Wolves’ last goalscorer in Europe reckons the club believe they can one day go all the way to Champions League glory.
Mel Eves, whose goal gave Wolves a 1-0 win over PSV Eindhoven in the UEFA Cup in October 1980, is convinced the team’s entry to the Europa League is just the start for his former club.
Wolves qualified for the competition after Manchester City won the FA Cup by thrashing Watford 6-0 on Saturday, granting a place to the seventh-placed team in the Premier League as City are already in the Champions League from winning the title.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s side will find out their opponents in the Europa League, second qualifying round on Wednesday, June 19 for a two-legged tie on Thursday, July 25 and Thursday, August 1.
Those matches could be two of six group ties before Wolves hope to progress to the knockout stages of the competition.
Eves, 62, progressed from boyhood fan to score 53 goals in 214 games for the club from 1977-84. He is delighted Wolves are back in Europe and is happy his record, which has stood for over 38 and a half years, finally looks set to be beaten.
“I probably won’t have the record in two months’ time,” the former striker told www.wolvesbite.com. “That’s got to go because I expect us to score in July in Europe, which would be great.
“It’s long overdue for a club that paved the way in the 1950s for what is now the Champions League when they took on and beat all comers under the floodlights at Molineux. So there should be big recognition of the Stan Cullis era, the teams he built in the 1950s and the legacy that those wonderful players left on Wolves, the city and football in general.”
Chairman Jeff Shi has already indicated Wolves want to be bigger than Manchester City. Eves was part of the last Wolves team to finish in the top six, in 1979-80, and he is convinced the ambition of Fosun will see the club compete for the biggest prizes.
Asked if a top-six position is within their capability for next season, Eves said: “Of course it’s realistic. The first thing you need for results is belief.
“Most teams’ belief that come up from the Championship know it’s going to be really difficult and they want to finish fourth from bottom. Wolves didn’t say that but instead said they were going to compete.
“They would not have taken a guarantee of fourth from bottom before the season started, whereas 80 to 90 per cent of teams coming up would. If you said to Nuno now ‘Would you take guarantee of seventh position next season?’, he would say ‘no’.
“Nuno would say there’s no pre-conceived idea of where we want to go. Ultimately that belief will take them to be good enough to win the league and then to go into the Champions League and win that.
“That’s the mentality Pep Guardiola has at Manchester City, and that mentality is breeding there, at Liverpool, at Tottenham, and at Wolves, and all managers of those four clubs have been nominated for Manager of the Year.”
Wolves’ exile from Europe spans 14,108 days and Eves admits he never thought it would take so club for the club to get back into continental competition.
“Not at all. At the time, after finishing sixth, we thought we just needed a couple more players to be knocking on the door to be challenging for the League title,” he said. “But unfortunately we didn’t get the backing of the owners because they didn’t have the financial clout to do it. If you don’t have the funds in place to do what you want to do, it stops you from doing it, and that’s what happened.
“Even when we went down in 1982 and came straight back up when me, Andy Gray and Wayne Clarke all got into double figures for goals, we thought, ‘if we just sign a couple of good players, we’ll be all right’, but it never happened.
“We all know what happened next, and then Sir Jack Hayward and Steve Morgan came along, but even they didn’t have deep enough pockets to do what Chelsea and Manchester City have done, until Fosun. And I believe the key is Fosun, just like the key to Chelsea’s success has been Roman Abramovich and the key to City’s is Sheikh Mansour.”
So what does he remember of his historic goal, Wolves’ last in Europe? Wolves trailed 3-1 from the first leg in Eindhoven after Andy Gray had equalised, then a couple of a long range crackers left John Barnwell’s side facing an uphill battle for the second leg at Molineux.
“I’d love to have said I was like Eden Hazard, picking the ball up from inside my own half, beating six players and sticking it in the corner,” joked Eves. “But it was from close range, at the North Bank end.
“There was a bit of a melee in the box and I got on the end of it at the far post. I suppose I was ‘Johnny on the spot’ – there at the right place at the right time.
“Fortunately I scored just after half-time and we could have had bucketloads of goals before and after that, but it was a bit bitty because they were more experienced in Europe than us and were very clever, stopping the game with niggly fouls and time wasting. They had scored two great goals which flew in, whereas our chances went over the bar or were saved.
“It was frustrating because we felt we had a team to have had a good run in the UEFA Cup. It was also frustrating because the team didn’t get the investment it warranted after that. But that won’t be the case at Wolves now. I believe anyone coming in this summer will be absolute quality.”
*Mel Eves will be giving his thoughts on Wolves to BBC WM95.6FM to Daz Hale on Monday morning, from 7.30pm.