Gary O’Neill emerging as the best young English manager in the Premier League


Wolves’ players had to persuade Gary O’Neill to take his moment of acclaim in front of the travelling support at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The 40-year-old is a reserved character, but has forged an eye-catching team that pulled off an extremely impressive away win over Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday. He deserved the applause.

O’Neill is emerging as the best young English coach in the Premier League. Wolves have beaten Manchester City, Chelsea and Spurs (home and away) this season with the Molineux outfit sitting comfortably in 11th place in the Premier League table when many predicted they would instead face a fight against relegation.

Julen Lopetegui’s departure just days before the start of the 2023/24 season left Wolves in disarray. The Spaniard was unhappy with the lack of transfer business conducted at Molineux in the summer transfer window and so many believed O’Neill would simply lack the tools to turn Wolves’ fortunes around.

Instead, Wolves have progressed under O’Neill who has quickly given his team a clear identity and structure despite the lack of a pre-season. Saturday’s away victory over Tottenham demonstrated just how far they have come in a short space of time with a top half finish now within reach.

In attacking transition, Wolves are one of the most dangerous teams in the Premier League right now. Matheus Cunha, Hwang Hee-chan and Pedro Neto have flourished as a front three this season and have combined for 21 league goals. Their fluidity and understanding in the final third prove the standard of O’Neill’s coaching.

Against Spurs, Wolves’ midfield was also impressive. Joao Gomes and Mario Lemina could have been outnumbered and overwhelmed by the Tottenham trio of Yves Bissouma, James Maddison and Pape Sarr, but they were proactive in covering a huge amount of ground and preventing the hosts from playing through the middle. Wolves’ pressing was targeted and smart.

When Wolves won the ball in the centre of the pitch, they were quick to move possession into the attack. Gomes was the standout performer and produced the sort of box-to-box display that will surely attract suitors in the summer transfer window if he can continue in this manner between now and the end of the season.

O’Neill himself could be targeted by other clubs if he continues to impress. The 40-year-old was harshly treated by Bournemouth who sacked him despite keeping the Cherries up against the odds, but has since restored his reputation by pushing Wolves to the edge of the top half of the Premier League table.

The England job would come too early for O’Neill if it were to become available this summer. Gareth Southgate reportedly could leave as Three Lions boss after Euro 2024 and there’s a world in which O’Neill could be seen as a potential successor. Candidates such as Eddie Howe and Graham Potter, however, would likely be higher on the shortlist.

That is the sort of level O’Neill could reach in his managerial career, though. He might be understated in some of his touchline behaviour, but the 40-year-old is a clear communicator and is popular with the media. He is a sharp tactical thinker and has demonstrated this at Bournemouth and Wolves.

Under another manager, this season could have been a disaster for Wolves. Last season was an underwhelming one for the Molineux side and a calamitous summer hinted at another disappointing season coming. O’Neill, however, has imposed himself on Wolves and pointed them in the right direction. He is at the vanguard of English football’s next generation of managers.

Author: Mark Hayes