Former Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill has been sacked by Championship side Stoke City just five matches into the new season. The Potters sit 21st in the table with just one win from their opening five league games.
The club lost 1-0 to newly-promoted Sunderland on Saturday and were also knocked out of this year’s Carabao Cup at the hands of League One side Morecambe earlier this month.
Stoke have announced that Michael O’Neill’s assistant manager Dean Holden will take temporary charge of the team whilst the club search for the right candidate to take the job on a full-time basis.
Stoke City’s joint Chairman John Coates issued a statement regarding O’Neill’s sacking:
“Michael joined us in November 2019 when the club was in a difficult situation and the job he did in stabilising our position in the Championship should not be underestimated.
“Michael has worked tirelessly and with extreme professionalism, in particular in reshaping our squad and developing young players, but we feel the time is right to move in a different direction. I would like to thank him for his efforts and wish him every success for the future.”
John Coates: The Guardian
Michael O’Neill’s Time at Stoke
O’Neill joined Stoke after having left the Northern Ireland national team, succeeding Nathan Jones as manager with the club sitting second-bottom of the Championship.
He was able to guide the club away from the danger of relegation in his first season as the club finished 15th. In each of the next two seasons, the Potters would go on to finish in 14th place.
Michael O’Neill did a great job of stabilising the club after taking over in 2019 as he dealt with multiple issues such as players lacking in motivation and refusing to leave the club as a result of being on inflated wages.
The Northern Irishman was able to reduce the wage bill from £40 million down to £20 million and placed more emphasis on young players such as Tyrese Campbell and Nathan Collins, who earned the club £12 million after moving to Burnley in 2021.
Having brought in this stability it was expected that O’Neill could build on it and lead Stoke to the upper echelons of the table, fighting for promotion and potentially lead them back to the Premier League for the first time since the 2017/18 season. Unfortunately, this never materialised.
A poor run of form dating back to the second half of last season was ultimately O’Neill’s downfall. It became increasingly clear that a change in direction would be needed for the Potters to realise their pre-season ambitions of a promotion challenge.
In his final press conference as manager O’Neill had called for more perspective surrounding the club’s poor start to the season:
“We’re five games into the season, there’s a lot of football to be played and I think it’s about keeping it in perspective as well and that’s what we’ll try to do.”
Michael O’Neill: Sky Sports
Sadly for the Northern Irishman, the Stoke board felt differently and he leaves the club after 142 matches in charge.
We know what an early season change did for Nottingham Forest last season as they stormed to promotion under Steve Cooper. Could this change have the same effect for Stoke?
Who is Next?
The fact that Stoke have pulled the trigger on O’Neill this early on in the season and with a week left to go in the transfer window suggests that they have a replacement lined up already.
In fact, the Stoke players are said to be shocked with the news, given how early on it is and how well backed Michael O’Neill was in the transfer market with the Potters having brought in nine new faces this summer.
Sean Dyche has emerged as the early favourite to take the Potters hot seat. Given his record of getting promoted out the Championship with Burnley and helping them stabilise in the Premier League, even getting them to European qualifiers in one season, this would be a very shrewd appointment.