Adama Traore, Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez may frequently steal the headlines at Molineux, but Conor Coady has been instrumental to Wolverhampton Wanderers’ ascension in the Premier League.
The former Liverpool academy graduate arrived at Wolves from Huddersfield Town for a mere £2m in 2015 and has transformed into an indispensable figure in the Black Country.
His leadership qualities have helped instil an unwavering winning mentality under Nuno Espirito Santo and his flawless distribution enables them to effectively build from the back.
Santo is gradually building a dynasty at Wolves and Coady is very much at the heart of his project. His cultured Iberian contingent have been tempered by a vocal and bossy scouse and Coady is also inspiring the next generation.
“A lot of players respect him,” said Dion Sanderson, who is currently on-loan at Cardiff City.
Sanderson added: “His leadership on and off the pitch. He’s dominant and vocal and you can see why he’s captain when he plays games. He’s a good role model.
“I train next to him as always. He’s had the experience so it’s good to listen to him and take things on board.”
Coady spent his developmental years at his boyhood club Liverpool, whom he joined at youth level in 2005. He made his debut against Anzhi Makhachkala in the UEFA Europa League in November 2012 and made his Premier League bow in a 3-1 win over Fulham in May 2013.
He spent the 2013/14 campaign at League One outfit Sheffield United on a season-long loan – registering six goals in 50 appearances across all competitions. Coady then left Anfield to pursue regular first team football at Huddersfield Town for a fee of £375,000.
“I had a season training with the first team at Melwood, and learning off them, that was big for me, but I always knew it was tough,” Coady revealed.
The 27-year-old added: “Liverpool were always getting better, they were always improving, and the players in my position were ridiculous.
“But I just wanted to play football. I knew where I was at, the type of level of I was at, but I just wanted to be part of a first team, playing in games which meant something, playing against men.”
Following a strong season in the heart of midfield at Huddersfield, in which he finished as their young player of the year, Coady joined Wolverhampton Wanderers in July 2015. Wolves offered very little to be desired during his first two seasons at Molineux – finishing 14th and 15th respectively.
Nuno Espirito Santo was installed as Wolves’ fourth manager in ten months in May 2017 and the Portuguese revolutionized the club with his modernistic style. The former goalkeeper had surged into the spotlight by leading Rio Ave into the UEFA Europa League for the first time in their history in 2014.
Santo also managed Valencia and FC Porto before signing a three-year deal at Wolves. His impact was instantaneous and Coady was converted into a ball-playing central defender at the heart of his back-line in a predominantly attacking 3-4-3 system.
Coady had previously played at right-back during the previous season but he adapted seamlessly to his positional change. He helped Wolves finish the 2017/18 season as league winner and was named in the PFA Championship Team of the Year.
Wolves achieved their highest finish in Premier League history (7th) last term and qualified for the Europa League for the first time since 1980/81. Coady has remained an invaluable figure for them over the course of the current campaign – helping them stay in contention for European contention in the Premier League.
They’ve also translated their domestic form onto the European stage by reaching the Round of 16 in Europe. With his performances for Wolves, it seems ludicrous that he’s still being overlooked by England manager Gareth Southgate.
England have been bereft of top central defenders over the past five years with Southgate fielding seven different partnerships since the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
John Stones has plummeted down the pecking order following his regression at Manchester City and has only played once for England since his humiliating performance against Holland in June 2019.
The 25-year-old has been hampered by injuries and inconsistency and has made just 12 league appearances in the 2019/20 campaign. Michael Keane has also played just six league games since Carlo Ancelotti took to the helm at Everton in December 2019.
Southgate has argued that his reasoning behind excluding Coady from the England squad is his preference to playing with two defenders rather than three. However, he also revealed that Coady would be a part of his plans if he reverted to a back-three.
Speaking in March 2019, Southgate said: “He’s playing as a sweeper in a back three, so it’s very different to how anybody else in the Premier League in playing.
“He’s very comfortable on the ball, but it’s difficult to put that into a back four. He’s very unfortunate at the moment, it’s not a system we’re looking to play.
“But we have done in the past, and if we’re thinking about that as a possibility moving forward, then he would definitely be in the frame.”
Joe Gomez and Harry Maguire are likely to become the preferred pairing under Southgate heading into the European Championships next year. However, Coady can provide steady cover at the back and his vision and range of passing could give England something completely different.