At the start of the current season, Wolverhampton Wanderers’ managing director Laurie Dalrymple made the bold statement that the club was not just coming into the top flight of football to make up the numbers and that there was a plan in place to compete at the very top table of English football. A few eyebrows were raised, coming as this statement did on the back of a six-year hiatus from the Premiership.
Nevertheless, Wolves are now enjoying a successful season so far and at the time of writing sit comfortably in seventh place in the table. Additionally, they are safely through to the fifth round of the FA Cup, and so perhaps Dalrymple’s remarks were not plucked totally from the clouds of fantasy.
A big part of Wolves’ success this season can be attributed to the startling form of on-loan Mexican striker, Raul Jimenez, who joined the Molineux club on a twelve-month deal from Benfica in the summer.
At the age of 27 and with seventy Mexican caps already to his name, it would appear that Jimenez is now coming into his peak years as a player, and after a couple of false starts is perhaps finally living up to the hype and anticipation that surrounded him earlier in his career.
Jiminez first made his breakthrough in the game in his native Mexico. Signing for Club América in Mexico City, he made his professional debut in 2011 at the age of 20. His progress was not initially startling, as he struggled to gain a regular foothold in the first team, but he was involved with the Mexico U23 side that won both the Toulon Tournament and the Olympics in 2012.
The experience gained in these two competitions assisted Jimenez in his development in so much that he was able to nail a regular first-team spot for América the following season, 2012-13. In Mexico, the league season is split into two tournaments, the Apertura and the Clausura. Each tournament is run along the same lines with a regular season being followed by play-offs to decide the champions.
In Jimenez’s first full season he was able to assist América with their progress to the semi-final of the Apertura, and to ultimate victory in the Clausura. It was this season that Jimenez also made his bow at full international level, coming on as a substitute in a match against Denmark in January 2013.
The next season proved to be Jimenez’s final full one in Mexican football as he once again helped América reach a final, but this time they were defeated in the ultimate game of the Apertura. By now he was being linked with a big money move to Europe, and his chance came just 4 matches into the 2014-15 season when he signed for Atletico Madrid.
Making his competitive debut in the Spanish Super Cup final against Madrid neighbours Real, Jimenez was on the victorious side of a 2-1 aggregate scoreline. Having won a medal in his first games as an Atletico player, it was thought to be the first of many and a glittering career in Spain seemed to beckon.
However, reality was not slow in biting and a fairly moderate season ensued with Jimenez appearing in only slightly more than half the games available and scoring just a single goal all season.
With the culmination of the season, Jimenez was on the move again. Protracted talks took place between Atletico, West Ham and Jimenez and his advisors. By all accounts, Jimenez had given his word to sign for West Ham on a season-long loan and West Ham were expecting him in London to complete the formalities.
When Jimenez failed to turn up as expected, West Ham were bemused to receive a phone call informing them he had missed his flight. Their consternation was no doubt increased a day or two later when it was announced that he had decided to sign for Portuguese outfit Benfica on loan.
Jimenez’s first season at Benfica was a successful one as the Portuguese title was secured and the Champions League quarter-finals were reached. Jimenez for his part made 45 appearances whilst scoring twelve goals.
At the end of the season, Jimenez’s transfer was made permanent, as he became Mexico’s most expensive player ever. His club enjoyed an even better season as the league and cup double was secured, but Jimenez himself suffered a slight dip in fortunes as injury restricted his appearances.
Into 2017-18 and although Jimenez managed more appearances, his goal tally was a disappointing 8 as, barring the Portuguese Super Cup, Benfica ended the season without a major trophy to their name.
By the summer of 2018, Raul Jimenez had made more than one-hundred appearances for Benfica in all competitions and had won close on seventy caps for his country. A good if not great career had so far ensued, but Jimenez knew that at 27 years of age if he was ever going to make the next step up it was now.
In June it was announced that Jimenez had become Wolves’ manager Nuno Espirito Santo’s first signing of the summer on a season-long loan. Making his debut in Wolves’ opening day Premier League fixture against Everton, Jimenez scored in a 2-2 draw.
Practically an ever-present in the Wolves team the entire season until now, Jimenez seems to be finally making good on his early promise. Blessed with physical strength and a fast action running style, Jimenez is already into double figures for the season as Wolves chase European qualification on two fronts. He has been described as an ‘old-fashioned number 9’ and it appears the British game suits Jimenez’s talents as he is now firing on all cylinders while the season heads towards its business end.
At the time of writing, Benfica are said to be considering sanctioning a permanent transfer for Jimenez to join Wolves for a reputed £30m transfer this summer.