I watched Wolves boss Manchester United at Old Trafford last night when the parallels with what they are doing and what Celtic are attempting struck me. Six of the Wolves starting line-up and seven of the 11 who finished the game were Portuguese. As is their manager, while a seventh starter is a Portuguese-speaking Brazilian.
Wolves Chinese owners decided there was no value in the UK market and invested in building connections with Portuguese agents and clubs. As a consequence, they know this market better than any other, perhaps better than some of the top clubs in Portugal, who field fewer Portuguese nationals.
Paul Lambert was their last non-Portuguese manager. He was replaced in May 2017 by Nuno Espirito Santo, who won promotion at the first attempt and was enticed to Tottenham last summer. His stay at Spurs was short and unsuccessful – Spurs did not have deep knowledge of a value market he could exploit.
Wolves went straight back to Portugal and appointed Bruno Lage, sacked a year earlier by Benfica after one of the worst runs of results in modern history. A failure at Benfica, Lage took to the EPL with apparent ease.
Back in 2014 we discussed our prospects after recruiting Ronny Deila from the value-looking market in Norway. Ronny took a raft of Norwegian backroom staff with him, but I remember us worrying that the status of Norway in the Uefa coefficient table was well below that of Scotland. We subsequently recruited Kristoffer Ajer but Norway was not sufficiently fertile to seed in Scotland.
What has happened in this transfer window is different. Already we have signed three peak-age Japanese players to augment Kyogo Furuhashi and Ange Postecoglou, recruited from Japan.
Portugal and Japan are quite different. For a start, Portugal is scouted significantly more, it is a market known to every club in Europe with a transfer spend. Exports command a premium. It should be more difficult to carve a successful niche in Portugal than in Japan.
Japan is a significantly cheaper market, our four recruits this season cost less than £10m. More than half of that money was spent on Kyogo, so I would caution against jumping to conclusions about how effective Daizen Maeda, Reo Hatate and Yosuke Ideguchi will be before they settle into life here. Cheap does not guarantee value.
Deep knowledge of a market is needed to find any sustainable value. If we want to over-perform, it seems unlikely that we will be able to do so to any significant degree but speaking to the same agents as everyone else. Wolves picked a market and went all in, as a consequence, they are performing at a 50 year high.
Half a season after recruiting Ange Postecoglou, we have gone all in on the Japanese market. There will be a tangible Japanese culture at Lennoxtown, a host of Japanese clubs and agents have done business with us and more will hopefully follow. Celtic have gained a degree of deep knowledge of the Japanese market. As I said, these are early days, but there is much to be hopeful about.