Defeat away to Ipswich in EFL Cup left supporters fuming but former Bournemouth boss is asking for patience after inheriting a squad that he thinks were operating as individuals rather than a team.
Gary O’Neil knew what he was getting into when he committed to the Wolves job five days before their Premier League campaign began.
These remain early days but even he will freely admit that he is not yet getting out of the players what is expected. Tuesday night’s collapse away to Championship high-flyers Ipswich, having led 2-0 after 16 minutes, was greeted with fury by the 1,900 travelling fans and already the blame is being directed towards a head coach who claims he inherited a mess, but is yet to produce evidence of improvement.
Asked if he had a message for the fans at Portman Road, many of whom weren’t happy that O’Neil hadn’t gone over to acknowledge them at full-time, O’Neil said “to stick with the group” before delivering a two-minute monologue elaborating why right now it all looks so ugly.
“We are six weeks in, with a game every five or six days, to a process. There is no magic wand,” he continued. “I can guarantee you, when I arrived the place was not running perfectly and ready to go into a Premier League season. There are a lot of things that need fixing.
“I sit here and answer the questions and I’m willing to take responsibility, but the facts are you need some time to put things in place. That did not look like a team that I’ve worked with for very long, which it isn’t.
“Do I accept that we need to get results? Of course. Do I want the fans to enjoy every game we play and come away supporting the players? Of course. I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we get it there and we will get it there, but the transfer window is closed and we need to get the maximum out of the group.”
For O’Neil those who have gone before must be held accountable, not least his predecessor Julen Lopetegui. Among the issues, the former Bournemouth head coach believes, was a sense of individualism rather than team-work within the dressing room and, of course, the recruitment restrictions caused by the club’s need to remain within financial fair play parameters.
“When I arrived, the culture of the club needed a shift,” he continued. “Some of it needed to move into more togetherness and the way they went about things was very individual-focused and there wasn’t a lot of structure to what they did.
“There’s a big list of things that need fixing. I understand it’s my responsibility. People will say ‘oh they did fine last year’, but the truth is they got 41 points last year and we made an £80m profit on players in the summer. We’re £80m short of where we were last year.
“I played that Wolves side when I was manager of Bournemouth, fairly late on in the season, and I know exactly where it was and exactly what it could or couldn’t do. We need to move it from that, in a more difficult situation now than the club was then.
“They are the facts of the job and I understood that when I took it and I understand it now. Every weekend is not going to be rosy, we’re going to suffer for some tough weekends and we’re going to need to crack on and go again.”
There was some logic behind O’Neil’s comments. Equally the comparisons to last season have grown tired and he could do worse than remember that Julen Lopetegui walked out because he felt there were myriad issues behind the scenes, headlined by the lack of funds available to improve the squad. But Lopetegui was not sacked and many fans were sympathetic towards him.
The £80m claim, meanwhile, requires further scrutiny. Wolves’ net profit was closer to £60m and of the departures only Ruben Neves and Matheus Nunes should be considered significant blows.
Nathan Collins may have been a regular in defence and he was not initially on the list of players up for sale but they were also more than willing to accept Brentford’s £22m bid, while Raul Jimenez was far from a regular last term.
Fears of a relegation battle are already growing, although the one thing to ease such alarm in late September is the sense that all three promoted sides are in even weaker positions. But with Manchester City visiting Molineux on Saturday afternoon, O’Neil could face even more difficult questions about the direction of his process.
They began the campaign with a creditable performance away to Manchester United when he had barely taken a training session. It has been a busy schedule but on the evidence of Tuesday and Saturday’s draw away to Luton the individuals appear no closer to operating like a well-oiled machine.