Few of the signings, if any, made by Wolves since Fosun International took over in 2016 have divided opinion quite like Leo Bonatini.
The Brazilian striker was signed on a season-long loan last year from Al-Hilal in Saudi Arabia, before making his move permanent this summer for £5 million following the club’s promotion to the Premier League.
He fired 12 goals as Nuno Espirito Santo’s side won the Championship title, but they all came in the first part of the season – he failed to register a goal, or an assist, after his volley earned a 1-0 win against Birmingham City on December 4.
His permanent capture was met by derision from large sections of Wolves fans, even though he managed to score seven goals in six games between September and November and pick up October’s Championship Player of the Month award.
Particularly, some fans are confused as to why the 24 year old was kept on but Benik Afobe was allowed to leave for Stoke City – the former-Bournemouth forward proved to be a short-term fix with Cardiff City and Fulham chasing top spot during the second half of last season.
There are plenty of flat-out goalscorers, like Afobe, available but you get the impression that is not the kind of striker that Nuno desires in the top flight. Raul Jimenez looks to operate similarly to Bonatini, but he has not yet been exposed to the cutthroat nature of Wolves’ fanbase after arriving on loan from Benfica.
A similar debate will, probably, be raging about the Mexican this time next year with the club able to make his move permanent.
It is Bonatini’s style of play that makes him an asset – he is not a prolific goalscorer, granted, but he does not always need to be with Diogo Jota, Ivan Cavaleiro and co. either side of him.
The Brazilian is very similar to Karim Benzema of Real Madrid, in that he plays in an unconventional striker’s role, dropping deep to receive the ball, to allow runners from wide – it was Cristiano Ronaldo, in his case – to get beyond him.
By moving between the opposition’s midfield and defensive lines, Bonatini dragged centre-backs and defensive midfielders out of position with him ergo creating space for those around him in what was a selfless role.
Nuno’s side scored an array of long-distance stunners last season, mostly from Ruben Neves, but just as many exciting, fast team goals were scored – Bonatini played a key role in many of them, but statistics do not always show that.
In the dying seconds facing Barnsley at Molineux in September, he played a clever reverse pass with his weaker left foot to Alfred N’Diaye, who fired the home side ahead after being pegged back to 1-1.
Against Leeds United in November, he received the ball from Jota, turned and played a thirty-yard pass out wide to Matt Doherty, who set up Cavaleiro to finish past Andy Lonergan at the end of an exciting counter-attack during a 4-1 win.
In January’s 3-0 victory against Brentford at Molineux, leading up to the second goal he received a throw-in from Doherty crowded by defenders before finding Jota and, later on in the same attack, he played a one-two with Cavaleiro, allowing the Portuguese to cross for Barry Douglas at the back post to fire home.
In Wolves’ last home game of the season, against Sheffield Wednesday, he found Bright Enobakhare in behind the visiting defence after some neat build-up play but the youngster dragged his finish wide – it is naive to base opinions on Bonatini, and Benzema as it happens, purely on statistics.
Of course, he has his weaknesses: he is not particularly quick, does not appear to have the endurance to press the way Nuno demands for the duration of a game and the strength of his left foot – despite his goal against Aston Villa in October – is questionable.
Last season’s barren run was unfortunate but, in his defence, he played the full 90 minutes only four times after Christmas following the arrival of Afobe and Jota’s appearances as a centre-forward.
If he does regain his 2017-goalscoring form in a Wolves shirt, Molineux’s faithful will be as enthralled about him as they were this time last year when he scored on the opening day of last season against Middlesbrough, earning a 1-0 win.
There is nothing to say that he cannot, he is able to score all types of goals: he has been alive to rebounds, converted penalties against Preston North End and Manchester City, scored a crashing volley against Norwich City and fired in a header against Fulham – 17 Primeira Liga goals for Estoril in the 2015-16 season prove that he is able to turn it around.
He has enjoyed a solid pre-season campaign so far, heading into tomorrow’s friendly against Derby County before hosting Villarreal – he scored in the 4-0 Uhren Cup final victory against BSC Young Boys.
He spent the summer back home in Brazil, resting ahead of the new season, not knowing where he would be playing in the coming months after Wolves initially hesitated to hand him a permanent deal.
He will now live with his parents in the West Midlands , having moved to England from Saudi Arabia on his own last year.
Feeling much more content, and relaxed, Bonatini is ready for the Premier League – Wolves fans at the very, very least must give him a chance to show his worth.
What the fans say
@Cart78: Don’t understand the Leo hate. Was superb first half of the season (without him we’d still be in Champ) and with an actually preseason behind him I think we’ll get a better player this season … and Ruben is gonna be a superstar
@Wrightgal80: I strongly believe his confidence dipped when we triggered Jota’s option but not Leo. I have moral faith in Nuno.
@chrissheen3: Think Bonatini just ran out of legs second half of the season. Prem will suit him better. Think the lads a cracking player.
@WolvesTruth: Leo is useless. Waste of £5m no matter what people’s opinions are. He was below average in the Champ, let alone the Prem. What the hell are we playing at. Why would we sign Leo and farm out Afobe? Unbelievable. Actually fuming at this. P.s welcome Vinagre
@mrdeclanbyrne: This is brilliant…. Leo was one of our top three players in the first half of the season. Absolutely fantastic.
@tombray28: Was very good at the start of the season when we were playing some of our best football. Lost his confidence, but deserves his chance!
@dodger1177: Those that slag off Leo in my opinion never look at off the ball running as a contribution to a game plus with a full pre season behind him he will be better, didn’t score in 18 games but was only 5 behind Jota *** give the bloke a break.
@deadly_diogo: I swear it’s as if nobody has actually watched Leo play. His passing is immense and he has brilliant positioning. If he can get his confidence back I can see him setting up at least 10 goals for Jota
@MattBrettell: Played in a terrible league, signed like 3 days before the season, started almost every game in one of the most difficult leagues in the world. Didn’t tire until January. I’m excited to see @BonatiniOficial with a full pre-season and a year of English football experience.
@AshDolan16: The Brazilian Kevin Doyle returns! Pleased for both, we’ll need Leo more so for games like City away when we need to dig in and not have the ball, he’ll work for the team. Solid squad signing
@corky69x: id rather of kept afobe then… Hope there’s another striker incoming
@twitchPorta1987: Welcome guys ignore the ungrateful fans who think we only have to sign superstars now. True fans believe in Nuno and his decisions.
@robcotton84: Maybe a little surprised about Bonatini BUT other than not scoring (I know that’s a big thing) from Xmas he still worked hard and linked play up well! Vinagre on full time I like
@Julian_Cassell: Great News! I think Leo will be invaluable in the Prem plus Ruben V is a huge star of the future believe so too. Good luck!
@LauWolves79: Think we’ve just signed a player who had the potential to be one of the best left backs in the world. Hoping Leo shines in the prem.
@Ste_wwfc89: Thought he was unfortunate with the red against Swansea. Other than that I haven’t seen his temper being a problem? Can see him breaking in ahead of Barry this season, especially if he goes out on loan until January and gets some regular playing time.
@LauWolves79: Think he will oust Douglas eventually. No disrespect to Douglas or Doc but do feel they’ll be found wanting in the prem
@stephenlapper: Pleased for Bonatini. Deserves a chance for his first half of last season. Vinagre looks a special player. Glad to see them both on board.
Source : BirminghamMail