It was on the fairways of Wentworth that Matt Doherty began to dream of returning to Wolverhampton Wanderers.

During a round of golf at the famous course in Surrey this summer, Doherty bumped into Wolves sporting director Matt Hobbs and the pair began discussing the possibility of a comeback.

Just a month later, the deal has been done and Doherty is back with a point to prove.

It has been a long road for Doherty to get back to where he started. It has taken him to two countries over three seasons, featuring in seven different competitions but with just 54 of those as starts. It has been a rough ride.

Now a man who spent a decade at Molineux and became a favourite for the fans — having made over 300 appearances across the top three divisions of English football — is back for a second stint.

Welcome home, @mattdoherty20!


— Wolves (@Wolves) July 20, 2023

And after a difficult spell away from the club where he made his name, Doherty will hope a return to familiar surroundings can spark a return to the form that made him a mainstay of then-manager Nuno Espirito Santo’s celebrated side.

Doherty is 31 now, a different player to the 28-year-old who earned the chance to ply his trade with one of the Premier League’s ‘Big Six’ in the summer of 2020.

But Wolves have decided that his experience, his familiarity with them, his enduring quality and his availability as a free agent make him the ideal man to return and push Nelson Semedo, who was his £30million ($38.5m) replacement, for the right-back berth.

Julen Lopetegui needed little persuading about the merits of signing Doherty, who was a free agent this summer after leaving Atletico Madrid. When the Spaniard came close to taking over at Wolves in 2017, before accepting the Spain national team job instead, Doherty was one of the players he expressed excitement about working with.

Three years later, Lopetegui saw Doherty up close when his Sevilla side faced Wolves in the quarter-finals of the Europa League. He liked what he saw.

The appeal of a Doherty return, however, was about more than what he might offer on the field. Having lost Conor Coady, Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho, John Ruddy and Romain Saiss in the last two summers, Wolves were drawn to the Republic of Ireland international’s wealth of experience in the Premier League and in an era of success for Wolves.

With many younger players in the dressing room, Doherty’s know-how was a major attraction.

While most of Doherty’s success at Wolves came as a wing-back in Nuno’s side, Wolves are confident he can adapt to figure in Lopetegui’s favoured back four and his ability to switch to left-back if required was also seen as a handy string to his bow.

(Photo: DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)

Three years ago, it seemed the club had seen the last of the man signed in 2010 after he stood out while playing against Mick McCarthy’s Wolves team for Dublin-based League of Ireland side Bohemians in a pre-season friendly.

He had played 302 times for Wolves in all competitions, enjoyed the complete journey from League One to the last eight of the Europa League via an FA Cup semi-final and successive seventh-place Premier League finishes — and became an unlikely goalscoring hero, finding the net 28 times.

His performances were such that Jose Mourinho and Tottenham Hotspur came calling and, despite some grumbles within the industry that the then-Spurs manager had offered a plum move to a client of his own agent, Jorge Mendes, the Republic of Ireland international seemed like an upgrade for the Londoners from the accident-prone Serge Aurier.

The move to the capital never worked out as Doherty had hoped, not least as Mourinho, despite signing him, rarely seemed to have enough faith in his ability to hand him an extended run of games.

(Photo: Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images)

And there were issues, which will be brought up on his return to Molineux, about adapting to an orthodox full-back role in a Mourinho back four, having played his best football for Wolves as a wing-back.

“I don’t think people realise they’re that different, but they are,” Doherty told The Athletic in September 2020. “I realised when I went into a back four consistently since the start of the season that you just don’t have to do as much defending as a wing-back.

“Going into a back four, it’s certainly tougher, and it’s something I’m getting used to and improving with each game. The differences are mostly defensively. I’m still able to get in at the back post and get forward, but it’s just harder work because you’re coming from deeper and you’re not necessarily up the pitch all the time.

“When you play as a wing-back for so long, you pick up a few bad habits. You probably don’t get in as tight to your centre-back as much as you should and it’s about your body position. I’m still looking to improve in a back four.”

Improvement might have come more quickly had Doherty’s treatment by Mourinho improved. Instead, it hit a low on a Sunday evening at Villa Park in March 2021.

After defeats against Arsenal and Dinamo Zagreb — Doherty was not involved in the latter, which put Spurs out of Europe, but had struggled at the Emirates — he was in the travelling party to face Aston Villa but did not make the matchday squad of 20, with teenagers Alfie Devine and Dane Scarlett named on the bench instead.

With Covid-19 protocols still in place, it meant Doherty had to sit by himself on the team bus while his colleagues prepared for the game before being allowed to take a seat in the stands at kick-off.

It seemed like an unnecessary humiliation at the hands of Mourinho with Doherty, who was due to travel to Manchester later that night on his way to reporting for national-team duty, admitting “genuinely, because it was the international break straight after, I was so close to just getting in the car and going”.

The sacking of Mourinho a month later and the unexpected arrival of his old Wolves boss Nuno as his successor that summer brought fresh hope that his Spurs career could be revived. Instead, the frustration continued as Nuno seemed reluctant to use him, too. There was a feeling at Tottenham that, despite the pair sharing much success at Molineux, Nuno had reservations about Doherty, hence the decision to let him leave Wolves just over a year before.

Only with the arrival of Antonio Conte in the November did Doherty begin to find some form and the second half of that 2021-22 season brought his best spell in Tottenham colours as he was selected regularly at right wing-back and began to find consistency.

He was enjoying life off the pitch as well, forming close friendships with team-mates Eric Dier and Harry Kane, with Dier and Doherty sharing overseas trips to Grands Prix and art galleries. But an injury, back at his old nemesis Villa Park, in the early April brought his season to an end and he never regained the same form.

After sporadic appearances at the start of last season, Doherty found himself on his way to Madrid in January to sign for Atletico as Spurs instigated a clearout. The move had been intended to be a loan but such a deal would have pushed Tottenham over the FIFA limit for those, so they ripped up a contract that had 18 months to run instead, allowing him to sign a short-term one in the Spanish capital.

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What seemed an unlikely move, perhaps to nobody’s surprise, became an unsuccessful one with regular Atletico observers never convinced coach Diego Simeone was on board with his arrival. It took more than a month after signing for the Irishman to make his first La Liga appearance and he left Spain at the end of last season as a free agent, having figured in two matches for a total of 18 minutes, and on both occasions was sent on when Atletico were winning 5-1.

“I am just using it as a learning experience,” he said in March. “I am improving by training with world-class players every day. I am using the six months I have here to try and get better, to try and understand the game better and improve my overall game.“

Now, Doherty has the chance to showcase his improvements on a stage where he is respected and appreciated. Hobbs and Lopetegui have been struck during negotiations by Doherty’s desire to show that the player who excelled at Molineux is still there.

He still has a house in the area and his family is expected to settle quickly, so adapting to life at Wolves should be easy. He has been training alone throughout the summer but will take some time to catch up with team-mates, who are three weeks into a traditional pre-season programme.

Wolves are confident, however, that he has time to be 100 per cent ready for the start of the season, while the man himself is hoping home comforts can get him back to his best.

(Top photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)