Is Bournemouth's Eddie Howe capable of managing an elite club?
It is an extraordinary story; one often described as a fairytale. Bournemouth’s rise from the foot of League Two to the Premier League has captured the imagination of all football fans and brought global attention to this small club on the south coast of England. One man has been there practically every step of the way.
Eddie Howe took charge of the Cherries on a permanent basis in January 2009, when they appeared destined to drop out of the Football League, having begun the season on minus 17 points. Just eight years later, he was celebrating the club finishing ninth in the Premier League.
Howe has long been touted for a top job in English football. Since returning from a stint as Burnley supremo when Bournemouth were in League One, Howe has remained faithful to the club that gave him his managerial wings and for whom he made more than 200 appearances.
It was a playing career that had been cruelly curtailed by a serious knee injury in 2007 but, as fate would have it, retirement enabled him to focus on coaching.
Like most elite managers, Howe never made it to the pinnacle as a player, although two caps for England Under-21s highlighted his potential as a youngster. He always had a cool head on his shoulders and was an intelligent reader of the game at centre-back.
Now just a month shy of his 40th birthday, Howe is overseeing Bournemouth’s third straight campaign as a Premier League outfit. One incredible statistic is that, in every season he has been in charge, the Cherries have bettered their previous finish.
Continuing that remarkable streak will take some doing this time. With just seven points from their first 10 matches, Bournemouth have suffered something of a hangover from last season. Despite investment to the tune of £30 million in the summer, the Cherries’ renowned brand of passing football has yet to click.
Perhaps it is revealing that Howe’s name has not been mentioned in relation to the vacancy at Everton, to which Burnley boss Sean Dyche – another English candidate – has been strongly linked.
Nor had Howe been among the frontrunners to succeed Craig Shakespeare at Leicester City before Claude Puel was appointed. Bournemouth’s lowly position in the table appears to have discouraged owners from approaching Howe, despite his unprecedented success at the Dorset club.
This season is arguably the biggest test of Howe’s credentials. For all the joy he has brought Cherries supporters, to whom he can do no wrong, questions have been asked about his recruitment record. Howe’s ability to improve youngsters or spot a bargain is in no doubt, but his handling of big names is up for debate.
Three years on, the nucleus of Bournemouth’s Championship title-winning side remains in place, while high-profile arrivals such as Jordon Ibe and Benik Afobe have failed to establish themselves in the starting XI. Such are the demands Howe puts on his players that some newcomers struggle to adapt, but those who do receive his implicit trust.
Howe would say there could be no greater pressure than being tasked with preserving Bournemouth’s Football League status, a feat they achieved against all odds some eight years ago. Had the club fallen through the trapdoor and into the obscurity of non-League, it is highly probable they would have folded altogether.
However, such are the high financial stakes at play in the Premier League that avoiding relegation this season is crucial to the club, whose ambitious plans include a brand-spanking stadium adjacent to their modest current ground, as well as a new training facility.
For Howe personally, reviving Bournemouth’s fortunes would reaffirm his own reputation. One thing he can never be accused of is abandoning his principles. Like Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola, Howe has an unshakeable philosophy to which he has always remained true.
In times of adversity, he never doubts himself and has passed every challenge presented to him. Howe is totally committed to Bournemouth, where his legacy is already assured, but one day he will outgrow the club and move on to bigger things. Without doubt, he is one of the brightest prospects and is proof that English managers can flourish when given an opportunity.