wolverhampton Wanderers has provided the West Midlands outfit with the tools to reestablish themselves as one of the biggest clubs in English football, and a solid start to the new top flight campaign has only left supporters fantasizing over the possibilities which come with being owned by a Chinese conglomerate who are prepared to do whatever it takes to become a force in the Premier League.
Fosun’s ambition is slowly being matched by players who are viewing Wolves as an attractive club to represent, and that was the case in the summer when Leander Dendoncker opted to make the switch to Molineux despite being linked with teams either competing in Europe or looking to achieve participation on the continent in the near future. However, Dendoncker now finds himself in a position where his career is under threat of stagnating, and it coincides with Wolves and Nuno Espirito Santo having to consider how fast the club wants to progress.
Nuno is the perfect manager in almost every way. He has his own philosophy and is prepared to force the opposition to adapt to his strategy rather than being prepared to give the bigger teams in the Premier League too much respect. He prioritises searching for ways to improve his players and continuing a process rather than becoming fixated with league positions after every game. There is also the fine line between loyalty and ruthlessness that he is always prepared to cross, with the sale of Barry Douglas and the demotion to Romain Saiss to accommodate Joao Moutinho two clear examples of where the Portuguese has barely given a second thought to dividing opinion among a passionate fanbase. Most followers of the old gold and black will also be supportive of Nuno’s stance regarding Ryan Bennett – who has been outstanding on the right side of a back three after initially losing his place during pre-season – but there is a case for Dendoncker eventually being preferred to the former England Under-21 international if Wolves want to take that next step.
Nuno has never been one for swapping and changing for the sake of it and he has the duty to reassure his squad that he is unwavering with his perception of the game, but there will also be an understanding behind the scenes that Wolves have acquired an asset in Dendoncker that simply cannot go to waste. This is a player who has long been tipped to move to one of the giants of European football but the Belgium international – who contributed to shutting out England at the World Cup in June – turns 24 in April and his only experience of domestic action is in his homeland. Manchester United and West Ham United were allegedly prepared to pay £25m at one stage while Dendoncker – equally comfortable in the centre of defence or midfield – would have almost certainly been used on a regular basis at either Manchester City or Tottenham Hotspur this season had either club opted to edge out Wolves in the race for his signature.
Dendoncker will be understanding – to a certain extent – that his lack of game time is largely down to Wolves being extremely fortunate with injuries during the opening three months of the campaign, and that he was effectively last through the door with his arrival only being confirmed two days before Wolves’ opener with Everton. That said, he has helped Wolves keep clean sheets against Sheffield Wednesday and Leicester City in the EFL Cup, with the shutout versus the Foxes representing the only time that Leicester had failed to score in a match this season until their goalless draw with Burnley last weekend. Dendoncker should not be put on a pedestal because he is just one member of a united squad, but Wolves will forever be in a transitional period until Fosun crack the top four in the Premier League and Dendoncker is potentially one of the few members of this team who can realistically help the club’s owners achieve their objectives.
Dendoncker has a long way to go before he comes close to matching Vincent Kompany, but there are several similarities which can be made with a player who Dendoncker will look up to on the international scene. Manchester City made an investment in a 22-year-old Kompany at a time when they were just about to be taken over by their current owners and he has developed into the cornerstone of the club’s success over the past decade. Kompany is lauded for his qualities off the pitch as much as he is on it, and the foundations are there for Dendoncker – a fellow graduate of the Anderlecht youth setup – to develop into a player of Kompany’s stature over the coming years. There is no certainty that will prove to be the case, but Wolves have been presented with an opportunity that plenty of other clubs in Europe would have relished, and they cannot afford to waste it.
Nuno’s current focus is rightly on attempting to put Wolves in a position where they do not have to concern themselves with a battle for survival in the Premier League, but such is Wolves’ new standing in the sport that the main figures behind the scenes will effectively be planning a year ahead. There will already be thoughts as to who can help the club make the next step during the following season and even the one after that. It has been well documented that Wolves have been keeping tabs on as many as 5,000 players ahead of the next stage of investment and that will naturally lead to current fan favourites and cult heroes dropping out of the reckoning. However, Dendoncker can become as important as Ruben Neves and he should be in this journey for the long haul. He just needs the chance to prove it.
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