Eddie Howe: The flavour of last month?

Date published: Tuesday 28th November 2017 12:00 - Daniel Storey

It seems unthinkable that any manager could have been overlooked for the Everton job, given the cycle of different coaches with different coaching styles who have enjoyed the status of bookmakers’ favourite. The baton has been passed from Sean Dyche to Sam Allardyce, Marco Silva, David Unsworth and Martin O’Neill, and finally back to Allardyce again.

Yet there is one obvious name omitted from that list, and omitted too from any serious discussion for the post. He is young, successful and has supported Everton all his life, last year recalling fondly his boyhood obsession with the club. He also happened to have been the highest-ranked English manager in the Premier League last season. On the surface, that’s a perfect fit.

Bournemouth endured a sticky start to 2017/18, but are now up into 13th in the Premier League having taken ten points from their last five matches. With games against Burnley, Southampton and Crystal Palace to come, Eddie Howe could again have the Cherries safely ensconced in mid-table. A reminder: This is the youngest manager in the Premier League.

Eighteen months ago, Howe was the blue-eyed boy of English management, touted as the natural successor to Arsene Wenger and as a future England manager. Both might still be true, but Howe has since drifted to the edge of our radar. He is noticed, but not heralded.

It is as if there is only room for one young-ish, over-performing, English manager at an unfancied club in our communal mindset, and Dyche has current squatters rights. Howe is seven years younger than Dyche, mind, and has three extra years of managerial experience.

While Allardyce, Alan Pardew, David Moyes and Roy Hodgson have all gained – or are likely to gain – Premier League employment in recent weeks, Howe has barely been mentioned. If Pardew and Allardyce are indeed appointed by West Brom and Everton, 10 of the last 16 managerial appointments in the Premier League will have gone to Brits aged between 50 and 70. Forget foreign fancies; here is your barrier to young domestic coaches.

This is partly a question of timing. Managers leaving one Premier League job for another in mid-season is exceptional (six in the competition’s history), and is the exclusive domain of the firefighter. Howe is the antithesis of the short-term fixer, a project manager to the core.

“I work as though I’m going to be here for the next 20 years, preparing the team and the club for the future as best I can, until I’m told differently,” Howe said last month.

“When you’re a manager you have to prepare for the long-term, for the future benefit of the club. You need people above you to have a long-term vision, to share your successes, share your disappointments, and to know you’re working towards something for the long-term.”

That sentiment is perhaps particularly pertinent given that Howe has already left Bournemouth in mid-season before, and subsequently failed. In January 2011 he left Bournemouth for Burnley, but lasted just 19 months before resigning and returning to the south coast.

Yet even considering this, Howe has been overlooked. Watford, Crystal Palace and Southampton all appointed managers over the summer, and none publicly courted Howe. If that was the perfect time to appoint a project manager, Bournemouth kept their man.

There are reasons to have reservations over Howe. He has struggled to convince in the transfer market, an attribute of increasing importance as you move up the Premier League ladder with the vast rise in broadcast revenues and disposable incomes. Before the summer, Lys Mousset and Jordon Ibe were two of Bournemouth’s three most expensive signings, and both have struggled to say the least. The Jermain Defoe experiment is also yet to click, although Asmir Begovic and Nathan Ake were excellent acquisitions.

Still, working with a sporting director or head of scouting would suit Howe perfectly. He is a distinctly ‘foreign-style’ English manager, comfortable as a head coach rather than as the omnipotence of yesteryear that is still prevalent among the old guard of management.

We are certainly guilty of underestimating Howe’s success, or at least taking it for granted. With one of the lowest wage bills and revenues in the division, a stadium holding just 11,000 people and a defence largely comprised of those who played for the club in League One, Bournemouth finished ninth in their second Premier League season. Clubs like this are only supposed to have one top-flight campaign, widely patronised before falling back into line.

Callum Wilson and Simon Francis both speak of Howe’s meticulous match preparation, but also his forward-thinking methods that create a team far greater than the sum of its parts.

“I’ve never come across anyone who is so intent on improving players individually, with both his man-management and his coaching,” Bournemouth captain Francis told me in July. “He comes in early and he leaves late, and if you go to him and say you want to work on something he’ll stay there until you feel you have improved. And he’ll do that with everyone.”

This is not intended as a PR campaign for Howe to leave Bournemouth. By all accounts he is as motivated and content as ever in his adopted city. Howe is worshipped by the club’s supporters, who are still stunned by what he has achieved since taking over a club ranked 91st in the Football League ladder and guiding them to the promised land. Eddie Howe is AFC Bournemouth.

Yet interest in your services is flattering to any manager. As he finally turns 40 on Wednesday, closing in on nine years as a manager, Howe may well wonder why he is no longer the flavour of the month. Like Dyche, his success has been achieved at a single club, which can dissuade suitors who believe the manager has succeeded in bottling lightning but would struggle to replicate it elsewhere.

That seems like a particularly uncharitable assessment of both managers. Success, no matter what the club, should be a route to promotion rather than a barrier from it.

Or perhaps this is all just the opposite of a backhanded compliment – a frontfooted insult if you will. Howe is no longer lauded as the future of English coaching so readily because we have grown so accustomed to him. Bournemouth’s presence in the Premier League mid-table is no longer shocking because that has become their new rule. Howe has not just achieved something astounding; he has normalised it.

Daniel Storey

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