On July 21, it was reported by The Athletic that Wolverhampton Wanderers are set to send out young goalkeeper, Matija Sarkic, on loan to Birmingham City for next season.
Sarkic’s move appears to be on the verge of completion and would mark the second loan transfer from Wolves to the Blues in the past few days, with Dion Sanderson being confirmed on July 19.
Such loans can be coincidences, but given the clubs’ proximity to each other and in-turn, old rivalry, it begs the question as to whether this will be the foundation of a longer-term relationship between the two sides.
They may not be West Bromwich Albion, but Birmingham are one of Wolves’ oldest and most fierce rivals.
Just as the Blues’ main derby is the ‘second-city derby’ with Aston Villa, a BBC report in 2014 pointed to the significance of this ‘other West Midlands derby‘.
So, at the risk of annoying some of the club’s fans, Fosun appear to have taken a calculated gamble and see the potential in such a partnership.
Why Birmingham City?
For starters, since Fosun have been at the helm, Wolves and Birmingham have been on very different trajectories.
Wolves have gained promotion to the Premier League and have reached the quarter-finals of the Europa League. Birmingham, who have also received new owners during this spell, have floated dangerously above the Championship drop-zone. Their highest finish has been 18th.
On that point, it suggests that Fosun do not see Birmingham as direct competitors anymore. A caveat of this is whether it is the evergreen environment Wolves would want to send their younger players to.
In spite of their struggles in recent years, Birmingham have had an excellent record with developing younger players. Academy duo Demarai Gray and Jude Bellingham have both established themselves among the best young players in Europe.Embed from Getty Images
The same could be said for Che Adams, who was signed from Sheffield United aged just 20 before joining Southampton three years later. This could put Wolves in the driving seat should Birmingham’s next talent to break through become available for transfer.
In light of Birmingham’s struggles, it should also be said that things are looking up for the club following the arrival of Lee Bowyer late last season, who has personally experienced promotion before during his spell managing Charlton Athletic.
Fosun’s transfer strategy network reliant
Since Wolves’ promotion to the Premier League in 2018, the club has tried to build their network with clubs across the continent.
They have had mixed fortunes. Former Spanish lower-league side FC Jumilla received nine Wolves players on loan in 2018. These were relatively unsuccessful and the club are no longer in existence.
However, this was just the beginning for Wolves. Over the past two seasons, they have loaned a number of players to LIGA NOS side Famalicao, helping the club maintain their top-flight status in Portugal. Ruben Vinagre’s career was revived during his spell there last season and has led to a loan to Sporting Lisbon with the option to buy.
Then there is Grasshopper Club Zurich, who are owned by Sky Sun, closely affiliated to Fosun. With a number of Wolves players on loan there including Connor Ronan, Leo Bonatini and Tote Gomes, the club achieved promotion to the Swiss top-tier for the coming season.Embed from Getty Images
Yet for all of Wolves’ recent success deploying players to these clubs around the continent, it seems they may have realised the importance of having these relationships closer to home.
Firstly, Wolves have a large number of homegrown talents in their academy, therefore a loan to Birmingham would mean players would not have to relocate and they could easily report to Compton Park training ground.
Secondly, if Birmingham are a club on the up under Bowyer, the competitive environment of the Championship could be the perfect pathway for Wolves players such as Sanderson and Sarkic, who harbour hopes on being included in the Wolves first team.
For Birmingham, maybe they could emulate the success of Famalicao and Grasshoppers and achieve promotion to the top tier..