As Bournemouth crashed to a 6-3 defeat at the hands of Everton on Sunday, Eddie Howe bore the look of man who has tried everything but just can’t find that winning formula anymore. The defeat means the Cherries have still not won a Premier League game in 2017 and it’s 9 defeats in their last 15 Premier League games.
Howe is undoubtedly a hugely talented young coach and his team, on their day can play some scintillating attacking football which has been a joy to watch at times since their promotion to the Premier League. Howes coaching methods have earned widespread acclaim and his insistence that his team wins games by playing the “right way” is admirable
Howe does however seem to get a very easy ride from the media, which is understandable in a way as progressive young English coaches in elite level jobs are scarce to say the least. For this reason Howe in many ways is the Great White Hope for English football managers. Despite Howes talents being widely lauded over the last few years, there is no escaping the fact that after 18 months in the Premier League serious questions should at least be raised as to Howes ability to be a successful coach in the long term. Especially considering this is a man anybody connected with the FA openly gush over and who many feel is Arsene Wenger’s rightful heir to the Emirates throne.
Howe to be fair to him did not ask to be the poster boy of young English coaches and judging by his down to earth persona it is more than likely a tag he is not entirely comfortable with. The facts are that No Englishman has ever won the Premier League and including the old first division, the record of English managers shows only 2 League wins in the last 30 years. You can forgive therefore, the want and need of the English footballing fraternity to have a successful young Manager to pin their hopes on.
Howe has a deep connection with Bournemouth and made the vast majority of his 300 or so League appearances for the Cherries having come through their youth system. He took over at the Vitality stadium at the age of 31 in 2009 with the club marooned at the bottom of League Two and on the brink of extinction. To take a side from the bottom of League two to the Premier League in 6 seasons is quite the achievement and something that Howe deserves great credit for. A fairytale as the media likes to portray it, but not quite. We’ve all heard the stories of Chairman Jeff Mostyn going around with a bucket collecting money from fans to keep the club afloat etc etc …
Howe during his playing days
It is the role of the media shy Russian Billionaire Maxim Demin buying the club in 2011 that is often airbrushed from the story. Since Demin took over the Cherries have broken their transfer record nine times, so although Howe’s coaching and much acclaimed man management were pivotal to the Cherries’ rise, the role of their Billionaire investor certainly gave Howe all the tools he needed.
Howe has continued to be allowed to spend since the club reached the promised land of the Premier League and his record of signings since then has been poor to say the least. Over the last 2 summers he has spend upwards of £70 million. The players Howe has spent this money on are Grabban, Wilson, Mings, Afobe, Gradel, Mousset, Cook, Ibe and Smith. To be fair Mings and Gradel both suffered serious injuries on their debuts however none of the rest of these names can claim to have made any type of a consistent impact on the South Coast, with £15 million club record signing Jordan Ibe being particularly disappointing. Interestingly the team that started against Everton only contained one player who had not been in the Championship promotion squad, on-loan Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere. Which tells you all you need to know about the faith Howe has in the players he has recruited over the past 2 summers.
Howe and Chairman Jeff Mostyn
Another worrying area in which Howe does not seem to be learning from his mistakes is related to his sides defensive aptitude. Bournemouth have now conceded 47 League goals so far this season, only Swansea have a worse GD, as Bob Bradley would say. Howe’s side leaking goals this season is no surprise, last season they conceded 67 goals which was again the 2nd highest in the League. Losing Nathan Ake back to Chelsea was obviously a blow but a Premier League defence should not be built around a young loan player.
The Cherries have been conceding almost 3 goals a game on average since the youngster returned to his parent club. Howes attempt to sign the young Dutchman on deadline day for £18 million smacked of desperation and a wish to return to that which once was. A coach whose team plays attractive attacking football but seems to struggle with the fundamentals of defensive play, now that really does sound like a young Wenger.
Howe has tried several different formations over the last month in a attempt to rectify his side’s poor run of form. The Everton game saw him experiment with a Chelsea style 3-5-2, which can be safely classed as a disaster considering they conceded 6 goals. Formation and tactics mean nothing if a team’s defenders ignore the basics of defending, like getting tight and not giving away avoidable chances to the opposition’s best player, as happened on Saturday as a rampant Romelu Lukakau filled his boots.
When interviewed Howe comes across as a humble, intelligent and articulate man and with this in mind, although his sides poor run of form has gone under the radar in the press, Howe himself will know that his side are very close to being dragged into a relegation dogfight. With all the talk of the ultra competitive race for the top four it’s easy to overlook the race for survival at the other end of the table.
Six teams at the bottom are only separated by 6 points. Bournemouth’s next 3 fixtures are Man City at home, West Brom away and Man United away. On current form it’s hard to see Howe’s side collecting too many points from their next 3 games and teams like Hull, Swansea and Sunderland have been showing plenty of fight in recent weeks. Middlesborough’s defensive organisation is their biggest strength and should help them to pick up points in the run in. Leicester and Big Sam’s Crystal Palace, despite their own poor form, definitely have the requisite quality within their squads to pull themselves out of their current predicament. With all this considered it’s quite possible that by the end of the month Howe’s side will be fighting relegation.
Can you imagine the faces on the likes of Merson and Thompson if that bloody foreigner Marco Silva keeps Hull up and their Great White Hope goes down. Howe has big job on his hands to turn things around on the South Coast and if The Cherries were to go down many would argue that it would have huge ramifications for young English managers being offered Premier League jobs in the future.
Howe will need every ounce of his intelligence, work ethic and attention to detail to arrest Bournemouths current slump as on paper, his squad is not much better than the teams at the bottom of League. As is oftentimes said it’s not getting to the top that’s the hard part it’s staying there, so the next few months will be Howe’s biggest test yet.
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