Menu Close

Wolves are the best promoted team I have seen but will need to strengthen – Hibbitt

Kenny Hibbitt believes Wolves are the best promoted team he has seen but reckons Nuno Espirito Santo will add several signings to improve on their Premier League finish and sustain a Europa League run.
Wolves legend Hibbitt watched many of the home games with the fans at Molineux this season as he promoted his autobiography Seasons Of My Life in the pubs and clubs in and around Wolverhampton city centre.
The former midfielder was hugely impressed with the performances of the team as they finished seventh in their first season back in the Premier League and reached the FA Cup semi-finals.
Hibbitt is one of the longest-serving Premier League referees assessors, having done the job for 16 years, and, as he reflected on a successful campaign, is convinced of their quality.
The double League Cup winner and UEFA Cup finalist has seen Reading’s team, who amassed a Championship record 106 points in 2005-06, and Newcastle with 102 in 2009-10 come into the Premier League, but he has no doubts that Wolves have surpassed all-comers in his time working in the top flight.
“Wolves are the best team I have seen come up from the Championship and I’ve been working in the Premier League for 16 years,” said the 68-year-old.
“I think the club did their work in the Championship – they weren’t going to wait until they were in the Premier League. They said ‘we’re going to get the top players in to get to the Premier League and stay there’.
“Everyone has pulled their fingers out and done tremendously well, from players to coaches, the manager and the hierarchy, and it’s proved that with the consistency on the pitch.
“It’s fantastic and now they’ve got a team to watch which is the first time I’ve said that in a long, long time. It’s exciting times for Wolves, not just for now but for the future.
“We’ve been up before and huffed and puffed with everyone working their socks off to being success. But this is different – now it looks like it will be sustained and there are great times ahead.”
Hibbitt is one of only three players to have represented Wolves in all four of their UEFA Cup campaigns – 1971-72, 1973-74, 1974-75 and 1980-81 – with club record appearance maker Derek Parkin and former record Wolves goalscorer John Richards.
Along with Parkin and Richards, the Yorkshireman played in Wolves’ last European tie against PSV Eindhoven in October 1980 and is immensely proud to see his former club back in Europe after a 39-year absence.
Chairman Jeff Shi has said Nuno will use some of the club’s Under-23s to play in the Europa League rather than sign players for the sake of it.
But Hibbitt is convinced the Portuguese head coach will strengthen his squad to compete on domestic and continental fronts.
“It’s great to see Wolves back in Europe after so many years out of European competition. It’s fantastic and I am sure they will take it seriously,” he said.
“I would like to see them do well in it but I think Nuno will need to add between three to six players to accommodate the extra games because if he loses two or three to injury through pre-season, it could be a problem.
“But if he feels he can play the Under-23s and still field a half decent side and do well in it, then I think he’ll do that.”
Hibbitt senses momentum about Wolves at the moment and believes they can maintain their current form in the Premier League and in Europe.
“I think they will add to the squad and I have every confidence they will do well again,” added the Molineux idol, who made 574 appearances for Wolves from 1968-84, scoring 114 goals. “Everyone is buzzing at the moment and everything about the club seems to be going in the right direction.
“The team has represented Wolves and the fans tremendously and I don’t think anyone will not be trying to do better next season, although it’s going to take some doing!
“We have played better against the top six than the bottom six but we’re capable of beating anyone. There’s no reason why we can’t do that next time.”
Hibbitt is hugely proud of being part of the only Wolves team to have reached a European final – when they played Tottenham in the UEFA Cup final in 1972 only to lose 3-2 on aggregate. But he hopes Nuno’s squad can better the achievements of Bill McGarry’s side.
“I’m in my office looking at my UEFA Cup medal and OK, it’s a loser’s medal but I would not swap it for the world,” he said. “Even though it’s a runners-up medal, it’s still one off my most prized possessions.
“I am sure Nuno’s squad will be up for it. They’re wearing the Wolves shirt representing Wolverhampton Wanderers in Europe, not representing their country. It’s something new to a lot of them just like it was to us.
“It doesn’t come along very often and hopefully we will come up against some top European teams and players. I would recommend it to anyone – every player should be looking to play as high as they can.
“I think they have got to go for it because it might not come around again. They have been superb and now they’ve got to do it in Europe.”
With every League home crowd over 30,000 for the first time since 1949-50, Hibbitt has been bowled over by the support this season.
“I’m really pleased for the fans and with 30,000 or more attending every home game, they have responded brilliantly,” he said. “That’s something that has never been done in my lifetime before. So they deserve success and the older generation can’t believe these times have come back. I can’t express enough how excited I am. I’m looking forward to seeing how it pans out.”
Hibbitt admits when he played in the 1-0 home win against PSV at Molineux, he never believed it would be 39 years before Wolves got back into Europe.
“No, you never think like that. When we played PSV at home we played very well and we should have gone through with all the chances we had on the night,” he added. “We always felt confident of winning but chances went begging and their keeper played a blinder.
“I never thought it would be that long before Wolves played in Europe again.”
Hibbitt’s close friend and team-mate Richards has said he felt the achievements of the team in 1971-72 weren’t as appreciated as much as they might have been because of the achievements of the all-conquering 1950s teams who were recognised as pioneers of the European Cup through their floodlit friendlies against crack opposition.
“The Wolves teams of the 1950s had a fantastic reputation. They were one of the first teams to play in Europe and they won the League and the FA Cup and you can’t take that away from them,” said Hibbitt.
“We probably should have had more recognition than we did for getting to the final, but we might have had more if we had played AC Milan in the final rather than Spurs. That would have added some glamour to it, and it would have been the same for them too.”