It was pleasing to see Hee-Chan Hwang continue his fine form by scoring Wolves’ equaliser against Newcastle on Saturday, particularly after conceding an unfortunate penalty. His turnaround in fortunes at Molineux has been extraordinary.
Hwang has now scored in his last six Premier League appearances in front of his home supporters, including all five this season. Not even his old Salzburg team-mate Erling Haaland has managed that. Only Mohamed Salah has outscored him at home.
Remarkably, Hwang’s total of six for the season, home and away, is as many as any Wolves player managed to register throughout the entire campaign in any of the previous three seasons. Yet, he did not always have such a positive relationship with the fans.
Shamefully, Hwang was booed onto the pitch against Southampton by a section of the support early last season. He had given the ball away for Newcastle’s late equaliser at Molineux in the previous game and was in the midst of a 30-game scoreless run.
His time at Wolves looked likely to end in frustration, just as it had at Leipzig, where his opportunities dried up. Speaking to Hwang inside the dressing room at Molineux soon after his arrival, he said of that spell in Germany: “It caused my spirits to go down a bit.”
Yet, this journey has been different. Confidence that had been somewhat restored under Julen Lopetegui is now palpable since forcing his way back into Gary O’Neil’s starting line-up. The fans are chanting his name with gusto. Hwang is playing with brio.
The sharp turn that he executed on Saturday, leaving Dan Burn on the deck, could not and would not have been attempted when belief was low. There is a tendency to dismiss talent as fixed – this player is a six out of 10, that one is a seven – but it is a malleable concept.
Hwang was always capable of this. It is why he was so highly rated during his time in Salzburg when the attacking trident that he formed with Haaland and Takumi Minamino was once the talk of Europe. Trusted again, he is transformed. There is a lesson in that.
Cifuentes appointment exciting for QPR fans
Trade secret. Sometimes interviews are not published immediately. It does not always work out. This reporter once spent ages talking to Sweden boss Janne Andersson about why he had recalled Zlatan Ibrahimovic only for the striker to get injured and miss Euro 2020.
Other times, that niche piece becomes more relevant. Speaking to Marti Cifuentes was always going to make for an entertaining hour as he discussed his ideas about football, the influence of Johan Cruyff, and why he had been forced to adapt his thinking.
But an interview about a young coach in Sweden became something else when he was appointed as the new man in charge at Queens Park Rangers. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts to the Championship but supporters have reason to be optimistic.
Of course, there is no guarantee of success. His vision is very different to that of Gareth Ainsworth. It will be a challenge for players can take on his ideas. But after such abject performances and results there is an appetite for something new. And that is key…
Rooney set up to fail? Timing is everything
Contrast the reaction to Ainsworth’s exit with the frustration felt by many Bristol City fans following the decision to axe Nigel Pearson. It was not just that the Robins had been one point off the play-off places just a week earlier, it was what it represented.
Pearson still had the supporters onside regarding the culture shift that he was trying to implement. Hence, the mood upon his sacking was of something lost rather than excitement at what might be gained. That makes for an unhelpful start for the next appointment.
Nobody knows that better than Wayne Rooney right now. He took over a Birmingham City side that was flying high in those play-off positions under John Eustace. They have already fallen following three defeats in a row. There were boos in his very first game.
The Birmingham ownership will console themselves in the belief that they were being proactive, that short-term pain can be justified by long-term gain. But one wonders whether even Rooney himself will be cursing that they did not consider the intangibles here.
Eustace winning his final two games, the second of them a derby win over West Brom in front of the biggest crowd seen as St Andrew’s since the pandemic, crystallises his success. History will record that Eustace succeeded. Who knows what he might have achieved?
Had Birmingham had the patience to allow that to play out, it was a win-win situation. Either Eustace would have continued the improbable rise or, in time, that sense of him having ‘taken the club as far as he could’ may well have taken root among supporters too.
Without that, Rooney has a problem. He must convince players and fans not only that a style of play they believed was working must change but that he is the man to deliver it. Even if both are true, his task has been made more difficult by the manner of his arrival.