Former Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe is the favourite to take over at both the Sports Direct Arena and Celtic Park.
Many fans of both Newcastle and Celtic have heard mutterings that Howe will take over their club. I don’t know if either story is true, but one thing is for sure, Howe’s name is not going away when it comes to discussion around Newcastle or Celtic’s rebuild.
Eddie Howe has divided opinion. Some Celtic fans were impressed by his demeanour and ambition in an interview during his time at Bournemouth, whilst others questions whether or not he can handle the pressure of managing Celtic.
I had the fortune of being coached by him and here’s my small insight into the man.
If memory serves me right it was when I was in the U14s age group at AFC Bournemouth that Eddie Howe managed us for about six weeks, before he was offered the first team job. Howe had been a respected player, who had played for the club and had also played for Portsmouth before having to retire early through injury. I had previously been with Portsmouth, where I was coached by Marcus Browning, who played with Howe in his Bournemouth days, and he had always spoken highly of that team.
The first thing that struck me was Howe’s attention to detail. Our age group was quite unfortunate in the sense that we had loads of different coaches taking over the side, indeed during my trial period I was assessed by six different managers in the space of a couple of months. We were led by the club’s fitness coach for a spell, then a former goalkeeper (Gareth Stewart), an ex-Torquay United reserve player, an old coach who had never played professionally and a couple of young lads who had done their coaching badges.
Few of these coaches knew the names of players. But when Eddie Howe came in, he knew everyone after one training session. That might not seem a big deal, but it was a good start to show that he paid attention and really cared about developing us, at a time when we felt that things were becoming a bit daft. He was an approachable, fairly quiet character and I quite liked that style of management in the sense that he would explain a few things to you in such a way that you’d respect him and not feel disheartened by the error that he had pointed out.
On the training pitch, one of the first things he did was to get us to warm up with a size one football. This would be simple stuff, dribbling with a ball in a box, short volleys into the hand of a teammate or keepy ups etc. but those few minutes at the start of each session were important for improving your touch.
Then, he introduced an idea whereby goalkeeper’s didn’t kick the ball long from goal kicks under any circumstances. The full backs were told to push high, the centre backs were told to split to the corner of each box and the deepest central midfielder (where I played) had to come short to receive the ball. Most of the time you would be tracked by an opposing player, meaning that if you couldn’t turn you’d need to either pass the ball to one of the centre backs or work a yard to ping the ball out wide to one of the full backs.
This rigid system isn’t really the right way to play football in my opinion, but Howe never stuck with that in the first team. It was just purely a measure to force us to play out from the back and be comfortable on the ball under pressure. Our games were all friendlies and we were told that it didn’t matter if we conceded, we just had to keep playing that way. Whilst I do think that competitiveness and learning how to close out a game is a skill that needs to be learned, it did work wonders for my confidence on the ball. When I eventually left Bournemouth, I was happy to have the ball from throw ins when I was at the back or in areas that others wouldn’t feel comfortable.
Those ideas continued after Eddie Howe moved up to the first team. It was a culture of playing nice football, which permeated through each level of the youth system. We did it against the likes of Fulham, Spurs and Southampton and all of us were comfortable on the ball. No doubt it made us better players. Remember, this was a time when Bournemouth were a League Two club so to play nice football like that against far superior youth set ups was something new.
Eddie Howe seemed to be really passionate about developing us as players, rather than getting results, which was his job in those few weeks. Everyone loved him, he was a brilliant man manager and worked on different systems of play. Often, he would let training drills and games flow, but every now and again he would stop things and point something out. One time I passed the ball into the striker’s feet and stood still, but Eddie stopped the game and pointed out that if I paid attention to the striker’s body shape I could see that he was going to lay the ball to the full back, which in turn would be a signal for me to run beyond for a ball clipped over the top. He showed me the importance of anticipating two steps ahead and also encouraged the idea of having a glance around the pitch before receiving the ball so that you know what you are going to do before it arrives. This then allowed his teams to play one and two touch, fast attacking football.
Our age group’s loss was the club’s gain when Eddie was given the first team manager’s job. In truth, I suspected that he was given the role because he was well liked by the fans, who had done a bucket collection to finance his transfer a few years earlier, and because he was a cheap option. Bournemouth had absolutely no money at this time and as youth players, a number of us had to do bucket collections outside the ground on match days.
That gamble paid off when he saved Bournemouth from relegation, and probably liquidation, by keeping them in the football league with a 17 point deduction. The fact that he did so with a transfer embargo makes the story all the more impressive.
After keeping Bournemouth up on the last day, Howe made a few cheap signings and started getting the best out of Brett Pitman. As such, Bournemouth got promoted to League One and with the club in the play offs, he left for Burnley.
At Burnley, Howe had an indifferent spell and not long after Bournemouth lost out in the play off semi-final, he returned to the club. This had not been before he had introduced Danny Ings from the youth academy and signed him to Burnley, as well as propelling Josh McQuoid to another level before he moved to Millwall.
On returning to Bournemouth, Howe got the club automatic promotion to the Championship on a shoe string budget. That in itself was incredible to take a club, who faced a winding up order and 17 point deduction at the bottom of League Two, straight up to the Championship in three season in charge.
In the Championship, he continued to play an attractive style of football and give game time to young players such as Adam Smith and Harry Arter, who he had bought for peanuts a year or two earlier (Smith from Spurs youth set up and Arter from a non league club). They consolidated their position before the club’s new Russian owners allowed Howe to spend a little more money and he won the league title to take Bournemouth to the top flight for the first time in their history.
In the Premiership, he kept the smallest club in the division up comfortably for a couple of years, and then made a push for the top half, finishing in ninth spot. His team played exciting, entertaining and attacking football, whilst getting good results. However, in the fifth year of EPL football, things went wrong. Some of his signings didn’t work out and Bournemouth were relegated. The job was handed to his former assistant Jason Tindall, who continued Howe’s blueprint and currently has the Cherries in third spot, pushing for promotion straight back to the big time.
As far as I’m concerned Howe is an ambitious manager, who plays football the right way. He has won promotions and titles and handled the pressure of needing to survive, and needing to get promoted too. Bournemouth was very much his home club where he was loved though and they had a small, tame crowd of 10,000 people. At Celtic there are pressures to relentlessly keep winning trophies and do well in Europe. The Hoops have 60,000 fans in an atmosphere that he will never have seen before. Similarly, Newcastle have 50,000 passionate fans and want to start making a mark in the Premier League. But unless he’s given the chance we will never know if he can handle that pressure.
My only concern would be that he is one dimensional in the sense that he has a set way of playing and won’t deviate from that. This was great when things went well, but was a catastrophic failing when Bournemouth got relegated. A pragmatic approach may have ensured that the team picked up more points. I worry that he may be similar to Brendan Rodgers in that sense, i.e if he went to Celtic he may blitz everything domestically in great style but would likely struggle in Europe by leaving them wide open against superior opposition. Equally, if Newcastle want to make in-roads to Europe by advancing up the Premier League table then they need to find a way of picking up points against the top teams such as Liverpool and Manchester City. Open and expansive football often doesn’t bring that success against the elite.
Given the choice, I would probably go for Howe if I were an owner at either club, as he’s one of the more modern thinking, proven managers that is available and attainable. I believe managers should have their own backroom team, but it would be an idea to have an experienced head somewhere in the dugout who has either been involved with a big club and understands the pressures of European football, plus huge rivalries.