09 August 2023

Boost morale and win over the fans – The issues facing Gary O’Neil at Wolves

09 August 2023

Gary O’Neil has been appointed as the new Wolves head coach on a three-year contract following the departure of Julen Lopetegui.

Here, the PA news agency looks at the key issues in his in-tray at Molineux.

Steady ship and pick up morale

It has been a turbulent summer at the club. Relegation was ultimately avoided with something to spare last season, but then problems began as the reinforcements Lopetegui wanted did not arrive and some key players left. With rumours of disquiet growing louder by the week, the players left have effectively been told throughout pre-season that they are not good enough. Morale will likely be low and one of O’Neil’s first tasks will be to restore some order.

Get the fans onside

As well as getting the players on board, O’Neil is going to have to win over the fans. After the high-profile appointment of Lopetegui, a former Spain and Real Madrid coach with a strong reputation, the arrival of the former Bournemouth boss is underwhelming by comparison. It was clear some supporters were beginning to tire of Lopetegui’s complaints and perhaps felt replacing him now was better than allowing the situation to deteriorate further, but they could be forgiven for having doubts about the new man at the helm. Despite making an impression at Bournemouth last season, he remains relatively inexperienced and needs to prove himself.

Identify modest targets

The root of Lopetegui’s problems with the club was their need to balance the books. After spending heavily prior to the Spaniard’s arrival, a tightening of the purse strings has been necessary to ensure compliance with Financial Fair Play regulations. The implication from Lopetegui was that he was not aware of the extent to which this was necessary and consequently felt let down. After that rumpus, O’Neil should be more aware of the club’s financial constraints. The squad will need strengthening in areas, particularly in terms of strikers, and he will need to identify realistic targets.

Make a point to Bournemouth

This will not be in his in-tray as such, but O’Neil will also be driven by personal ambitions as well as those of the club. He took over in difficult circumstances at Bournemouth early last season, when Scott Parker was sacked after saying his squad was “under-equipped” to compete in the Premier League. He took the same group of players and guided them to a 15th-placed finish. His subsequent dismissal by the Cherries was widely regarded as harsh. By making an impact at Molineux he can undoubtedly make a point.

Prepare for Old Trafford

There will be little time to settle before the first game of the Premier League season arrives, and it is hardly a straightforward opener. Wolves travel to Manchester United on Monday. He will need to catch up quickly on Wolves’ pre-season performances, analyse what he has at his disposal and put a team together. It is a tall order but, in terms of assessing United, he may at least have some recent work to fall back on, having faced Erik ten Hag’s side in his penultimate match with Bournemouth.

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