Time has been a common theme to Stoke City manager Michael O'Neill’s tenure at the bet365 Stadium, since taking over in November 2019.
The 52-year-old, who marked two years with the Potters last week, has a strange sensation when the international interval comes around as pause is pressed on the Sky Bet Championship for the week.
What would’ve been his busiest time of year – having spent just shy of a decade in charge of the Northern Ireland national team – now presents the Stoke boss with time to recuperate and take stock.
“I have to say, I look forward to the international breaks when they come around!” he exclaimed, speaking on the Official EFL Podcast. “As a Club manager, you need them.”
O’Neill, who used the latest break as a chance to escape to the Scottish capital to visit family, admitted he wasn’t used to the hectic EFL calendar but has since acclimatised and it’s all systems go at Stoke City, who occupy fifth place.
“The schedule is crazy,” he added. “We’ve had a midweek game every week outside of the international breaks, so there’s a lot of preparation. The emotions of the up and down every two or three days of playing a game is the biggest challenge I’ve found in the job. You go from playing eight or 10 games a year to playing eight to 10 games a month. I’ve adapted to it now.”
For a team that sat rock bottom of the Championship standings when the Potters manager succeeded Nathan Jones at the helm, it has been quite some turnaround for O’Neill and Stoke City.
Whilst streamlining his squad was his first priority, the long-term future of the Club was always at the back of his mind.
“Building the culture within a Club takes time,” he said. “It ultimately is affected directly by results and I don’t believe you can ever have a fantastic culture if your results aren’t going well and people are always looking for a way out.
“The first thing when I came to the Club was survival. We were at the bottom of the table and six or eight points from safety.
“We had a pretty disillusioned group of players that had been put together in quite a short space of time by three different managers – Paul Lambert for six months in the Premier League, then Gary Rowett and Nathan Jones coming in. I was surprised when I came to the Club of the number of players that wanted to get out of the Club and the situation we were in, so they didn’t have blood on their hands. That gave me quite a stark insight into what was needed.”
Two years on, Stoke are a top-half Championship team, aiming for a top six finish and possibly a promotion on the cards.
“We’re having to do the promotion push and build a promotion team in a different way than we did when we came down.
“We got a good fee for Nathan Collins that we only invest in players 23 and under. We’ve brought players through that were on the edge of things – people like Tyreese Campbell, Harry Souttar, Josh Tymon and Josef Bursik.
“All of that takes a little bit of time.”