Finally a Red! The new u23 assistant coach who nearly joined Liverpool in 2007

Gary O’Neil aims to bring 21 years of first-term experience to Kirkby as he works alongside Barry Lewtas with the u23s.

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Ex-Middlesbrough and West Ham player Gary O’Neil has been appointed assistant coach for the Liverpool u23s. Working alongside Barry Lewtas, the London-born coach will aim to foster and grow the talent within the LFC academy.

The midfielder enjoyed a modest playing career, playing for a number of Premier League clubs. He has landed a major coaching role early on in his post-playing career, but he might have made the move to Anfield much earlier in his life had things gone differently…

O’Neil began his playing career at just 16-years-old, when he made his debut for Portsmouth in 2000 under Tony Pulis. His first goal in professional football came the following season, in the team’s first division survival match, which they won 3-0.

Following a short loan spell at Walsall in 2003, O’Neil returned to the then Premier League side, but was not often in the starting eleven. However, over time he became a key player in Portsmouth’s squad, so much so that an offer for him by Manchester United was rejected.


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In 2007, O’Neil signed for Middlesbrough, where he was considered a great success and was often Gareth Southgate’s first choice central-midfielder. However, it was recently revealed that just before this move the 24-year-old was wanted by Rafa Benítez at Liverpool, and terms had even been agreed for his move to Anfield.

Unfortunately, due to confusion with agents and other unknowns, the deal was pulled at the last minute and he headed to Boro, where he made 119 appearances and scored seven goals.

O’Neil himself revealed just how close he was to joining the Reds in 2007 before the deal was pulled at the 11th hour, while he had also been linked with a move to Anfield two years beforehand in the aftermath of Liverpool’s Champions League success in Istanbul, but Pompey chief Milan Mandaric publicly stated his prized asset was not for sale.

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A significant moment in his career came in 2011, whilst at West Ham. The Londoner was forced to consider legal action after Aston Villa’s Reo-Coker tackled him and caused an ankle injury that needed a two-hour operation and many months off-pitch.

He returned to play for the team for another season, but was released and moved to QPR in 2013. Following this, O’Neil underwent a number of short playing stints with Norwich City, Bristol City and finally Bolton Wanderers, where he won the club’s Player of the Year Award in 2019. 

The midfielder’s playing career came to an end shortly after, with a serious Achilles injury prohibiting him from competing. The job of assistant coach alongside Barry Lewtas will be his first job of his coaching career.

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In a recent tweet, the 37-year-old described feeling “extremely grateful and privileged to have been given such an amazing opportunity at such an early stage of my coaching career”. He said he “cannot wait to get going and help our talented squad progress further with their careers”.

The “talented squad” he refers to includes impressive players such as Neco Williams and Curtis Jones, who recently made first-team appearances in the Premier League-winning season. O’Neil’s experience playing for a number of successful teams over his 21-year career should enable him to pass on new wisdom to these young players, as well as others beginning their time in the u23s.

In his interview for the liverpoolfc.com site he mentioned his aim is to “get them ready for that next phase” as they train for first-team football.

Barry Lewtas and Gary O’Neil could certainly be a winning pair for the u23s as we prepare for a new season of youth league football. Keep an eye on those Premier League 2 results to see how they get on.


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