Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe: Brian Clough inspired me

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  • Despite being the Premier League’s youngest boss, Eddie Howe has mileage 
  • The 40-year-old has taken charge of 438 matches as a first team manager 
  • Howe is seen as one of the most the exceptional English coaches of a generation

Rob Draper for The Mail on Sunday

The loneliness of the Premier League manager means there aren’t exactly multiple opportunities to party. And Eddie Howe is as hard working as they come, so it was always going to be left to his wife, Vicki, to force a celebration on him.

It was only when he got home from the Southampton game last month that he then realised that his 40th birthday — he is the Premier League’s youngest manager — wasn’t going to pass unmarked.

‘I didn’t make space to celebrate, no,’ he says wistfully. ‘But my wife did for me. She threw a surprise party at my house which I had no clue about, literally no idea.’

Eddie Howe almost forgot to celebrate his 40th birthday, such is his managerial commitment

Eddie Howe almost forgot to celebrate his 40th birthday, such is his managerial commitment

Eddie Howe almost forgot to celebrate his 40th birthday, such is his managerial commitment

Fortunately, his team hadn’t lost that day, drawing 1-1. ‘My wife was praying we got something from the game.’ And, intriguingly, it turns out a spot of a-ha, famously Howe’s favourite band, and turning up Take On Me, which provided the opening track for proceedings, can be restorative.

‘It did re-energise me,’ he says. ‘I didn’t realise how much until afterwards, really, how good I felt seeing people I hadn’t seen for so long. It was probably something I needed because I hadn’t enjoyed that moment [my 40th] for one second.

‘It’s very, very rare that I’ve been able to see my friends for a long period of time. The weeks and days just fall in, like most of us. You’re just busy. People I hadn’t seen for a long, long time made the effort to come and see me. So, it was great moment for me to switch off for one night.’

Maybe he needed it. It has felt like a longer, harder season than previous ones for Howe after Bournemouth failed to get a point in their first four games and scored just one goal. Nevertheless, he probably remains (literally) the blue-eyed boy of English coaching. Sean Dyche, his successor at Burnley, where he spent two years, may have nudged ahead but they are clearly the outstanding English coaches of their generation.

He's the youngest boss in the Premier League but Howe has 438 games under his belt

He's the youngest boss in the Premier League but Howe has 438 games under his belt

He’s the youngest boss in the Premier League but Howe has 438 games under his belt

Howe admits taking time to slow down and relax recently came as a big benefit to him

Howe admits taking time to slow down and relax recently came as a big benefit to him

Howe admits taking time to slow down and relax recently came as a big benefit to him

The birthday landmark provides some context to his achievements. He has taken charge of 438 games already and on Sunday against Arsenal, where his direct opponent is 27 years older and the only manager who has served longer than him in the Premier League, it will be his 99th game in the top flight. 

When he took over Bournemouth nine years ago, they were 10 points from safety in League Two, close to going out of business and out of the Football League.

He seems to have been born for this, though he claims that as a player, a decent centre-half at Bournemouth who earned a move to the Championship at Portsmouth, he was only fixated on improving his own game. Fabio Cannavaro was an inspiration. ‘I was focused on being the best I could be so I was looking at defenders of limited height!’

He would study AC Milan but to improve his game rather than any coaching vocation. ‘When I was growing up I didn’t look tactically at the game in that way. I was looking at players rather than coaches and managers.’

It was the knee injury that wrecked his Portsmouth career that eventually thrust him into the Bournemouth job, and changed his perspective.

But it is hard not to believe there is an element of destiny about his fate. When he was a five-year-old on holiday with his mum on the Isle of Portland, he met Brian Clough, then at the peak of his powers as a two-time European Cup winner.

During Howe's playing days he looked up to Italy and Real Madrid legend Fabio Cannavaro

During Howe's playing days he looked up to Italy and Real Madrid legend Fabio Cannavaro

During Howe’s playing days he looked up to Italy and Real Madrid legend Fabio Cannavaro

His face visibly brightens at the memory and he breaks into a smile. ‘It was funny. I was visiting Portland lighthouse and he was on a pre-season tour. I saw these people and was told, “They’re Nottingham Forest”. Somehow — I suppose my mum must have said “Can he meet Brian?” — I ended up having a picture taken, sitting on his knee. I’ve still got the photo somewhere.

‘I remember seeing the team, I remember seeing lots of young lads together having dinner and I think any kid at that age, knowing that’s a football team, it’s a big moment. And I remember Brian was great with me. I do remember that. He was very, very kind, and as a kid, you’re so impressionable. For someone to be that kind was a big thing.

