Romain Saiss is out of contract in the summer and he admits that after six years as a Wolves player his time at the club could soon be coming to an end.
“More or less,” Saiss tells Sky Sports when asked if his future has been decided. Does that mean he will be staying? Though he has been offered a new deal, he suggests that the opposite is more likely to be true. “No, more away than staying,” he adds.
“I think if everything is not done before the end of the season it just means it is time to go because I want to be fixed for next season. With the World Cup, I need to start the season at the right time. I need to know what will happen with me as soon as possible.”
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Saiss will be a loss to Wolves. The Morocco international has made more than 200 appearances for the club since joining from French club Angers in the summer of 2016, among the most by any player outside the British Isles in the club’s 145-year history.
He was a key midfielder in Wolves’ promotion to the Premier League in 2018, playing 42 games that season, and has since redefined himself as a ball-playing centre-back operating either side of Conor Coady in one of the meanest defences in the country.
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It is all the more remarkable given that he had found himself out of favour in his first season at the club under Paul Lambert. “The first year was a nightmare,” he laughs. And though he must have been tempted by a swift return to France, the project soon took shape.
“It was not good at first, but I think also it was because the owners had just bought the club in the summer so it was hard also for them to do what they wanted to do in terms of bringing the right players, the right coach, all these things. It took time.”
For him and for Wolves, everything changed when the club appointed Nuno Espirito Santo in the summer of 2017.
“After the club made the good choice with Nuno, they brought in the right players to help the club and since that second season we started building something together with the players and the staff, and we achieved great things for this club.”
There is a lengthy list of favourite memories. “Six years is a long time.” The run to the quarter-final of the Europa League stands out. “All the games in Europe, they were amazing.” The FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. “We were very close to the final.”
And the promotion that started it all, his partnership with Ruben Neves proving pivotal. Upon reaching the Premier League, Saiss was ousted from his midfield spot by Joao Moutinho but has no complaints. He rates him as the best that he has played alongside.
“You think of a player like Joao who has many, many caps for one of the best teams in Europe,” says Saiss. “But we are lucky to have had a lot of good players. Diogo [Jota] is doing well for Liverpool and we still have plenty of talent in this team.”
Moutinho’s arrival led to a change of position. He refashioning himself as a defender, and his role in the team has arguably been underrated ever since. Bruno Lage has left Saiss on the bench only twice, referring to him by his nickname, the Moroccan Maldini.
Speaking to Sky Sports at the club’s training ground, Saiss is shown the statistic that reveals he has played more forward passes than any other defender in the Premier League this season, ahead of Virgil van Dijk, Joao Cancelo and Trent Alexander-Arnold on the list.
“I think it is the fact that I was a midfielder,” he explains. “As a midfielder, I always wanted to receive the ball. I know sometimes I take some risks because finding that right pass can be difficult but if that pass finds my team-mate it can put the opponent in trouble.
“So I keep going for this pass even if I make a mistake, I keep pushing to be better and find the right decision. It is easy to play safe but I like to look forward and break lines to help the team in the build-up. I did not start in this position so I have had to develop myself.
“I think I have improved because if you are still playing for this kind of club year after year with good players it means you have some qualities as a minimum. So, yes, I am improving. Maybe I could improve faster but I think I am not the same player as six years ago.”
Now 32, that growth is underlined by his status as Morocco captain. He even received a call from King Mohammed VI on the pitch after securing World Cup qualification. “A bit nervous, but it was good.” As he points out, it is why it is vital that his future is sorted quickly.
But before that, there is a season to finish, one that could still end in European qualification for Wolves if they can win at least two of their last three matches. Unfortunately, that includes games against Manchester City and Liverpool so it will not be straightforward.
“We can decide the title because we play Liverpool and City,” says Saiss. “But the most important thing is to think about our objectives, to think about us.” A draw at Chelsea offered some hope after a dip in form, but Wolves will clearly need to improve.
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“We have burnt a lot of our jokers in the past but we still have three games to go. We have to fight until the end to have no regrets. We are doing a fantastic season. Of course, there have been difficulties. But we have to bounce back, come back to our basics.
“Europe is the next step. I don’t know if I am going to be here or not but the next step is to try to compete more regularly with the top teams, fight every year for Europe because the players want to compete for the best and that means European football every year.
“You have a great stadium with fantastic fans who are behind you every game. The environment for the players is very good. Now the club is stable in the Premier League, everyone knows what team Wolves are. Now it is up to the club to keep improving.”
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His message to supporters is that, whatever happens next, he has enjoyed the ride, and his humble assessment of his own abilities will only earn him more admirers at Molineux.
“I never thought that I would stay for six years but I am really happy to have played a part in this project since the first day I signed for this club. I have met a lot of great people. As a lot of people have said, I have never had this kind of dressing room before.
“It is going to stay in my heart forever because I realised one of my dreams to play in the Premier League and I did it with this club. That is why I came here. Firstly, to help the club to the Premier League. And then to stabilise the club in the Premier League.
“If I have to leave I just say thank you for the support through these six years. Maybe I am not the best player they have seen at this club. But I always fought for the club, always gave my best. I gave everything. If they can keep something in their mind it is this.
“I will be a wolf forever.”
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