This season’s manager of the year is obviously Claudio Ranieri after leading Leicester City to the most unlikely of Premiership crowns, something that would not have gone amiss in an episode of ‘Roy of the Rovers’. Along with Ranieri though, Slaven Bilic did a great job at West Ham, who deservedly qualified for the Europa Cup after Manchester United’s FA Cup defeat of Crystal Palace. Today though we look at another person who has done an outstanding job and clearly exceeded expectation; Bournemouth Manager Eddie Howe, a man whose job should not be overlooked for one minute.
Howe must take full credit for how Bournemouth have done in their introductory season to the top flight. Howe has dealt superbly with an abundance of injuries that many thought would plague their season. They had started the season 6/5 with the bookies to be relegated, with their attacking style of play looked upon as eventually being their downfall.
Summer signing from Ipswich Town, talented youngster Tyrone Mings, and last season’s top scorer in the Championship, Callum Wilson, both fell to cruciate ligament injuries in August and September respectively. This would basically spell the end of their seasons. Wilson’s injury was away to Stoke, in a 2-1 defeat and Mings’ in a draw at Leicester. Wilson did come back with a few games to go, but survival had been secured by then. Former Leeds United man, Max Gradel, a seven million pounds summer purchase from St Etienne also fell to a similar injury in the same away draw at Leicester. Gradel was ruled out for six months. Out of these players last season’s top scorer Wilson had taken to life in the Premier League like a duck to water, scoring six goals in his first six appearances. Including an impressive hat trick in a 4-3 away win at West Ham.
September amazingly also saw club captain Tommy Elphick fall to a serious ankle injury that ruled him out for three months. He actually had to fly out to Sweden to see a specialist in regards to this setback. On the injuries, Howe commented, “You cannot plan for injuries but they happen in football. Through this we might find a way to become a better team. That is what we will be looking for. Last season we had an unblemished injury record so this is a new position for us but what a great challenge to try and overcome.” (Source: Mirror.co.uk)
Soon after, they had back-to-back 5-1 defeats against Manchester City and Tottenham in their last two league games of October and things were looking ominous for Howe’s men. With these results and the injury setbacks, putting money on Bournemouth to stay up seemed more than quixotic.
Fast forward to the end of November though, and we had what has to be seen as the turning point of the season. Bournemouth rallied at the Vitality Stadium to get a 3-3 draw against Everton, after being 2-0 down. This spurred them on to start the month of December with two momentous triumphs. A squad beset with no less than seven injuries first won away at Chelsea with a late Glen Murray goal. They were then victorious at home to Manchester United 2-1. Both were deserved results. They went on to lose only four of their next thirteen League games after those wins and two of those defeats were to eventual runners up Arsenal; no shame there then.
The aforementioned defeat of Manchester United had been bittersweet as midfielder Harry Arter had only a few days earlier lost his daughter at birth. Arter had been given the chance not to play for obvious reasons, but was adamant in playing and started the game. The final whistle signalled possibly the most touching moment seen in the division throughout the course of the season, as Arter wept and was consoled by his manager and teammates. Howe who explained the dressing room after the game was understandably very emotional said, “To play the way he did with the emotions running through his body, I can’t praise him enough. He showed real strength, and I have to say his team mates rallied around him too. I am really proud. The pain won’t go away but our thoughts are with him and his family”. (Source: dailymail.co.uk).
Howe’s men had indeed recovered so well that safety was basically secured after the 3-2 home win on March 12th when they entertained Swansea City. Let it be known that there were still an incredible eight games remaining in the season.
How impressive was this feat from a team who seemed doomed for the drop before a ball was even kicked? The history books will show that Bournemouth finished just five points above the relegation zone, but this does not tell the story; survival was confirmed so early that they were able to lose six of those last eight matches without any danger of falling into the bottom three.
The Cherries had limited resources and did not change their attacking mind state that saw them win the Championship in the 14/15 season so comprehensively, scoring 98 goals in their 46 games. This again adds further spicy ingredients to the story of their campaign, you would have thought they would have resigned themselves to ‘parking the bus’, or resorted to long ball tactics, but this was never really the case. Howe believed in a way of playing and he proudly stuck to his guns and benefitted from it.
Just staying up would have been copacetic, but to do it so prematurely in the fashion they did shows as Brendan Rodgers often said ‘character’ and further displays the mentality instilled by Howe. Howe is a young up and coming English manager, and this is something the top divison lacks, as many teams choose to go for a foreign manager at the helm. A man whose interviews come across as slightly bashful and innocent, but his football methods scream loudly. His challenge now with the increased revenue coming in for the 16/17 season will be to adapt to how teams will attack them, having now experienced their game already. If he is complacent, then achieving survival will prove to be savagely tough. I myself believe Howe could pull it off and not suffer from the ‘second season syndrome’ that has plagued other successful first season graduates. Escaping the drop may not be as comprehensively managed as it was this season, but they can make it through nonetheless. If they do, then ‘Howe’ long will it be before the bigger teams come calling for Eddie?…