It must have been strange from Conor Coady, looking in from the outside.
After 127 consecutive league appearances, the question on Monday night was whether his absence would be felt.
Ninety minutes was all it took. The answer was an unequivocal ‘Yes.’
Nuno Espirito Santo has built Wolves’ success upon structure. And it’s that system – with Coady at its’ heart – that has been the platform from which the club has bounded into the upper reaches of the Premier League.
The Portuguese boasts fine players. The spine of his side is particularly impressive.
Joao Moutinho has played for and against the best. Ruben Neves will surely do similar in a career that is pointing towards stardom. Raul Jimenez can count Manchester United among his suitors. Rui Patricio…the list goes on.
But at the end of an entertaining second-half in which the hosts could have argued their case for all three points, it was Coady who was the name on everyone’s lips.
He was missed. He takes responsibility. He organises from the back but leads from the front.
The newly-capped England international is the main voice at Molineux. Out on the pitch and away from it too.
Successful changing-rooms have good senior professionals at their heart. Very few clubs manage any kind of success without the elder statesmen setting an example.
It’s happened throughout the ages. The term ‘leader’ is bandied about. Few are identified.
Footballers can develop leadership qualities.
But players don’t just follow anyone. Look at Liverpool. It’s not difficult to pick out those who maintain the standards at Anfield, namely Messrs Milner and Henderson.
Manchester City haven’t been the same since Vincent Kompany left.
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Back in the day, Manchester United had Roy Keane and Gary Neville to keep the dressing-room at Old Trafford in line.
Leicester City’s title-winners in 2016 had plenty of voices. But skipper Wes Morgan, keeper Kasper Schmeichel and goal-getter Jamie Vardy were the ones who defied the odds.
It’s no co-incidence that Foxes’ chief Brendan Rodgers made sure that, hey guess what, all those three are still around in the East Midlands. Smooth in blarney he may be, but the Ulsterman is no fool.
At Molineux, Coady is the man whose appearance in an old gold shirt gives the reassurance of a security blanket.
Supporters can rest easy in the knowledge that Nuno’s orders will be followed by his on-field lieutentant.
It’s only because of lockdown that the talents of the former Liverpool trainee have been truly appreciated.
During the west Midlands’ derby at Aston Villa seven months ago, with behind-closed-doors games still a novelty, it was relentless. Incessant.
“Move here, back there, come in, go out, move forward…’ interspersed with a few ‘well dones’ and there you have the main body of the script.
But Wolves had none of that on Monday night. It was a very uncharacteristic defensive display.
And, all right, they had to go chasing – which is not either something the Portuguese’s side are still comfortable with – and they pulled it off but it wasn’t convincing.
Of course, there is no single player who is ever bigger than the club.
As a student during the 1990s and living in halls of residence outside the stand that now bears his name, yours truly witnessed the growth of one of the players who, for a brief moment in time, could claim to be as important.
Steve Bull – with the help of others – was the spearhead of the revival that really should have seen the Black Country club return to the top-flight by the turn of the Millennium.
The striker made his mark through a simply outstanding goal return. Wolves were still in the Third Division when he earned a call-up to the national side.
Should Coady be a regular starter for England? Have your say below.
Coady has done it through the force of his personality, the fact he fits like a hand in glove with the system that Nuno wants to play and the fact he has grown into his role at the heart of a three-man backline.
He can see the play in front of him and has married up the unique nature of Wolves’ Iberian-heavy dressing-room, bringing together the new and old, knitting them into the fabric of the club.
The defender has been rewarded with a call-up by Gareth Southgate. He has just signed a new five-year contract.
Coady couldn’t be further from the eye-catching heroics of arch goal-getter Steve Bull.
But, choosing words written about a defender of another club, he is very much the “Captain, leader, legend,’ that Wolves, if they are to maintain their upwards path, cannot do without.