Gary O’Neil’s big break in coaching might well have been with Bolton Wanderers, had circumstances worked out differently in the autumn of 2019.

It was confirmed on Sunday that the 39-year-old had been appointed permanent manager of Premier League Bournemouth after a 12-game caretaker spell, his first job in the dugout after finishing his playing career with the Whites.

The former midfielder won the player of the year award at the end of a desperate 2018/19 campaign, which saw Phil Parkinson’s team drop out of the Championship and the club go into administration.

O’Neil had been one of the chief liaisons between the PFA and the squad, which had gone unpaid by the club for several months, and Parkinson wanted to offer him a playing contract to stay the following season in League One.

By the start of the 2019/20 season, Parkinson had only a handful of contracted senior players, although O’Neil and a few other experienced trialists such as Ben Pringle, Adam Thompson, Craig Conway, Danny Lafferty and Billy Clarke had been training at Lostock as staff waited for Football Ventures’ takeover to be completed, allowing the EFL to relax some of the transfer restrictions which stopped them registering new players.

The Bolton News:

Wanderers were able to mix youth team players with a handful of remaining seniors for their opening game at Wycombe, some of whom had only been registered on the day.

By the following week, even the remaining senior players had refused to play against Coventry City, leaving Bolton to name their youngest-ever side – one which would memorably battle to earn a point against the eventual League One champions.

O’Neil was yet to hear anything concrete from the club but had stayed in touch with Parkinson, who would shortly offer his resignation.

The outgoing Bolton boss recommended to the administrators that the veteran would be the ideal choice to replace him, if only in the short term. And as Football Ventures completed their purchase of the club at the end of August 2019, it looked likely that O’Neil would be factored in as a player-coach, with a more experienced man alongside him.

But plans changed quickly once Football Ventures arrived. And it may well have been the readiness of Boltonian Keith Hill and his long-time associate David Flitcroft to get quick business done in the transfer market that got them the nod over O’Neil or former Wanderers favourite, Kevin Nolan, who was also being seriously discussed.

Hill and Flitcroft memorably snapped up nine players on deadline day to supplement the squad, which would eventually be relegated to League Two following a truncated season in the pandemic.

Speaking in November 2019, O’Neil admitted he had felt slightly jilted by the manner of his exit at Bolton.

He said: “It was complicated. There were discussions and I had agreed to stay.

“I kept myself fit and told them I’d be back as soon as it was possible to re-sign. But a few weeks later the management and coaching staff were changed and I didn’t hear anything from then on.

“I was disappointed I didn’t get a call from somebody.

“That would have been nice being a senior pro and helping out as I did off the pitch last year.

“I was on the phone all summer with the PFA trying to sort out the lads who needed money. On holiday I was on the phone all day.

“So, I did all of that and, of course, I understand that they changed their mind and decided to go in another direction – I respect that – but to win the player of the year and not to get a call saying ‘Gary, we’ve decided not to offer you a new deal. We wish you all the best.’ “That would have been nice.”

O’Neil has now been given a contract to the end of next season at Bournemouth, with an option for another 12 months.

He had taken charge of a dozen games as interim boss following the departure of Scott Parker.

Bournemouth, ironically also in the midst of a £120 million takeover from American businessman Bill Foley, currently sit 14th in the table.

“Gary did an excellent job on an interim basis and the board are delighted to make his position as head coach permanent,” said Bournemouth’s chief executive, Neill Blake.

“We have been impressed with the way he has conducted himself from the moment he joined the club and feel he has earned this opportunity to continue to take the team and the club forward.

“Gary has worked tirelessly and diligently on the training pitch and the players have responded by producing some excellent performances and results. It was evident from the reception he received from our supporters following the Premier League win against Everton that they have also appreciated his efforts and we are all looking forward to continuing our working relationship with him.”