Rúben Neves plans on staying put at Wolves next season after helping to end their six-year exile from the Premier League and the midfielder hopes an outstanding first season in England can earn him a place in the Portugal squad at the World Cup finals in Russia this summer.
Neves has been the club’s marquee signing, with the £15.8m club‑record buy from Porto excelling since swapping the Champions League for the Championship last summer. He is among the players at Wolves who belong to the agent Jorge Mendes but the 21-year-old midfielder admits he is keen to play in the top flight with Wolves, with the club one point away from being crowned champions.
“It’s [going to be] my first season in the Premier League, it’s the place that Wolves deserve, that the fans deserve as well,” Neves said. “I am happy here and if it’s possible I’d like to stay here for my first year in the Premier League. Honestly, I love to play here, I love the boys, I am really happy to play here and I’m really happy to stay. I think I have it all to stay but in football we never know but, yes, I would like to stay.
“We are really happy because we achieved our goal a little bit earlier but now we have other goals – we want to be champions. We have three games to go so we have to come back to our hard work to try to get this goal. It’s really good for me. When I came [to Wolves], I came to improve myself and help the club. We are in the Premier League [now] and that’s the most important thing.”
Neves has been capped five times and admits his form, including six goals, has helped to put him on the radar of Fernando Santos, the Portugal manager. “Of course all the players are thinking about that,” he said. “I am honestly focused on the here and now but if after that I have to go to the World Cup, I am happy with that. They have Wolves TV, sometimes the games are on Sky Sports, so they can see my games. They sent me a message to congratulate me for the promotion but nothing more.”
Wolves clinched promotion on Saturday, when Fulham could only draw with Brentford, and celebrated on Sunday with a 2-0 victory against Birmingham City. That win was their 29th of the season and Kevin Thelwell, the club’s sporting director, believes Nuno Espírito Santo deserves enormous credit. “There’s 101 reasons why we have got promoted but the main reason is Nuno,” Thelwell said. “You hear a lot of coaches and managers needing more time, spending more time to pull off a philosophy, nine or 12 months or maybe longer, but this guy did it in four weeks. He deserves a huge amount of credit, he’s done a fantastic job.”
Of the criticism of Wolves’ relationship with Mendes, whose Gestifute agency has seven clients at the club, including Espírito Santo, Thelwell said: “Jorge is an agent just like any other. We’ve taken some of Jorge’s clients but also taken clients from other agents. My perspective on it is we haven’t broken any of the rules, we are very clear on that and the EFL suggests we are very clear on that and Jorge is an agent that has helped us to improve the squad, just like some other agencies have.
“In the first year our recruitment didn’t go so well and not so many people were talking about us then. In the second year we managed to pull it all together. We took some risks, Rúben Neves would have been offered to a number of people – not just Wolverhampton Wanderers, as would have some of the other players.”
The 44-year-old Thelwell, who joined the club 10 years ago, admits Wolves are now “moving into a different stratosphere” and confirmed that had they not won promotion this year, adhering to the financial fair play (FFP) regulations could have proved a stumbling block. “We have always been very positive about the possibility of etting promoted this year,” Thelwell said. “Yes, possibly [we would have failed FFP] the answer is, in short, but thank God we don’t have to wrestle with that now and that we have got a different problem to solve.
“I think from our perspective we are not keen to put a ceiling on it really, it’s almost dare-to-dream stuff. It sounds a little bit ridiculous when you look at the recent history where Wolves have been. But, why not is the answer from my perspective. They [Wolves’ owner Fosun] are uber-ambitious, and they have been uber-supportive. With the squad we’ve got, the age of the players, the coach we’ve got, sky’s the limit really.”