Mutual Non-Admiration Society: Wolves, Leo Bonatini
Row17 / The Molineux - Home of Wolverhampton Wanderers (CC BY-SA 2.0)
When Wolves and PAOK agreed to terms, Leo Bonatini appeared to be leaving Molineux. Somewhere along the way, however, an 'i' wasn't dotted or a 't' crossed to someone's liking. The deal collapsed and the striker is a prisoner of circumstance, likely the club's failure to sign Tammy Abraham from Chelsea.
On the periphery now, Bonatini was a key player for Wolves last season. His season's game log features the term unused substitute. Often. Wanderers are stuck with a player who, in turn, is stuck with them. What went wrong?
From hero to zero
The 24-year-old initially joined Wolves on loan from Al-Hilal Riyadh in 2017. He scored and created 17 goals in 29 Championship starts to help the Midlands outfit earn promotion to the Premier League. His form waned in the season's second half, however, then continued to slide despite Wolves making his loan permanent.
A dozen goals in your debut Championship season isn't bad. The last one coming on 4 December against Birmingham City is. Bonatini fired blanks in the 23 league games that followed. Spoiler alert: he eventually lost his place in the starting lineup.
Benik Afobe successfully replaced the uncapped Brazilian forward. Bonatini went into 2018/19 out-of-form and out-of-favour. Raul Jimenez installed himself as first-choice to start the Premier League campaign. Needing goals to alter the circumstances, Bonatini’s scoring drought extended.
Jimenez featured in all 23 Wolves Premier League outings, amassing 1,859 minutes from a possible 2,070. Bonatini faces the impossible task of dethroning the Mexican who is contributing a goal every 169 minutes when he hasn't scored himself in 418 days. He can’t get a game for love nor money under Nuno Espirito Santo. In addition to Jimenez, Ivan Cavaleiro and Diogo Jota stand in line ahead of him. Without a significant change in fortune, he's destined to ride the bench.
Wolves’ attempt to sell him to PAOK failed or was aborted. The club may try again if they can sign Divock Origi from Liverpool or Gelson Martins from Atletico Madrid. Ironically, the latter deal would also release Alvaro Morata from his Stamford Bridge cell. While the Blues have their new man in Gonzalo Higuain, the Rojiblancos are understood to be reluctant to take on the Spaniard unless they can move Martins or Croatian Nikola Kalinic.
Espirito Santo won’t make a signing without purpose, however, so any player coming in has to be the right fit rather than a panic buy. If Wolves can’t identify a suitable forward, Bonatini might see the season out at Molineux. Surely frustrated with the lack of playing time, he’s exhibited the class to support the club on social media. Don't expect him to rock the boat.
It’s a shame the player who began his Wolves stint so strongly fell by the wayside. Bonatini led a nomadic career, playing for the likes of Cruzeiro (Brazil), Juventus (Italy), Goias (Brazil) and Estoril (Portugal) before joining Hilal (Saudi Arabia). Worldliness or not, England chewed him up and spat him out. Now, it looks like it will chew on him some more.