LIAM BERRY TALKS ABOUT WOLVES NEW HEAD COACH GARY O'NEIL
Wolves have acted quickly after the exit of Lopetegui, who was at the club for nine months, the shortest reign since Wolves’ return to the Premier League in 2018.
They have replaced him with Englishmen Gary O’Neil.
The 40-year-old was sacked by Bournemouth in the middle of June, after keeping the cherries up against all the odds in 2022/23 campaign.
This sacking came as a shock, as many pundits and people around the country touted him as Manager of the Season, he was then replaced by Rayo Vallecano’s Andoni Iraola.
So why is O’Neil considered as the man for the job?
O’Neil’s coaching career began with an assistant manager role for the Liverpool U23s alongside Barry Lewtas.
He was in this role for six months and 13 days, and ended up leaving for the Bournemouth assistant coach role, working with Jonathan Woodgate in the Championship.
Despite Woodgate being dismissed from his job, O’Neil stayed at the Cherries and was now working under Scott Parker.
He and Parker took Bournemouth to promotion back to the Premier League, finishing second on 88 points and scoring 74.
On their return the the Premier League, Bournemouth ended up spending £24.2 million whilst also securing free agents, but this was not to a standard that Parker was hoping for.
After a 9-0 thumping against Liverpool, in his post match press conference Parker said ‘ I feel sorry for the fans, I feel sorry for the players because we are just a bit under-equipped at this level from where we’ve come from and what we have. It has been difficult.’
These comments effectively got him the sack from his job, which left his assistant, O’Neil, as the interim head coach.
In his new role, he steadied the ship instantly, going on an unbeaten run for six games, winning two and drawing four. Judging where Bournemouth were at, that was considered as a huge achievement.
However they did go on to lose their next four games on the bounce.
Despite the rocky period, Bournemouth owner put his trust in the Englishman, and appointed O’Neil as the permanent first team manager on the 28th of November 2022, during the World Cup break.
The young manager had his first window in charge, and made some important coups in January, spending close to £60 million.
These signings gave Bournemouth more attacking freedom, and O’Neil was free to play the style of football he desired.
He went on to secure safety with a game spare, finishing 15th, two places behind Lopetegui’s Wolves
So what is his style, and what makes it so attractive to the Wolves board?
O’Neil fielded a host of variety of formations, with his most predominant being 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1, however both were used in a similar way.
Certain players in certain positions were used to gel the team, and create as much chances as they can, which came on the counter.
O’Neil was heavily reliant on using the counter to catch teams out, especially when they have a high line. They would win the ball back and attack in numbers.
I want to highlight Philip Billing and Dominic Solanke’s roles in this system, and how i think it could replicated with Fabio Silva and Matheus Cunha.
Solanke’s hold up play and his ability on the ball allows him either to maintain the ball waiting for reinforcements to help hurt the opposing team, or to turn and run. Similar to Jon Dadi Bodvarsson back in the day.
Silva possesses the same, and is very good in tight spaces, which will make him perfect for this role, his hold up play is also something not to underestimate.
His partner in crime, which could well be Cunha, would take up the Billing role. Timing his runs into the box, given the freedom to link up with his fellow attackers to generate chances. And this is his best position for me, he played there for much of last season and he is most dangerous when given license to create chances.
Pace is also needed, as last season Bournemouth had the fifth highest direct speed measure, at 1.52 metres per second. So they get the ball from one end of the pitch to the other in quick style.
Despite losing Adama Traore, Wolves still have pace in abundance, with Pedro Neto and Matheus Nunes showing their speed on and off the ball. Also still have the likes of Hwang Hee-Chan and Daniel Podence who can transition in a quick fashion.
One of Bournemouths stand out performers was left back Matias Vina. Reason being is that he was given the license to join the attack. Prime example when he scored against Tottenham where he found himself on the end of a beautiful through ball, and delicately dinks it over the keeper.
This role could suit Rayan Ait-Nouri. The Algerian has a clear attacking playstyle, and is great on the ball, but he also found himself on the scoresheet a couple times last season, including a last gasp winner at Goodison Park on Boxing day.
However, Ait-Nouri fell out of favour with Lopetegui during the end of the season, so maybe this appointment could light a spark with the youngster and get him playing his best football.
O’Neil likes to keep his team organised and compact, it’s what ultimately won them the game when Bournemouth beat Wolves 1-0. They were defensively solid and Lopetegui couldn’t break them down.
If he is to replicate this, he will have two solid defenders in Craig Dawson and Max Kilman, not to mention the midfield that can protect them.
Ultimately, O’Neil can play to Wolves’ strengths, and bring back the old counter attacking exciting style that the fans fell in love with in the Nuno Era. It’s what brought the fans off their seats, the feeling of uncertainty that one minute we are in our own half fighting for our lives, the next celebrating in front of the South Bank.
The atmosphere for some time has been stale. It could be for many reasons but the boring possession style could play a part. Maybe this direct counter attacking football could bring back the spark that had many Premier League players stating that they were scared to play here…
ARTICLE BY LIAM BERRY
I am a life long Wolves fan that is passionate for the club. I am a sixth form student who loves writing about things I love!