Usually the players most commonly considered as the ‘signings of the season’ are those who play for the big teams. This year, most will be thinking along the lines of Alisson Becker at Liverpool; or Lucas Torreira for Arsenal; or Fred with Manchester United (cough).
But this season, it may be worth scanning you eyes a little further down the table to find a player who’s come into a newly promoted team and helped make them look like a side closer to breaking into the top six than falling back down into the Championship.
I’m talking, of course, about Wolves’ wonderful forward Raul Jimenez.
The 27-year-old arrived in England from parent club Benfica this summer for a loan fee of around €3m. The deal was made to keep him at the Molineux for the entirety of the season – though with the way things are going, Wolves may very well trigger his €38m buyout clause when the season ends.
In his first season of Premier League football, the Mexican has scored eight goals in 24 league appearances so far. He also has two goals in as many outings in the FA Cup. For a man unfamiliar with the league, playing in a newly promoted side, these are very good stats.
But it’s not just his goals that have helped fire Wolves into seventh place in the league standings. The unselfish frontman has also registered a further six league assists in his 1949 minutes of game time so far.
Wolves have managed to net 30 times in total this campaign. That’s joint tenth in the league, an impressive feat for a newly promoted side. Fulham and Cardiff, the other new boys, have managed only 25 and 20 goals respectively.
With his goals and assists, Jimenez has managed to contribute directly to 14 goals of Wolves’ 30 in the league; that’s nearly 50 percent the club’s total and more than Huddersfield have managed as a whole squad (13).
But in all honesty, it’s more than just the goals. It’s about the work ethic; his willingness to bring others into the game. Jimenez is certainly not a lone wolf. He plays with the intention of providing for the pack.
This is best exemplified with his partnership with Diogo Jota. In reality, Jimenez is Wolves’ only natural out and out striker. But manager Nuno Espirito Santo has mostly preferred to play with two men up front leading the line: Jota and Jimenez.
The duo have been deadly all season long, with Jota contributing five goals and two assists alongside his strike partner’s fine tally. As the 27-year-old works tirelessly as a more natural frontman for Wolves to target with searching balls up field or crosses into the box, this allows Jota to methodically take up unpredictable spaces across the front line and cause damage to the defences distracted by the presence of Espirito Santo’s dogged number nine.
This relationship was well showcased when Wolves beat Leicester 4-3 in a frantic Premier League fixture recently. Jota scored a hat-trick largely thanks to Jimenez largely claiming most of the attention from the Foxes’ thinly stretched defence. The Mexican even set up Jota’s third, a dramatic late winner.
Great way to finish this 2018, awesome performance of all the team, 2019 here we go/ Gran forma de cerrar el año, excelente esfuerzo de todo el equipo, 2019 aquí vamos. ⚽️ #wearewolves pic.twitter.com/kCmxoFZWt5
— Raúl Jiménez (@Raul_Jimenez9) 29 December 2018
A game such as that saw Jota as the player focused on, understandably so. And it’s easy to look at this Wolves’ side and ignore Jimenez in favour of the bigger names such Ruben Neves, Rui Patricio, and Joao Moutinho. Or even the type of players you’d more traditionally associate with a club like Wolves, such as Conor Coady and Matt Doherty.
But, whilst those players have also been great this season, all their work would come to nothing if they didn’t have a man to play towards; a player capable of bringing quality in the final third as to contribute to the most important part of football: the goal scoring.
Jimenez is well respected in the league by neutrals, and is most certainly loved by his fans. But is it time we all start considering him as potentially the best, most positively influencing, signing of the summer?
After all, hasn’t Wolves’ leap to where they are now, from where they were this time last season, been the biggest?