On the verge of Premier League with Bournemouth - but ex-Portsmouth favourite gunning for future Fratton Park return

Gary O’Neil is poised for a fifth career promotion – but has his heart set on a future Fratton Park reunion.

Saturday, 2nd April 2022, 5:00 pm
Gary O'Neil is senior first-team coach at Premier League chasing Bournemouth, yet harbours ambition of a Pompey return in the future
Gary O'Neil is senior first-team coach at Premier League chasing Bournemouth, yet harbours ambition of a Pompey return in the future

Bournemouth are closing in on a Premier League return, presently second in the Championship with a six-point cushion in the automatic promotion spots.

As senior first-team coach, O’Neil is carving out a new reputation following a playing career which saw him win promotion with West Ham, QPR, Norwich and, of course, Pompey.

Sign up to our Portsmouth FC newsletter

Having hung up his boots, O’Neil has worked in Liverpool’s under-23 as assistant manager and, since February 2021, with the Cherries.

But he retains aspirations to return to Pompey as either a coach or manager – one day.

The 38-year-old told The News: ‘Since the day I left Fratton Park, I’ve always said I wanted to go back.

‘I was close to returning as a player once or twice, but a lot of things needed to happen for it to fall into place – and never quite did.

‘Now I’m coaching and Pompey have a good group of staff in place at the moment, they seem to be going through a decent spell, with results picking up.

‘I’d love to go back there, but I’m young as a coach, there’s plenty of time, no rush, I’m loving my time at Bournemouth, the guys here have been fantastic to me.

‘Full focus now is on the last few weeks of the season and trying to make sure we get to the Premier League for what would be a fifth promotion on my CV.

‘I had a good stint at playing and now, having retired, thankfully people are still able to put their trust in me to work at football clubs at a good level coaching, which makes me feel very privileged.

‘I started doing my coaching badges at 27 and looking at the game differently because I knew I wanted to manage. That hasn’t changed, I still want to be a manager at some point.

‘I’m in no real rush to do it. Sometimes it can be easy to wish things away because you’re in a rush to get to somewhere, without actually recognising the position you’re in is a good one and you are lucky.

‘I am working under a really good manager in Scott Parker, alongside good coaches and a good technical director in my former Pompey team-mate Richard Hughes, they’ve been great to me.’

O’Neil was sold to Middlesbrough by Harry Redknapp for £5m in August 2007.

He would later feature for West Ham, QPR, Norwich, Bristol City and Bolton – but never achieved that emotional return to Fratton Park.

He added: ‘If I’d had a choice, I would have spent my whole career at Pompey.

‘Whether that would have happened anyway because of the trouble the club got in financially, remains to be seen. I may have had to be moved on at some point, like other people were.

‘But leaving was the toughest part, it was something that maybe if I could have changed, I would have.

‘I wasn’t desperate to leave in any way and was disappointed not to spend longer there, but, ultimately, it was my favourite place to play football.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

You can support our local team of expert Pompey writers by subscribing here for all the latest news from Fratton Park for 9p a day, thanks to our 30%-off transfer window deal.