Back in 2015/16 Wolverhampton Wanderers finished 14th in the Championship. To describe them as a mediocre football team at that point in time would be an understatement.
This was a side who following relegation from the Premier League in 2011/12 were then relegated once again to League One.
Wolves found themselves languishing in the third tier, a place in football they hadn’t been in since the 1980s.
It’s perhaps symbolic that next season the club will also be playing in Europe for the first time since a similar era in their history.
However, that would not have been possible without Fosun International.
Back in the summer of 2016 the Chinese conglomerate launched a stunning takeover of the Midlands club, buying them for £45m.
The rest, they say, is history.
The last three years at Molineux have been a rollercoaster. Finishing 15th in their first season under new ownership, there were few signs of improvement.
But their turnaround after that has been remarkable. The following season they topped the Championship on 99 points as Fosun’s dreams quickly started to turn into reality.
In March last year, Wolves’ Executive Chairman Jeff Shi admitted that what was unravelling was all part of a ten year plan at the club. Speaking to Express & Star, he revealed:
“I’m thinking about the next 10 years. Three years to get into the Premier League, so if we get promoted this year we’re a year ahead of schedule. It’s a 10-year plan.”
And that plan at the moment is indeed ahead of schedule. Far ahead in fact. Wolves are now a team to be reckoned with and had Fosun not taken over in 2016, where they would now be is anyone’s guess.
Their turnaround, therefore, has been quite something.
But where cash prevailed and was able to take them into the top-flight, it’s the size of Shi’s ambition that has also led their impressive transformation from mid-table in the Championship to seventh in the Premier League.
In May 2019, he spoke further about the plans in place, saying: “We were very serious when we said that we are aiming to take the club to the highest level in the world within 10 years or so.”
For the time being, the sky seems the limit for Fosun and Wolves, especially with the talented Nuno Santo at the helm.
Despite that, however, their rise hasn’t come without controversy. The club’s owners have a strong relationship with super agent Jorge Mendes, a figure who has been at the centre of much debate surrounding Wolves.
Two of their first additions under him were Ivan Cavaleiro, signed for £7m and then Helder Costa, bought for £13m.
They were two acquisitions that beat their transfer record and represented a clear shift in the tide at Molineux.
It’s these types of deals that had their opposition growing suspicious though, particularly after bringing Porto captain Ruben Neves to the club in 2017 for a Championship record fee.
In March 2018, Leeds owner Andre Radrizzani questioned the legality and fairness of what was going on in tweets relaid by the BBC.
A month later, Premier League clubs were planning urgent talks to discuss the nature of their business.
The way Mendes had operated wasn’t particularly convincing but that now seems to have been forgotten about. Wolves have instead let their football do the talking, rather than letting off-field matters dominate proceedings.
After returning to the promised land of one of the richest leagues in world football, they picked up 16 points against the top six sides, beating all four of the European finalists last season.
For Wolves fans, even being in the same league as those types of teams following relegation to League One would have been a distant fantasy.
But that’s the reality of where they now find themselves. They’re ahead of schedule in their ten year plan and their ambition could well take them even further than a Europa League place over the next few campaigns.
Is it unrealistic to expect another top half finish from Wolves next season? HRH discusses in the video below…
The next step in their project appears to be investment and building a healthy future.
In quotes taken from a book recently published by Express and Star which was relaid on their website, Shi revealed: “You have to invest (to bridge the gap to the top six). You have to make the recruitment right and have a good academy, to produce top young players.”
Earlier in the year Wolves smashed their transfer record to bring Raul Jimenez to the club for £30m. That was a clear indication of the power they now have in the transfer market.
Going forward, too much investment into a settled squad would be foolish, but it’s hard to doubt Fosun’s methods so far.
Just three years into their project, the club’s transformation has been dazzling.
Where the Chinese business can take them in the future may well end up being one of the most captivating stories football has seen.