English football always seems to be on the look-out for the next bright, young thing amongst English football coaches. A decade or so ago for example, the name of Steve Cotterill was being trumpeted as the coming man when he was appointed along with Howard Wilkinson, as a ‘super team’ of ‘super coaches’ taking charge at Sunderland. All of the FA and Uefa certificates in the world however were of little help when they were dismissed after a mere 27 games – and a paltry two victories.
Stuart Pearce has come and gone again, although he now offers promise once more as he seeks to guide Nottingham Forest back to the big time. A similar tale can be told of Gareth Southgate, now rebuilding a reputation with the England U21 team after being sacked as a club manager. Whisper it so softly however, but down on the south coast, a new reputation is being built in an unassuming corner of Dorset as 36 year-old Eddie Howe pilots Bournemouth towards the Premier League.
It’s often said that when one door closes, another opens. For Howe, that situation arose when as a 29 year old elegant centre-back for The Cherries, a doctor told him that a chronic knee injury had end his career. A little while earlier, the then manager of the club, Kevin Bond, now one of Harry Redknapp’s regular acolytes, had offered Howe a position as player-coach. The enforced retirement from playing now decided the issue, that coaching was to be the way forward if Howe wanted to remain in the game. He took the chance.
That was in December 2006 but, as often is the case in the game, when Bond lost his job in September 2008, Howe was also shown the door. T was a short break away from the club though, as new manager Jimmy Quinn brought him back to work with the youth team. By December though, Quinn had also left and the club turned to Howe as a caretaker-manager. Although his term in this role resulted in two away defeats, he had convinced the club to make him the full time manager just after the turn of the year. At a mere 31 years of age, he was charged with overcoming a 17 point deduction, and preserving the club’s football league status. That he not only succeeded in such an unlikely venture, but also took The Cherries to promotion the following season, was a remarkable return on the trust the club had invested in Howe.
Such success was of course bound to be noticed by clubs higher up the league’s hierarchy, and in January 2011, Howe was persuaded that a move to the north-west with Burnley was the appropriate next step in his career. It was to be an awkward period for the young coach, and although hardly to be defined as successful, it did much to give his approach a caser-hardened edge. Reportedly viewed by a number of the more experienced players at Turf Moor as less than deserving of the role, his age and youthful looks hardly helped to foster an image that conveyed the required gravitas. After just less two years in Lancashire, the opportunity of a return to Bournemouth presented itself.
Cherries’ chairman, Eddie Mitchell made the approach with Burnley languishing in sixteenth place in the Championship. Howe’s mother had recently unexpectedly passed on and his wife had given birth. The circumstances combined for Burnley to allow him to speak to Mitchell, and it seemed an easy decision to make. “I had to do it for my family. It’s been a difficult six months for me and I hope the Burnley fans understand,” Howe told BBC Radio Solent at the time. Returnnig to the south coast had obviously come as a welcome relief. The club he returned to was very much an upgraded version of the one he left, with millions being invested in the stadium and trading facilities. It was now a club ripe for progression, and Howe felt confident he could deliver it.
“Walking through the door [on Saturday] it felt like we had never been away, but there have been a lot of changes here especially in the infrastructure so we’ve been really impressed,” he had declared.
“It’s a different challenge and we are aware of the pitfalls those challenges bring. The expectations here have gone through the roof and we really need the supporters to get behind us. We need to unite the club, staff, players and most importantly the supporters.” Although the infrastructure was in place however, results on the field had been dismal and the club was languishing in 21st position when Howe returned. Less than twelve months later however, the Howe-inspired team was celebrating promotion to the Championship.
All of that of course is a magnificent achievement, but the story shows no signs of petering out, any time soon. An eight goal victory at Birmingham, followed by a League Cup triumph over Premier League West Bromwich Albion presaged a weekend victory over local rivals Brighton and victory at Hillsborough against Sheffield Wednesday in midweek, to leave Bournemouth atop of the Championship table ahead of the weekend’s clash away to second place Middlesbrough.
Cherries fans should have no fear of their manager being snaffled away again. Howe has made clear his intention is to stay at the club. “At this moment I have no desire to manage a Premier League club,” Howe was reported as saying recently. “I think the journey I’ve been on has made me very appreciative of happiness off the pitch and I’m very happy here and very happy in my life away from football.” It is however quite possible that he may amend that the commitment if the Premier League club in question is a promoted Bournemouth.
The club’s website describes Howe as a “Dean Court icon” and with little wonder. After leading the club to promotion and driving them on to the summit of the Championship table, dreams of further glory appear entirely realistic. One particular admirer, himself oft-regarded as one of the bright younger managers in the English game, is Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers. “It’s coaches like Eddie Howe who are taking the game forward in this country,” he remarked recently. “It’s because they have a philosophy and really believe in it.” It may be next season that Rodgers has cause to confront, rather than merely praise Howe’s approach if the latest bright young thing of English coaches can deliver Bournemouth to football’s top table.
(This All Blue Daze article was originallyproduced for the ‘offsiderulepodcast’ website).