Gary O’Neil revealed he expected to still be job hunting at this point in the season after being sacked by Bournemouth in the summer, and is determined to repay Wolves for the faith they showed in him.
The 40-year-old’s first trip back to former employers Bournemouth ended in a 2-1 comeback victory on Saturday for his new side, now on a four-game unbeaten run in the top flight while the Cherries still remain in search of their first win of the season.
O’Neil, who took over at Molineux on a three-year-deal in August, oversaw a return of 36 points from his 34 top-flight games in charge to help Bournemouth avoid relegation in 2022/23 and was even a candidate on some pundits’ lists for manager of the season before he was sacked in June.
He said: “I didn’t really think about the level that I would be going in at (after sacking), I just knew I was ready to go back in and I expected it to be winter. I expected managers to start the season, some of them struggle, some of them do well, and then there would be an opportunity around now or the next few weeks.
“So the timing of it was a surprise. I know I’m capable of managing a big club, so I’m extremely grateful to Wolves because to give a young manager with only 10 months experience the reins is big belief and I’m hoping to repay them like I did when I was [at Bournemouth].
“I’m just working as hard as ever. Leave the office at half 10 at night, get in at seven o’clock in the morning, just in a different part of the country.”
O’Neil was appointed interim Bournemouth boss in August 2022 following the departure of Scott Parker, and made his Premier League managerial debut against Wolves, that goalless draw marking the beginning of a six-game unbeaten run that eventually helped earn him the permanent position.
By the end of the campaign the Cherries had survived a tense relegation battle, with O’Neil’s subsequent exit leaving many wondering if Bournemouth’s new owners would eventually rue their decision to let him go.
He said: “The world of football maybe sees my departure from [Bournemouth] differently to what I did, I would guess, which I understand. I’m guessing consensus was probably, ‘Oh, that’s a harsh one’, where was I was like, ‘that’s life. I’ve had an opportunity, I’ve done the best I can with it.’
“What I set myself was to leave [Bournemouth] in a better place than I found it. I left with my head held high and I started my managerial career, and that’s all it is. There’s never any more than that.”
Andoni Iraola, the man now in charge of the Cherries, is under more pressure than ever to deliver results after Saturday’s home contest derailed in the second half.
Dominic Solanke fired the hosts to a 1-0 lead that stood at half-time, but Matheus Cunha levelled within minutes of the restart before Lewis Cook’s needless red card sent what had been a resilient side down to 10 men, and a late defensive gaffe allowed Sasa Kalajdzic to score the winner.
Iraola, whose team sit second-bottom with three points from nine contests, said: “Especially when you are in the relegation spots like we are now, we have to be worried. I’m the first one to be worried.
“Now it’s a matter of finding ways to win. I think we prepared very well, we had the plan more or less quite clear, but it’s not enough with the things we are doing.”