If Eddie Howe ever wished to commit his managerial achievements to paper, he’d produce a CV that glittered.
The Bournemouth boss, still only 40 years old yet already almost decade deep into his managerial career, has stood in dugouts at every level of the Football League and is now in his fourth season as a Premier League manager.
Since taking charge of the Cherries in January 2009, with the club facing relegation from League Two, Howe has overseen three promotions and consolidated the unfancied Dorset club in the Premier League, all on a comparatively shoestring budget while playing attractive, fan-pleasing football.
Yet, whenever a managerial post becomes available with one of English football’s more traditional forces, Howe’s name is rarely mentioned. After Bournemouth’s fine start this season, sitting sixth at time of writing, ahead of Manchester United and big-spending Everton and West Ham United, that must change.
Those recruiting for English football’s top jobs would argue that Howe’s experience with Bournemouth, while undoubtedly impressive, holds little relevance to the demands of managing a super-club.
The day-to-day hardships of steering plucky Bournemouth’s continual overachievement, they might say, bear little resemblance to the pressures and expectations inherent with coaching the world’s best players, managing nine-figure transfer budgets and delivering silverware season after season.
And they would have a point.
But Howe meets many of the criteria usually laid out when assessing a manager’s top-club worthiness. That he is consistently overlooked exposes the fashion-thinking at play in Premier League boardrooms. Owners, chairmen and sporting directors – whomever the decision-maker may be – tend to operate with a severe recency bias, wanting the hot new thing, and wanting them yesterday.
Aside from Bournemouth’s initial promotion to the top flight in 2015, there have been few sharp upward spikes in the graph of Howe’s career; he has no equivalent, for example, of Mauricio Pochettino’s transformation of Southampton from relegation candidates to top-eight side in a matter of months, nor of Marco Silva’s stark and ultimately short-lived revival of Watford last season.
Instead, Howe’s story is one of constant, gradual improvement, his career tracing a steady, broad, rising arc that is perhaps only perceptible when taking a step back, viewing the whole rather than three-month chunks.
In an increasingly short-term world, Howe is the man for the long haul, a project manager offering serious gains over a sustained period – something most big clubs claim to desire yet rarely show the foresight to properly pursue.
These sides, too, will claim to place style of play in a position of utmost importance. This, of course, is why Pep Guardiola is the highest-paid manager in the world: he melds success with swagger; style and substance in equal measure.
While not of the same public profile, Howe is cut from the similar cloth. His rise up the leagues with Bournemouth has at its foundation an unbending commitment to possession, penetration and expression, with the tactical acumen to adjust to the needs of each game’s unique challenges; Howe makes bedfellows of idealism and pragmatism.
Indeed, the football on show at Dean Court this season, with its base of 4-4-2, two genuine strikers and creative wide men, seems to mirror the preferred way of a certain underachieving mega-club who could soon be on the lookout for a new manager.
Boiled down to its most basic remit, a football manager’s job is to make the squad at his or her disposal at least equal to the sum of its individual parts. Thereafter, overachievement comes from improving said individuals and creating a stronger whole through tactics and motivation.
It is by meeting and exceeding these criteria that Howe has achieved so much with Bournemouth, a club of modest means – their 11,360-capacity stadium is still comfortably the Premier League’s smallest. Although the most relevant experience for prospective elite-level managers is prior elite-level experience, Howe possesses a wealth of transferrable skills.
It’s seems Howe’s ability to improve his charges is inspiring an unexpected level of loyalty, too. A recent CIES Football Observatory study found that, on average, Bournemouth players have remained with the club for 3.37 years, the tenth-highest average in Europe.
The Cherries are an incongruous name in the top ten, joining the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, whose stars have reached the peak of their earning potential and the pinnacle of their career, and are therefore more likely to stay as long as possible.
What’s more, Howe is still learning, still searching desperately for the marginal gains that move him incrementally closer to being the best coach he can be. At 40, he has decades left in the game and much still to learn. After Bournemouth were beaten 2-0 by Chelsea in September – one of only two defeats they have suffered thus far in 2018/19 – Howe spoke glowingly of Maurizio Sarri and gleaned lessons from the new-look Blues.
“I’d heard a lot about his Empoli team and how impressive they were tactically,” Howe said of a previous trip to watch the Italian in action, “so I was really keen to go and watch him work. We made contact with his people and he was kind enough to allow us to come.
“I actually don’t remember the year that I went, but I spent a period of time with Maurizio and he was brilliant with me and I learnt so much. It’s no surprise to see that he’s one of the best coaches in the world.”
And Sarri was equally gushing in his praise of the Bournemouth manager’s work. “When I was 40, I was with a non-professional team in Italy’s Serie D,” said the Chelsea boss.
“I’m not surprised that Eddie has got to where he has because he’s very clever and very intelligent. I think he is ready. He is 40, but he is ready. Probably, when I was 40, I wasn’t ready.”
The one major caveat of Howe’s management is his less-than-flattering record in the transfer market, with many of his more expensive signings underwhelming.
But within the kind of European-style, director of football/head coach operational model most top English clubs either have adopted, are adopting or should seriously consider, Howe is a perfect fit; he could focus on his ability to coach and improve the players at his disposal without being solely responsible for recruitment.
The next time one of the Premier League’s big-hitters are in need of a new manager, it’s time they began asking Howe.