Raul Jimenez has completed a club-record transfer to Wolves. Adam Bate takes a look at why the striker’s performances justify the £30m fee…
When loan deals are made permanent they are not usually greeted with the wild excitement that accompanies a signing out of the blue. The hope of what a player might bring can far exceed the reality. But Wolves’ confirmation that they have broken their transfer record to secure Raul Jimenez on a long-term deal is different. Nobody doubts his importance.
The Mexican forward has already scored 15 goals this season, the attacking spearhead for a team that are up in seventh on their return to the Premier League and go to Wembley on Sunday looking to reach the FA Cup final for the first time in 59 years. Jimenez has been a revelation not just in terms of his goal output but his overall contribution to the side.
Let’s start with the goals, though, because Jimenez has already provided Wolves supporters with more highs than they could have imagined going into the season. He has scored home and away against Chelsea, Tottenham and Everton in the Premier League as well as getting the opening goals in the FA Cup wins against Liverpool and Manchester United at Molineux.
Few had known what to expect upon his arrival in the summer. At 27, and brought in on loan, he was not one for the future. The Portuguese pair of Joao Moutinho and Rui Patricio had obvious pedigree but while Jimenez was joining from Benfica, having previously spent a season at Atletico Madrid, he had been little more than a bit-part player at previous clubs.
Indeed, he made 21 appearances in La Liga for Atletico but never once completed the full game. He had started only four of them and appeared to be typecast as an impact substitute at Benfica too, never making more than eight starts in any of his three seasons there. Wolves were bringing in a player who had started only 24 league games in four years.
They were gambling on a fine scoring record – he scored 18 league goals for Benfica at a rate of one every 146 minutes – and hoping that given more opportunities he would deliver. That response has been emphatic and what’s been particularly impressive given his history is that he has started 30 Premier League games and his energy levels have not dipped.
“He doesn’t stop,” said Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo. “He’s always giving us the first moment of reaction to loss of the balls.” Jimenez ranks among the top ten players in the Premier League for high-intensity sprints and it’s telling that as well as matching the all-action Roberto Firmino for goals, he also matches him for possessions won in the final third.
As well as his selfless running, his selfless decision-making is also reflected in the numbers. His clever pass to Diogo Jota for the equaliser in the win over Manchester United at Molineux on Tuesday was his seventh assist of the Premier League season. No striker in the competition can top that tally and it’s typical of the creativity he has shown.
According to Opta, Jimenez has created 39 chances and 11 big chances for his Wolves team-mates in the Premier League this season. There is not a centre-forward in the competition who can beat those numbers either. “Raul is doing a fantastic job because we want the goals that he scores, the way he plays, the combination and the way he works,” said Nuno.