After almost two years in the role, Michael O’Neill is starting to feel like he’s putting his Stoke team in a position where they can fight for promotion again.
The Potters were relegated in 2018 after a decade in the Premier League and set out with the immediate intention of returning to the top flight. A lot of money was spent under Gary Rowett – who lasted less than six months – while Nathan Jones then survived less than a year.
This quarter, Stoke has entered his fourth straight season in the Championship and has started well, with four wins and one draw in six games so far.
“The club have invested heavily after relegation, spending over £ 70million on players,” he said Air sports ahead of his team’s clash with Barnsley on Wednesday night, which is live on Sky Sports Football. “With that, long-term contracts, which are lucrative in the championship, are included.
“Then when you try to change things, it becomes a lot harder to get things done and get the team where you want them to be.”
O’Neill understands the demands of instant success in the game these days, but believes patience has been a virtue in getting the club back to where it needs to be.
“We’re a little further from where we want to go,” O’Neill continues. “It wasn’t the case that I wanted to change everything for fun. Nobody ever comes to the club with the intention of not doing well, but I think sometimes for the players it just doesn’t work.
“The club didn’t have the impact in the league they were hoping for after being relegated, we probably ended up with a group of players who had been brought in by different managers, there was a bit of disillusionment, c ‘was a bit heavy in terms of numbers and a lot of players wanted too. So we had to tackle that. “
In the summer of 2020, O’Neill dispatched 18 players out of the club, in the window that just disappeared he was 22. Six more have arrived permanently for this season, while three have come on loan.
Overall, Stoke’s boss thinks the players who have arrived are younger and hungrier.
“It was a big window for us,” says O’Neill. “There has been a huge turnover in the squad and there are a lot of young players in the squad. That’s how I think you build a team to challenge to get out of this level of football.
“We’ve only signed a few players for a fee. Our net spending is low as we’ve secured over £ 12million for Nathan Collins. All of these things are important and we’ve done quite a bit of shrewd signings.
“It’s also about putting together the right group. I can see how some people think that if you go into this league and invest heavily you should expect automatic returns. But I think the fact that the club was out of the championship for quite a long time has made it more difficult to adapt. Clubs that move up and down more regularly – like West Brom and Norwich – are better equipped to deal with it. “
It is still extremely early this season, but signs are positive so far for Stoke City after several seasons of underperformance. O’Neill feels they are on the right track.
“The goal for us is to build a team that can reach the Premier League, and if we can do that, we will learn a lot of lessons along the way to keep us going,” he said.
“It’s about the structure within the club and the age profile of the players. For me, it’s about getting players to the right stages in their careers with the right motivations.
“We now have a lot of players in our squad who have this real desire to come into the Premier League and play. I think that was the right way to go.”