LONDON: Wolves and Watford meet in the FA Cup semi-final on Sunday, seeking silverware to add lustre to a season in which they are both battling to be the “best of the rest” in the Premier League.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves nestle just below the top six after a second straight win against Manchester United this week, with Watford a point and a place below them in eighth spot.
The clubs clash at Wembley for the right to play either quadruple-chasing Manchester City or Brighton in next month’s showpiece final.
Ambitious Wolves, bankrolled by the Chinese Fosun International group, were promoted last year after six seasons out of the top flight but they have made a splash since their return, taking 13 points off the big six.
Their rise has not been without controversy – a number of clubs last year urged the English Football League (EFL) to investigate the influence at Molineux of Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes, who looks after Jose Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Mendes’s Gestifute agency, whose clients also include the Wolves boss and players Ruben Neves, Diogo Jota and Ivan Cavaleiro, has flooded the club with talent out of reach of competitors.
But the EFL ruled that the club’s relationship with Mendes, who has no official title at the club, had not breached regulations regarding intermediaries.
And only four other Premier League clubs spent less on agents fees than the Midlands club in the past two transfer windows.
Wolves this week made another powerful statement of intent, breaking their club transfer record to sign top-scorer Raul Jimenez, who had been on loan from Benfica, for a reported £30 million (US$39 million).
Wing-back Matt Doherty said the rise of the club has been dizzying.
“It’s been unbelievable,” said the Irishman, who was with the club when they were relegated to the third tier of English football in 2013.
“You’ve got to remember it’s been a short space of time where this has all happened. It’s not that long ago that we were in League One.
“Who would’ve thought we’d be in the semi-final of the FA Cup and seventh in the league – it’s kind of a fairytale, so we’re all very happy with the situation at the moment.”
Wolves are steeped in the history of their famous title-winning sides of the 1950s and are four-time winners of the FA Cup, even if their last success was in 1960.
“Everybody knows what it could mean, but we have to play it just like another game, then make it special to make something happen, play the game,” said Nuno.
Watford, who were losing finalists in 1984, cannot boast the same historical pedigree but are punching above their weight in a cut-throat league.
On Tuesday they beat Fulham to reach 46 points, breaking their record Premier League tally and reaching their best mark in a top-flight campaign since 1986-87 (63).
Javi Gracia is the 10th manager at the club since the Pozzo family’s takeover of Watford in 2012, but the Spaniard is the first since Gianfranco Zola six years ago to last more than a season in charge and signed a new deal until 2023 with the Vicarage Road club in November.
“Both teams are playing well, getting points and we are both enjoying a good season,” said Gracia, whose team beat Wolves 2-0 in the Premier League earlier this season.
“I think it’s a good moment for both teams. We both have good squads, are good teams, and I think it will be a good game. It’s a moment to show what we are able to do. We have to be ready to give 100%.”