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How has Raul Jimenez turned into a success for Wolves – despite all the red flags?

The 13 goals Raul Jimenez scored in 2018/19 was his highest league tally in three years. It was also his highest return since moving to Europe and, actually, the first time he’d reached double figures in a league season since leaving Mexico.

Saturday brought him goal six of this Premier League season, with a finish which has become almost a trademark. Bournemouth were caught out by a quick free-kick, Adama Traore broke to the byline, and there was Jimenez to turn in the game’s second goal.

It was the same combination which secured Wolves the points in their previous Premier League game, against Aston Villa at Molineux. Again Traore broke free, again he pulled the ball back, and again Jimenez chopped a neat finish into the net. Nobody does that better at the moment; he shoots across his body better than anyone in the country.

The moves themselves also characterise the Mexican forward rather well. Or at least they surmise his function in Nuno Espirito Santo’s side. So many of his goals have been scored in the same way. Not through that specific combination with Traore, but by the timing of a run or through his ability to put himself in position to end an attacking move.

Which isn’t to describe him as a limited player, because Jimenez has demonstrated a great range within that role. He opened his account in England with that thumping header against Everton in August 2018 and, between then and now, has scored volleys and tap-ins, with his left and his right, and with an array of different techniques from all sorts of positions.

Which, depending on how long you’ve been aware of Jimenez, isn’t much of a surprise. Back in his native country, he was never prolific for Club America, but he scored enough goals and exhibited enough talent to earn the natty sobriquet ‘the Mexican Ibrahimovic’. It was lazy, as those comparisons always are, but his size and originality on the ball meant that it wasn't outrageous.

Naturally then, when a move to Europe became a real possibility, that’s how he was sold. He would ultimately move to Atletico Madrid, but for a long time he seemed destined to follow the Hector Herrera, Radamel Falcao route through Porto. He would eventually play in Liga NOS, but for Benfica instead and only because a solitary goal in his first season in Spain left him chasing his reputation.

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What’s interesting about Jimenez, given what we now know, is that he has thrived in England in spite of so many red flags. The failed move to Atletico was the most obvious, of course, but it wasn’t as if he rebounded with any great conviction in Portugal, either. Eighteen goals in 80 league appearances hardly had Diego Simeone admonishing himself for an error in judgement.

Those with longer memories will also recall that before he completed his transfer to Benfica, he might have become a West Ham player. A £2m loan was agreed, international clearance had been granted, but the deal was never completed. Jimenez claimed that he had overslept and missed his flight to England. Most likely, he just didn't fancy West Ham and what, really, were they going to do if he didn't turn up?

Whatever the case, the incident would have created extra suspicion around a player who was already presumed a flop in Europe. "Doesn't score goals, doesn't honour agreements"; it doesn't take much more than that for the traditional English scout to cross a Latin player off his list.

Which is the context in which to view his season-and-a-half in England. Jimenez’s career has been controlled by Jorge Mendes, he is a Gestifute client, and it’s worth remembering how Mendes’ relationship with Wolves was supposed to work. They were going to be a holding pen for appreciating talent – essentially a beneficiary by accident.

That presumption was disproved some time ago, but never more comprehensively than by this example. Jimenez wasn't dumped in England. He wasn't shunted into the Premier League marketplace without due consideration. In fact, this deal's success is a product of its detail and a result of its three main parties working in concert. Mendes, Espirito Santo and Jimenez can all be credited for resurrecting the player's career. He has always been a star in Mexico, but his current reputation in Europe is the happy consequence of being positioned in the right place at the right time, under the control of a coach who knew precisely how to use him with greatest effect.

This wasn’t just a good move. It hasn’t just been an instance of a player finding form and riding that to a resurrection. Instead, Jimenez’s success represents the accurate identification of a player for a particular role in a side that plays in a specific way. Wolves needed a hard-working forward who could grind away at the top of their formation, form quick relationships with their supporting attacking players, and also score somewhere between ten and twenty goals a season.

In 2018, when his initial loan to England was agreed, not a single person would have nominated Jimenez for that job. Understandably so, because nobody would have thought him capable of producing that kind of return. What, in his past, had given them reason to think otherwise? Eighteen months later, though, he looks capable of tailoring his game to suit anyone that Wolves place around him. He can dovetail with Diogo Jota, in those twirling verticals up the field, and he can make those late movements which have helped Traore refine his own game over recent months. In time and with the opportunity, he could become a very effective foil for Patrick Cutrone. 

More importantly, though, he's shown himself capable of scoring against any defence in English football.

So this has been that rare thing: a transfer which has been successful in almost every possible way, despite there being no indication that it would or should be. Raul Jimenez has become one of the most reliable forwards in the Premier League and that's a victory for proper team-building over blind loyalty to trends and reputational bias. In many ways, this is the emblem deal for the Fosun International era at Molineux.

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