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'I owe everything to Wolves' - Coady feels lucky to be part of 'mad' club growth

05:18 IST 17/07/2019
Conor Coady Wolves China tour 2019
The skipper is at the heart of the club's pre-season tour to China, where owners Fosun have their headquarters, and is ready for the new season ahead

It’s a sign of the times when Wolverhampton Wanderers are opening a megastore in Shanghai’s prestigious Bund Finance Centre, at the heart of the city’s commercial district. But it serves as a useful indicator for the scale of the ambitions of the club’s Chinese owners, health and financial conglomerate Fosun, whose own headquarters sits next door to the megastore. 

It’s a slightly surreal sight to see the famous and traditional Wolves logo plastered all over not only replica shirts but fashionable tops, t-shirts and any other kind of apparel that you might think of.  

And it’s here, wedged between some of the most iconic skyscrapers in the world, in one of the world’s richest cities. 

“It’s crazy,” says club captain Conor Coady. “It’s mad to think where the club was just three or four years ago. It’s crazy to see what Fosun has done with the club and where they’ve taken it. 

“To see a Wolves shop in China is amazing.” 

Lines of local fans snake back from a table, each and every one of them clutching a freshly printed replica kit and waiting for Diogo Jota, Ruben Neves or Wily Boly to sign it. Names and numbers this season for all Premier League teams will be provided by Avery Dennison, as well as smart sleeve badges, which give fans access to exclusive content including match tickets. 

Later there will be a WWFC Fashion Outnight attended by the squad and manager Nuno Espirito Santo. Famous Chinese television and movie stars pose in front a giant, illuminated Wolves badge set against the iconic Shanghai skyline. 

Fosun may not be first-mover when it comes to Chinese investment in football, but they are making up for lost time. It is clear by the money lavished on this trip that Fosun are walking the walk, where other overseas owners talk the talk. 

“The owners have been incredible since the first day they came into the club,” says Coady. “It was amazing when they first came in. They wanted to do right by the club and you knew that. When you see owners like that, it’s fantastic to be a part of. 

“For a player like myself and a couple of other boys who were there before, to actually be a part of that and be involved, we are very, very lucky.” 

It might seem a little premature for Wolves to have attention like this on the international stage, but anything is possible. Fosun has been deadly serious in its quest to help Wolves move top of the next rank of English teams, behind only the big six, four of which were beaten in the Premier League by Wolves last season. 

“That’s something we’ve got to improve this season,” Coady says of the matches against the league’s lesser lights. 

“It’s all about improvement. We’ll look at the games where we struggled a bit last season and where we had to do different things in the game to win it and get better at it. Simple as that. 

“But also to keep to that consistency in playing against the so-called bigger teams. We’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be even tougher this season, we know that, but we’re ready for it. We can’t wait to get started." 

Wolves are here alongside Newcastle, West Ham and Manchester City for two warm-up matches in the Premier League Asia Trophy, in Shanghai and Nanjing, barely a fortnight before their first-ever Europa League qualification match. There are obligations to be met; the team of the Black Country must become the brand of Shanghai. Then it’s back to the grind. 

Key to the upcoming season will be avoiding the pitfalls of Burnley, who finished seventh last time out, and struggled with European football impinging on their preseason. 

“Burnley did fantastically well in what they did that year," Coady says. 

"The good thing is we can look back on things like that and learn from them as much as possible. 

“We did it when we got promoted to the Premier League. We did it when the manager came in, in the Championship, and embraced everything. We’re not going to change now.” 

Wolves will be going into the season with a settled squad but have not had any new permanent signings through the door as yet this summer. Raul Jimenez has finalised his transfer from Benfica but the wait goes on for any other new faces even with an extra competition to be contested. 

“We look at the team we’ve got and I think we’ve got a fantastic team,” says Coady. “The club will look at and sign whoever they want to sign, and we will welcome them with open arms as we always do and make sure we’re ready to fight on all fronts when they come in. 

“For us it’s just about making sure we are ready come next week. It’s a huge game for us and one we can’t wait for.” 

To expect to finish higher than seventh with the big six set in stone is always going to be a tough ask for Wolves, with or without new signings, but that is the challenge for Coady. 

“We don’t want to put too much pressure on ourselves,” he says. 

“All we want to do is improve on last season. If we can do that we’ll be OK. Fosun have fantastic ambition, if you’re involved with Wolverhampton Wanderers at the minute, it’s an exciting time to be.” 

And Coady’s performances during his first full Premier League season brought him to the fringes of the international conversation. England manager Gareth Southgate has not yet been in touch, he admits, but is ready to show what he can do should the opportunity arrives. 

“I’ll never look too far ahead,” he says. 

“England is the pinnacle of any Englishman’s career. They got to the Nations League semi-final, the World Cup semi-final, it’s such a tough team to break into so I would never say I want to do this, I want to do that. 

“If it was to come, fantastic, but I’m not going to look too far ahead.” 

Preparing for European football as a Premier League captain, Coady has come a long way since making the decision to seek first-team football away from the club which nurtured him, Liverpool

“When I left Liverpool, I knew had to leave,” he says. 

“It was a big step but it was something I had to do. A lot of people asked if it was hard, it wasn’t hard. It was something I needed to do to improve and get better as a footballer. 

“To find myself at a club like Wolves now is absolutely amazing. I owe everything to Wolves and what they’ve done the last few years. They’ve helped me not just on the pitch but also become as a better person." 

Conor Coady spoke to us at the launch of the Wolves Megastore in Shanghai where the Premier League's new names, numbers and sleeve badge supplier, Avery Dennison, applied their limited edition Premier League Asia Trophy sleeve badge to fans with shirts, free of charge, encouraging fans to scan the badge to win tickets for the tournament.