Is there such thing as fate?
“Maybe you can believe in this,” Wolves boss Julen Lopetegui said.
In 2016, Lopetegui had discussions with Wolves over the prospect of taking over as head coach. Wolves had just finished 14th in the Championship the season before but the opportunity to manage the Spain side came up and he understandably took charge of his country.
Fast forward five years, Lopetegui finally arrived at Molineux – only to take over the club bottom of the Premier League after 15 games, four points off 19th.
In the last seven years, the clubs who were in Wolves’ position – bottom after 15 games – had been relegated.
Although Lopetegui took over a challenging situation, Wolves confirmed their Premier League status for another season after beating Midlands rivals Aston Villa, with three games to go.
“I think it’s a very big success for the club, for the players and for the fans,” Lopetegui told Sky Sports News.
“The most important thing was to believe. I believed we could change the situation, knowing maybe it’s a big risk.
“A lot of people called me saying: ‘You are crazy, you don’t need to go to the bottom of the Premier League,’ but in this moment, my feeling was I believed.
“I feel it was a challenge for me as a coach, I like the hard challenges and that’s why I’m a coach, our life is not easy in a lot of moments.
“For me to come to another country, another league – the best league in the world undoubtedly – in a very dangerous situation, it was a challenge.”
Lopetegui for much of his career has been competing at the top of the table for league titles and European football.
Having won the Europa League with Sevilla and multiple cups with Real Madrid and Barcelona as a player – where does keeping Wolves in the Premier League rank?
“It is the most important achievement as a coach,” Lopetegui said. “I was lucky to win trophies, I won the Europa League, I was in the Champions League consecutive times with Sevilla but this was a special achievement for the difficulties we had.
“I am not used to fighting out of relegation, that’s why for me it was a challenge – I had to change some things in my mind but to adapt is important in life and football.
“We had two very good supports, one was the commitment of the players and one is the commitment of the fans, they understood we need them always, above all in the bad moments and I think this has been key to achieve our aim.”
Now that Wolves are safe – the planning for next season begins.
Wolves have a number of players out of contract in the summer as Adama Traore, Nelson Semedo, Diego Costa and Joao Moutinho as well as question marks over the uncertain futures of captain Ruben Neves and Raul Jimenez, who both have one year remaining on their contract.
Lopetegui said: “It is the moment to start thinking about the next project, we have to talk to the chairman, we have to hear him, what are his aims.
“For me, it’s very important to know his message so we can build together a good future, that’s why it’s important for me to have this meeting with the chairman.
“We have talked but only about this year but not next year.”
For captain Ruben Neves, it has been an eventful year. He took over the captaincy from Conor Coady after the centre-back departed for Everton – and he’s led the team in what has been the most challenging season since Wolves’ promotion in 2017.
Neves is a player Lopetegui knew well before he arrived at Molineux, he coached a young Neves when he was at Porto in 2014.
With speculation over Neves’ future unsurprisingly going to increase as the summer transfer window approaches, Lopetegui has nothing but praise for his captain since they reunited – whatever happens this summer.
“He started playing with me when he was 17-years-old, I remember when I finalised my work in Porto I told him ‘I would like to manage you at 25-year-old and it’s real, I have enjoyed working with him,” Lopetegui said.
“He’s a very good player, but above all, he’s a very good guy.
“He has a big commitment with the club, he is a good example – of course we will see what will happen in the future for all of us.”