Harry Redknapp's managerial career began with a 9-0 defeat for Bournemouth, and Eddie Howe's beginnings as one of his successors were not much more encouraging – losing his first two games as caretakermanager to leave the team 23rd in the bottom division. Was he just a cheap option, or had the directors seen something that would make him one of the most sought-after young managers in the game? They were sorry to see him leave last month when he decided – after turning down four other clubs – to move to Burnley, whom he takes to West Ham in the FA Cup tomorrow night.
"The owners made a very brave decision," he said. "The easiest thing would have been to say that it was not going to work but they appointed me full-time and that gave me a platform to build and restructure the club that I needed."
Unlike Redknapp, who has survived the slings and arrows to stand on the verge of a Champions' League quarter-final with Tottenham, Howe risked losing not only his job, but the club itself. "It was a nightmare, to be honest. When I took the job I was made aware that if the club went into the Conference it could fold. The players hadn't been paid for three months, we were going through a change of ownership and so there was no leadership from above. It was a team not winning games and we needed to show promotion form to stay in the League, so it was a huge task for a first job in management. I thought 'this could blow up in my face, I could take the job and never be seen again in football'. But at the end of the day I decided I might never get the opportunity again."
Invited to sink or swim, he proved to be an Ian Thorpe: "I approached it from the point of view of pride, and told the players it would be an unbelievable story if we pulled it off, something to tell your kids, be part of Bournemouth's history." So they were. The response from players knowing they might never be paid was to claw back a deficit of 17 points deducted by the Football League, then win promotion the following season. Howe believes the change in fortunes – they are now challenging for promotion to the Championship, a level enjoyed for only three years in their history – is directly attributable to the spirit forged in those initially dark days.
In the meantime, his own reputation has blossomed – Peterborough, Crystal Palace and Charlton all courting him before he made "probably the toughest decision I'll ever have to make" after Burnley agreed compensation with Bournemouth. "I was torn all over the place," he said. "I felt huge loyalty to the club, there wasn't a huge desire to leave and they were like family to me but I felt I had to test myself and when an opportunity like Burnley came up I needed to be brave and back my ability."
Some might have seen in Burnley a club on the wane after one enjoyable but ultimately unsuccessful season in the Premier League, badly needing to return there quickly but slightlyoff the pace. Howe gives the impression of being a man whose glass is always half-full. "A massive club with a huge history," is how he describes his new employers, also praising "some really good people at board level, who've made us feel welcome, and a talented group of players".
Those players, like Bournemouth's, have responded to leadership which is clearly new wave rather than old school. It is difficult to imagine the refined Dorset tones of a candidate to be the best-spoken manager in football stripping any paint off dressing-room walls. "I think there are times when you have to [shout] but they are few and far between," he says. "I think you tell them what to do rather than shout and scream at them." That side of his style sounds like the one that comes naturally, although he pays homage to the former Bournemouth manager Sean O'Driscoll, like Redknapp one of his mentors. "He was ahead of his time as a coach and I learned a huge amount from him, not only about how to coach but how to conduct yourself and treat players with respect."
Unlike many other players forced into premature retirement – in his case after representing England's Under-21 team – he retains no bitterness, regretting only that he did not begin taking his coaching badges at an even earlier age. In the dressing room, he felt "a little bit different, a little bit more serious" as a student of the game, yet at 33, he still looks far too young to be taking on all the cares of football management. But it is a serious business and Eddie Howe would appear to have a seriously good future in it.
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