He may only be 38 years old, but Eddie Howe has collected more than his fair share of management accolades. Since taking the reins at AFC Bournemouth amid great financial uncertainty in 2009, Howe has won three promotions during two separate spells at the club. Despite a plethora of injuries to key players, he achieved what many thought was impossible by steering the Cherries to safety in their inaugural Premier League campaign. But that success has now been consigned to history. Maintaining Bournemouth’s top-flight status this term is his greatest challenge.
Throughout their history, the Cherries have been regarded as plucky underdogs, a label that served them so well last season. They had been billed as a novelty item; a club that had fluked their way to the Premier League and would be cannon-fodder for the rest of the division. However, a 16th-place finish, which encompassed famous victories over Chelsea and Manchester United in consecutive weeks, confounded the critics and saw Howe and his squad lavished with praise. In truth, they had survived relatively comfortably, hitting the magic 40-point barrier in April. Not even a poor run of form at the back end of the season could put a dampener on their achievement.
Logic suggests that, with a year’s experience under the belt, things should get easier for both manager and players. But the early indicators are that, if anything, this season will be tougher than the previous. Flying under the radar carries certain advantages. Bournemouth were an unknown quantity last season and they used that to their advantage tactically. This term, however, the veil of mystery has been lifted and opposing managers will have compiled dossiers on their strengths and weaknesses, having played against them twice.
Although the new Premier League campaign is only in its infancy, there already appears to be a higher level of quality on offer. Every club has strengthened, with the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea in particular spending astronomical sums of money to ensure that a repeat of last season, in which Leicester City were surprisingly crowned champions, does not materialise. But crucially for Bournemouth, and those for whom a survival battle is expected, the three teams promoted from the Championship – Burnley, Middlesbrough and Hull City – look very competitive at first glance. One suspects that there will be fewer easy points on offer.
Howe will be extremely mindful of the scale of the task that presents itself. While back-to-back defeats to kick-off proceedings may have shaken the faith of some supporters, Howe is unlikely to be unduly concerned at this stage. Given his transfer policy of recruiting talented youngsters, which this summer featured the arrival of Jordon Ibe, Brad Smith and Lewis Cook to name but three, he will have anticipated a bedding in process as they acclimatise to their new surroundings and familiarise themselves with his coaching methods.
Extending Bournemouth’s stay in the top-flight for another season is certainly not a given for Howe, who will not allow any complacency to infiltrate the squad or his own mind. The opening two fixtures against Manchester United and West Ham United have been a timely reminder, if it were needed, that the Premier League is an unforgiving place. Those defeats will certainly have provided Howe with food for thought about how to adapt, now that his side are no longer bright-eyed newcomers. If his track record is any indication though, there is no cause for alarm. After all, this is a man who has cleared every obstacle that has confronted him in his managerial career to date. He will relish the opportunity to hurdle this one, too.
Featured Image – All Rights Reserved by Dan Westwell.