The rise and rise of Wolverhampton Wanderers since their return to the Premier League in 2018 has been something truly outstanding to behold. Under the guidance of Nuno Espirito Santo, the boys in the famous old gold shirts have been an exhilarating and bold attacking force.
Perhaps the player who best embodies this wonderful attacking spirit is their supremely gifted number nine, Raul Jimenez. The Mexican forward has spearheaded Wolves‘ attack over the past two seasons and despite the brevity of his time in the Black Country, he is already the club’s all-time leading goalscorer in the Premier League era.
However, to dismiss Jimenez as just another towering target man, an old fashioned number nine, would be a major disservice, bordering on the criminal.
Since his arrival from Benfica, the 28-year-old has showcased the kind of broad array of attributes that are now essential in the top flight of English football. What’s more, with Wolves current jockeying for position with some of the Premier League’s traditional big hitters, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Mexico international would be a viable transfer target should one of the big boys come knocking in the summer.
Jimenez has demonstrated a canny ability to be the thread that holds together a lot of Wolves’ best-attacking play. In a similar guise to Liverpool‘s Roberto Firmino, the number nine is quite comfortable dropping deeper, between the midfield and forward lines as he is in leading it. His natural ability with the ball at his feet and that deceptive burst of place, allow him to frequently bring in the likes of Diogo Jota or Adama Traore as Wolves ruthlessly expose sides on the counter-attack.
His brace of assists earlier in the season for Traore during a smash and grab 0-2 victory at the Etihad against Manchester City is a perfect example of this. The first lay-on came after a confident, striding spring up nearly two-thirds of the pitch before a delightful bit of skill left Nicolas Otamendi on his backside as the ball was squared to his running partner to apply a tidy finish. His second was in instinctively measured through ball to release the devastatingly quick Traore to kill the game.
This eye-catching display against the champions has by no means been an isolated case. The Mexican has laid on six assists in the league this season whilst also creating 12 big chances in 28 matches as well as supplying 17 crosses. These are certainly not the hallmarks of your old-fashioned number nine.
The goals are there too, and then some. Big ones have come against the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool as well as in the club’s impressive European adventure. He has already registered a career-best haul of 22 goals from 42 matches in all competitions and shows no signs of stopping any time soon.
Whilst he has thrived as part of a more direct approach at Molineux – Wolves ranked fourth for long balls with 1,815 this season – Jimenez certainly has the well-rounded skill set to thrive at sides looking to a little further over the horizon.
Okay, Wolves may well be a glowing beacon of well-run success, but it is fair to say that the likes of Spurs, Arsenal or Chelsea would represent an attractive pull for the reportedly ambitious forward. Both Spurs and Chelsea have lacked goals and direction this season, especially when some of their big hitters have stalled or pulled up with an ill-timed injury.
Jimenez would certainly bring a focal point to their attack as well as providing some wonderful link-up play with the likes of Son Heung-Min at Spurs or Willian at Chelsea. Of course, a fit again Harry Kane and fully firing Tammy Abraham are obvious and fairly formidable hurdles to get around for a player who should really be playing every week.
Further north in the capital, Arsenal’s rebuild could certainly use a touch of the Mexican. While the likes of Nicolas Pepe, Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka offer pace and tenacity on the counter, a player with the ability and quality on the ball as Jimenez would offer so much to Mikel Arteta’s side.
With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s future under a cloud following their Europa League exit, Arsenal could do a hell of a lot worse than look to Wolves’ big man up front to help lead some semblance of recovery.
He would of course, not come at all cheap, but his investment could end up paying dividends if he can help link together a talented though at times very disjointed attacking line up. Diogo Jota has really blossomed alongside the Mexican whilst Connor Coady recently declared him the best striker he had ever played with. Arteta may well be sitting up and paying attention.
The most obvious potential destination for the Mexico international is, of course, Old Trafford. Manchester United’s well documented hunt for capable forward to lead their line and link up with the likes Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes will surely ramp up this summer. Recent rumours have suggested there is concrete interest and with Jimenez’s refined skill set, such a move would make a lot of sense for both parties. There would, of course, be a demand for the 28-year-old to hit the ground running, but he has the ability to add more dynamism and efficiency to United’s forward play.
Of course, all of this is a grave disservice to Wolves. They are challenging for a top six spot in earnest and a second season in Europe is the least they deserve for their bold, attractive brand of football. Jimenez could do a lot worse than remaining where he is for now and stay as the main man at the heart of the best Wolves side for generations.
One thing is for sure though, the former Benfica man has earned his stripes and is more than capable of starring at one of the biggest clubs in the Premier League regardless of what happens during the next transfer window.