Thursday, June 22, 2023

Cherries Sack Survival Savior O’Neil

Gary O’Neil took over at Bournemouth last August after the club had just been clobbered in a 9-0 thrashing by Liverpool which tied a record for the worst defeat in Premier League history. His predecessor, Scott Parker, had lamented that the Cherries had no chance to compete following their promotion to the Premier League, citing a roster that had not been upgraded from their lower division success. Three successive defeats, the record capitulation, and the public rant ended things for Parker and opened the door for first time manager O’Neil.

Shockingly, the Cherries began his tenure with a six-match unbeaten run. Thirteen points in 11 matches would result in O’Neil’s status being upgraded from interim to permanent over the World Cup break. Shortly afterwards, the club was bought by American businessman Bill Foley. O’Neil would then go on to lead the south coast side to a 15th place finish in one of the more remarkable managerial performances of the season, apologies messieurs Guardiola, Howe and De Zerbi. One would have thought Foley to be pleased. An expected relegation would have been a poor early return on the American’s investment and O’Neil had provided a foundation to build on heading into this summer transfer window. Was Foley grateful for his manager’s performance? Not so much. O’Neil was sacked on Monday. His departure was necessary, according to the owner, to provide the club with “the best platform with which to build.” Ouch…

Just hours later Bournemouth would announce the appointment of a new manager in Andoni Iraola, most recently the manager of Rayo Vallecano in Spain’s La Liga. Such is the precarious existence of managers in the Premier League where often applauded success can still result in a pink slip. The new Bournemouth ownership envisions bigger things for the Cherries than mere survival and was looking for a more experienced manager whose clubs play with a bit more flair. A disciple of former Leeds Manager Marcelo Bielsa, Iraola’s clubs play an entertaining, high pressing, fast paced style.

In fairness to O’Neil, the Cherries personnel this past season largely dictated a more disciplined and pragmatic approach. Foley’s next move is to provide Iraola with the types of weapons he needs beginning with this transfer window. O’Neil leaves Bournemouth as a much younger version of English firefighter mangers such as survival experts Sam Allardyce and Roy Hodgsons, O’Neil having even tainted Allardyce’s reputation this past season as Leeds went down while the Cherries stayed up. Unfortunately for O’Neil, an English manager has never won a Premier League title and the implosion of Graham Potter at Chelsea this season does not help the perception of English managers. Andoni is the same age as O’Neil but is viewed as having a much higher ceiling and a more impressive resume after earning Rayo Vallecano promotion to La Liga and a semifinal finish in the Copa Del Rayo during his time there.

Bournemouth’s new manager becomes the fourth manager from the Basque region of Spain currently managing in the Premier League, joining Mikel Arteta, Unai Emery and Julian Lopetegui.

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