‘I think when you have a moment like that, when you meet someone you’ve heard of and subsequently find out what he’s achieved, I just felt that link with him. You watch the unbelievable stuff he did… he was one of the only managers I looked at and thought I’d love to be able to do that.

‘When you go through that moment — and it was my first encounter with anyone to do with football — then you do follow that person. So I’ve seen all the films and read all the books. It was an incredible story, Nottingham Forest. Obviously, we haven’t won what they’ve won, but it does have parallels with the journey — how far away we were, and what we’ve achieved. There are links in the stories.’

Another inspiration will be alongside him on the touchline today. ‘In my early coaching days, I viewed Arsenal as the pinnacle,’ he says. 

It was a childhood meeting with the iconic Brian Clough which made Howe dream of managing

It was a childhood meeting with the iconic Brian Clough which made Howe dream of managing

It was a childhood meeting with the iconic Brian Clough which made Howe dream of managing

‘They were the first team that I looked at and I thought: “How are they doing what they are doing?” The one-twos around the box, the combinations, the way they were passing the ball into the goal from a very short distance. The third-man runs. Just everything about Arsenal at that time… I’d watch a game, I’d rewind it. I’d watch it back. Then I’d look: “Where’s he playing?” You really had to study it that in depth to try to figure out what they were doing.

‘That was down to Arsene. He changed the game. Without a shadow of doubt, he changed the Premier League, he changed the game of football that we know in this country for the better. That team or the teams he had round there — not just one team — were revolutionary.’

Interestingly, those Arsenal teams came after the Invincibles, around 2008, when Howe took over at Bournemouth. ‘I admired the invincible team, they were an incredible team, don’t get me wrong,’ he says. 

‘But I think I was coming to coaching, [and it was] the team after that. They may not have won the League but the football they played, I just thought was incredible.’

He finds the current level of hostility towards Wenger ‘totally bizarre’. ‘I just think it’s wrong. He’s revolutionised the game in so many different ways and I don’t think we’ll truly appreciate that until he’s no longer doing it. And it wasn’t just for a short period of time. That longevity that he’s had can’t be underestimated. The mindset that he must have to keep going, to keep trying to prove people wrong, to keep sticking to what he does in the face of criticism I think deserves a huge amount of respect. Not criticism.’

Howe has not really experienced that hostility yet. Burnley didn’t work out, but wasn’t a failure and further success at Bournemouth appeased any sceptics. But a third season in the Premier League has proved trickier than forecast.

They were undone by losing their first two games to Watford and West Brom and then having to face Manchester City and Arsenal. It looks to be more of a struggle.

‘Do know what? I don’t think it is,’ he says. ‘That’s the perception, but it’s very similar to last season, the only difference being we kept our heads out of the bottom three [then]. In early January last year we had 27 points from 27 games and it was only the last few where we dragged ourselves away from danger, and with results at the end of the season we managed to propel ourselves to ninth. Perception can be dangerous. Both seasons so far we’ve been in relegation battles and from the outside we’ve seemed to be well clear of it but internally we haven’t felt that way.’

That said, the awful start has hampered them. Jermain Defoe, Asmir Begovic and Nathan Ake have been qualified successes. Goals have been harder to come by, which is unusual for a Howe team. ‘We’ve never suffered from a lack of goals since I came back and it would have been the furthest thought from my mind,’ he says.

There has had to be some self-criticism at times. ‘We’ve certainly been to the well a few times to look deeply and analyse ourselves,’ he said. 

Howe took the time out to speak to The Mail on Sunday's Chief Football Writer Rob Draper

Howe took the time out to speak to The Mail on Sunday's Chief Football Writer Rob Draper

Howe took the time out to speak to The Mail on Sunday’s Chief Football Writer Rob Draper

‘Me included. Is my work as good as it needs to be? I’m the only person who knows truly how hard I’m working. Am I cutting corners? You have to be that honest with yourself. My biggest criticism of myself is: “Am I immersing myself so much that I’m not seeing the wood from the trees maybe?” That’s where your staff are so important.’

And Howe cites Burnley this season and Leicester’s title success as the type of over-achievement that sides like his should be striving towards. He wants to manoeuvre the club into a position where they challenge for a Europa League place. ‘That [Europe] is not relevant to my thoughts now, but it’s something in the background that we’d love to achieve one day. I’d hate the players to think there is nothing to aim for. We’re very ambitious at the football club. I’m still very ambitious to push the club on further.’

Maybe like Wenger, he will still be fighting this battle at 67? ‘Well, I would say to you that I think that will absolutely not happen, 100 per cent,’ he says, laughing but defiant. ‘But then I see a lot of people in football and think: “They’re back again.” And you think there must be something in it that is making them do it! So maybe I will be in that position!’

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