They may have the youngest squad in the Premier League but Wolverhampton Wanderers are targeting Europa League qualification.
With an average age of 24 years and eight months, Nuno Espirito Santo’s youthful team are currently seventh in the league after surprising pundits with wins against Chelsea and Tottenham.
With just eight games remaining, hopes are high among fans that the good form will continue and see them qualify for Europe for the first time since the 1980s.
Among experienced internationals, Nuno likes to involve Wolves’ academy graduates in the first team highlighting the importance of the development process.
Nuno, who made no signings in the January transfer window in favour of trusting the club’s young academy graduates, said: “We have a small squad. Credit to the players for making the most of their moment, when their chance came.
“It is our job to prepare the squad well for games such as this, so that we are always able to pick a strong team.
“We know that we have lots of youth available. They always prepare well for the competition and recover quickly, which is fantastic for me.”
Before the start of the season, the Portuguese’s squad had only made 232 accumulative appearances in the Premier League, compared to 3,009 for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United.
The two sides face each other in the FA Cup quarter-final tie this weekend at Molineux.
Last time out, Wolves earned a credible 1-1 draw against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. During the match academy graduate 19-year-old Morgan Gibbs-White was introduced as a second-half substitute.
When he made his first Premier League start against Maurizio Sarri’s side in the return fixture at Molineux in December, he became the first of England’s Under-17 World Cup winners of 2017 to make their top-flight bow.
Gibbs-White, as well as fellow Wolves first-teamers Ryan Giles, Benny Ashley-Seal, Austin Samuels and Anders Sondegaard, has played under current Under-18s manager Darren Ryan as well as Nuno.
The Under-18s play a similar, three-at-the-back formation to Rob Edwards’ Under-23s and the first-team, which helps the graduates move into top-flight football as smoothly as possible.
After his Under-18s beat Blackburn Rovers 2-1 in the Premier League Under-18 North, the top tier of English academy football, the Welshman said: “This team is all about development, and not always the result. Of course, it is always nice to win, but the progression we see is most important.
“Today, I am really pleased that our overloads in attacking areas worked so well, because it is something we have worked on for a long time now.”
One of the reasons for Wolves’ success is, he believes, the excellent facilities and equipment available to him and his squad at the club’s Compton Park Training Ground.
Shared with the first-team, there are pitches to the same dimensions as Molineux’s, indoor facilities, gyms, a swimming pool and classrooms.
The club has a history of promoting and trusting young players: Robbie Keane, Joleon Lescott and Matt Murray have all enjoyed excellent careers with Wolves and beyond.
Nuno sees Wolves as future heavyweights in English football – the club’s academy is pivotal in realising his dream.