Howe has he done it… again? At Bournemouth

January 28, 2013 in League 1

Luck was not a luxury afforded to Edward John Frank Howe, at least not on the field of play. A long-term knee injury cut short the career of an otherwise stylish centre-half. ‘Stylish’, an attribute that avoids your typical lower league defender like the bubonic plague, and indeed, his short blonde hair and alluring bright blue eyes suggested that Eddie Howe would be better served on your television screens, alerting your attention to the creamy texture and sweet taste of a Milkybar, than halting the physicalities of a big industrial centre-forward. And upon reflection of his short-lived football career, that might actually have been the case. You would have been applauded for thinking, therefore, that a career on the sidelines as a manager, rather than a crocked young defender, would have been the perfect route for Howe, providing his bad luck hasn’t followed him, of course. “Bad luck?” I hear you ask. “What bad luck?”

Ever since Howe, 31, took over the reins from Mickey Quinn in January 2008, it has been a turbulence-free flight from the bottom of the League 2 ladder and a painful 17-point deficit, to possible promotion into the Championship, and all with the same team. But for dipping his toes into the Championship waters with Burnley in 2011, Howe’s loyalty to his boyhood club has been unwavering, and that is reflected into the support and affection the fans on the south coast have administered to their prodigal son.

This support has been evidenced even before Howe turned his attentions from the physio’s bench to the dugout, and remains to this day as solid as ever. After returning from 18 months on the sidelines with a knee injury that would ultimately cut short his career, Howe was no longer needed at Portsmouth, where Harry Redknapp forked out £400k to bring him in March 2002. After being sent out on loan to Bournemouth, Chairman Peter Phillips petitioned for the club to recapture his signature on a permanent basis, and in the process raised £13,500 from overjoyed supporters all clamouring to see their idol back at beloved Bournemouth. Howe eventually resigned on a free transfer, not that the expenditure of the fans went unnoticed.

It’s that backing and affection that has enabled Howe to implement his style so swimmingly for a second time. The football Bournemouth play is nothing short of adventurous, their ambition is worthy of applause, and the belief running through the team is symmetrical with their starry-eyed manager. You only have to look as far as last week, when the Cherries entertained Wigan in the FA Cup, to see the influence Howe has had on a side who not so long ago were staring down the gloomy barrel of Non-League football. And it would be unfair to overlook the individual changes Howe has made second time round.

The basics often pay the most dividends in football, and it is basics that Eddie Howe has based his reunion with Bournemouth on. The style of their football, for one, is of passing and moving. Nothing complicated, no hidden agendas, just simple passing and moving. But it’s the behind-the-scenes work that warrants the most credit. The signings of Josh McQuoid, Brett Pitman, Richard Hughes and David James have been instrumental, all in their own ways, to the success Howe has imprinted on this impressive group of individuals.

For McQuoid, Pitman and Hughes, this is a reunion of their own. Richard Hughes spent much of his early days at Bournemouth, before earning a reputation at Portsmouth as an uncomplicated, selfless midfielder. He’s back at Bournemouth after 11 years away. But for McQuoid and Pitman, departing Dean Court was a compliment to the superb work they had down for Howe in his first tenure at the club. Both players were responsible for scoring key goals throughout the period, and Howe has worked wonders to reunite them in the Bournemouth attack. But for Lewis Grabban’s goalscoring form, Pitman might actually be able to get a place in the team. But perhaps most significant a representation of the Eddie Howe effect was the capture of David James. The ex-England and long-time Premier League ‘keeper wasn’t in fact a Howe signing, more a result of the legacy he left en route to Lancashire. James may not be able to force his way in front of the ever-impressive Shwan Jalal, but his experience and understanding of the game provide priceless assets in the dressing room.

It would perhaps explain why managers’ second spells are often so unsuccessful. Howe has the luxury of being able to resign integral players, so short was his time away from Dean Court. But others, who return to their old stomping ground, say six, seven years later, might not be afforded the chance to replicate a previous formula. Retirement, loss of form, injury, what have you. That may be the luck that Eddie Howe has been missing all these years.

It would be a tragic misunderstanding, however, to attribute Howe’s rise to the top of the Football League managers’ pedestal to luck. Nobody can inspire a side languishing in the bottom half of the League 1 table to a 17-match unbeaten run and attribute it to luck. Howe’s youthful exuberance, knowledge of the game, and simple approach to the tactical side are all as impressive as his conduct and appearance. In that case, a phone call from the Premier League might not be too far away.