Despite Wolves defensive solidity in the 2019/20 season, conceding just 58 goals in 59 games in all competitions, it was clear that centre half was a key area for development. Romain Saiss and Leander Dendoncker were two midfielders who had both deputised in the back line throughout the season, with the former becoming a regular starter. Transfer rumours came and went, but the solution to Wolves’ issues may have been at the club the whole time.
Max Kilman first appeared for Wolves in May 2019, being utilised as an injury time substitute in a 1-0 home victory against Fulham. It is fair to say it wasn’t the dream debut, amounting just 1 minute on the pitch, but the youngster would have plenty more opportunities in the 2019/20 season to prove his worth to Nuno Espirito Santo. In the season that followed, Kilman appeared in 3 Premier League games, starting twice, as well as playing a handful of minutes in the Europa League.
To an outsider, these numbers may look underwhelming for a 23-year-old, especially after a lengthy injury to regular starter Willy Boly, and the termination of Jesus Vallejo’s loan in January. However, the one thing that separates Kilman from the rest of the Premier League was his unique rise to the top.
As a kid, Kilman was no different to thousands of aspiring footballers up and down the country. He began his academy career at Fulham, before later signing for Gillingham. Nothing too spectacular, right? Wrong. At the age of 14, Kilman had also delved into the world of futsal, making such an impression that he later accumulated a stunning 25 caps for England. It’s not often you can say you have represented your nation whilst playing semi-professional football.
His futsal background had clearly aided his development in the 11-a-side game, allowing him to make the move from Maidenhead United to Wolves in August 2018, the first player to move from a Non-League side to the Premier League since Chris Smalling’s move from Maidstone United to Fulham in 2008.
With Willy Boly and Conor Coady being part of the furniture since Nuno’s arrival, the third centre half has often changed. Roderick Miranda, Ryan Bennett, Danny Batth, Romain Saiss, Jesus Vallejo and Leander Dendoncker have all had stints at the back, but Kilman seems to be making the spot his own. His ability to complete the simple tasks to a high-quality mean some of his performances can fly under the radar, which can be a pretty big compliment for a centre half.
Watching the left footed defender play on the left-hand side of a back 3 has been a joy to behold in the 2020/21 campaign so far, with his composure on the ball being a standout feature of his game. Playing alongside England International, Conor Coady, is sure to assist any young player coming into a side, but Kilman’s comfort at the top level is there for all to see.
The 6’4 Englishman has started Wolves’ previous 4 Premier League games, in which they have conceded just 1 goal, coming from a set piece. A calm display against Fulham was backed up with a Man of the Match performance away from home, against an extremely energetic Leeds United side. Kilman showed off both sides of his game at Elland Road, defending like a warrior to prevent Leeds from scoring, as well as displaying his wonderful passing range, picking up the assist for Wolves winning goal, a sumptuous cross-field ball to Raul Jimenez.
Wolves have rewarded Kilman for his stellar displays, extending his contract until 2025, with what I can only assume includes a big pay rise. Along with the recent addition of 19-year-old left back, Rayan Aït-Nouri, Wolves fans have even more reason to be optimistic, with the defence looking more youthful than ever. The future is looking golden at Molineux.