It was another hectic summer of spending in the Premier League, with well over a billion pounds splashed out on players up and down the country.
There were few clubs busier in the summer than newly promoted Wolves though, who reportedly forked out just over £60m to bring in 13 new faces to Molineux.
While there were hefty sums spent on the likes of Adama Traore (£18m), Diogo Jota (£12.6m), and Willy Boly (£10m), there is one new signing in the Black Country who may just prove to be one of the steals of the summer – central midfielder João Moutinho.
Bought for just £5m, the Portuguese international has taken to Premier League football like a duck to water. With sheer elegance and grace, he has slotted into the heart of Wolves’ midfield alongside the prodigious talent Ruben Neves, to form what may turn out to be one of the most underrated midfield partnerships in the league.
A bold statement to perhaps make after four games of the new Premier League season, but it’s hard to ignore the impact that Moutinho has already made on Nuno Espirito Santo’s side. A pulsating opening day display against Everton showcased Wolves‘ potential this season, though it was midfield partner Neves who stole the headlines for a fantastic individual performance.
But delve deeper into the performance, and you unearth elements of Moutinho’s performance that show why he has won league titles playing for both Porto and Monaco, as well as being a part of Portugal’s 2016 European Championship winning squad.
Calm in possession, proficient in ball retention, crisp in the tackle and able to paint a picture of what’s going on around him in an instant, it was clear from the first 10 minutes of play that Moutinho possesses all the tools of a world-class deep lying playmaker.
Fast forward a couple of weeks, and all of those tools were evident at the London Stadium as Wolves crafted out a hard-fought, dramatic late win over a struggling West Ham side. That sentence may suggest that Moutinho’s side were not worthy winners, but that myth can be dispelled here and now – they absolutely were.
Part of the reason why Wolves were so successful was their clear and abundant control of proceedings in the centre of the park. Allowed time and space on the ball by the width provided by wing-backs Matt Doherty and Jonny Castro, Neves, and particularly Moutinho, absolutely ran the show against a lacklustre Hammers side.
Dictating play with short, sharp passing, Moutinho linked up effortlessly with his teammates as Wolves stretched the game by making full use of the wide playing surface. Raul Jimenez and Helder Costa often came deep to pick up simple midfield splitting through balls from Moutinho, while Doherty often profited from his ability to fire across accurate cross field passes.
The fact it was so simple and effortless for Moutinho almost made it hard to notice how good he was. Almost. Some say that’s how the best players on the park go about their business. Quiet and unassuming, they just get with on his job – and that’s exactly what Moutinho did against Manuel Pellegrini’s side.
The only difference here was, you couldn’t fail to notice how good Moutinho was. While he doesn’t necessarily do the glitzy, glamorous things that teammate Neves does, he failed to put a foot wrong for the entire game. At the forefront of all the dangerous attacks that Wolves strung together during the 90 minutes, Moutinho provided a perfect balance and transition between defence and attack to help his side earn their first win of the season.
Given he brings so much to the table, you may wonder why other Premier League sides didn’t attempt to bring him during the summer if he’s that good. Perhaps given that he’s 31, some felt he wouldn’t be up to the rigorous demands of top flight football in England, given his advancing years. In any case, Wolves have unearthed an absolute gem of a midfielder, fit to orchestrate proceedings in midfield for a good few years to come.
At £5m, he is sure to be Wolves’ most impressive signing of the season. But the signing of the Premier League season as a whole? Quite possibly.