Eddie Howe attended his first Premier League managers’ briefing in London on Tuesday, one of those occasions when you imagine a ballroom would be too small to accommodate some of the competing egos. For the manager of AFC Bournemouth, it was another one of those occasions when the reality of his new challenge could sink in.
“I kept very quiet,” he said, “I was almost like the first day at school! I didn’t say anything, I just listened.” Photographed walking in with a note pad and a pen in his hand, that was the thought that sprung to mind imagining the 37-year-old coach taking his place alongside the likes of Arsène Wenger, Louis van Gaal and Ronald Koeman.
It has been a long summer for Howe, who admits that his wife considers him “a workaholic” and says that the family holiday was constantly interrupted by phone calls about signings. Reconfiguring the squad started as soon as promotion was all but confirmed on 27 April and he even began attending the Premier League games he could get to at the end of last season to prepare himself for the challenge.
Young, English and articulate, there is a lot of goodwill out there for Howe and his club, the smallest, in stadium size, to reach the Premier League. Much less is known about the owner Max Demin, the Russian petrochemical tycoon. Either way, the spending has been modest, with the biggest fees being £8m on Tyrone Mings from Ipswich, £7m on Max Gradel from St Etienne and £3m for Lee Tomlin of Middlesbrough.
Howe says there are still Championship clubs with much greater budgets. “I have heard of Championship clubs giving a lot more money than we do our players, even the ones we have recruited now,” Howe said. “We will always try to keep a firm hand on our wage bill. We have always wanted players [earning] around each other.
“We don’t want one big player to earn far in advance of everyone else and upset the dressing room. We have had big success by keeping it all in line and to do that is difficult because it takes away the [potential for a] high-profile signing, but that is against our ethos really. We have tried to keep a really steady hand on it and, of course, we are influenced by our income, which is obviously minimal, with our capacity being 11,000.
“Part of our transfer philosophy would be to try and find value for money. That means signing younger players with potential we can harness and develop.”
So far he has pulled off an interesting range of signings, including the experience of Artur Boruc and Sylvain Distin, to whom, Howe said the Bournemouth story appealed at his stage of life. Free agent Josh King, a former Manchester United academy boy, has joined and so too Christian Atsu on loan from Chelsea. Demin, Howe says, has been supportive every step of the way.
“He’s an ambitious guy, so wherever we have been, whatever we have been doing, he always wants better. So he wants us to compete this year and do well. He has not set any targets, but he has not given me any boundaries. He wants to win every game.
“I think he is realistic. He understands that this year is going to be difficult for us, and we are going to have some bumps, but he is as positive about the squad as I am. He has never left me with the feeling that he is unrealistic. Even when we have had defeats before in League One and the Championship, he has always been very supportive in those moments, and that, for a manager, is so important.”
With nine signings already, although not all immediate first-team starters, there is the question of how far Howe will trust the players who got the club promoted. “A long way” is the short answer – he believes that, like him, they deserve a chance to prove themselves at the top level. But there will be no “foolish loyalty”, as he calls it.
Howe also spent time at the end of last season touring the training grounds of Athletic Bilbao, Fiorentina and Empoli. He wanted some new ideas but felt, not unreasonably, that he could not make that request of Premier League clubs, given they would be in direct opposition. One of the big questions facing him, as with many promoted sides, is whether Bournemouth ease off on their attacking approach.
“It’s a balance. We certainly won’t lose our attacking nature. I can’t suppress some of the attacking players we have. To get the best out of them, we need to get the ball in attacking areas. We’ll be at our best when we’re ourselves. That’s not to say we’re going to play kamikaze football and leave ourselves totally vulnerable. We learnt that through some hard knocks in the Championship and we might experience the same in the Premier League, but we’ll have to adapt very quickly.”
Success would be another Premier League season, and who knows what personal reward that might bring him. As for his ambitions, they are modest for now. “My aim is to try and be Bournemouth manager this time next year,” he said. “That means we’ve achieved our objective.”Reuse content