AFC Bournemouth Face Pivotal Howe Decision

IMG_20191130_150210226
Cherries fans visit new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for first time

The emotional aspect that Mr Mostyn will be forced to consider is something he simply does not need to get caught up in; this is not about Eddie Howe, this is about AFC Bournemouth and its identity.

For the first time since promotion to the Premier League, AFC Bournemouth have a decision to make over Eddie Howe’s future.

Having begun 2020 with three Premier League defeats, no goals, and with just one league victory since the beginning of November, The Cherries have slipped to 19th and are in serious relegation danger.

The club is relatively unique in modern terms as a top-flight side boasting a manager, Howe, whose tenure now stretches seven years, not to mention his previous 2008-2011 spell.

But even beside that, it has defied a club of its stature’s customary ceiling in maintaining Premier League status for half a decade, in spite of residing a stadium which would have the second smallest capacity (11,329) in the Championship, plus a modest and understated fanbase.

Notwithstanding all of this, Chairman Jeff Mostyn must make a call which is regular practice for Bournemouth’s largest Premier League compatriots: sack an underperforming manager, or back him to turn fortunes around?

Sentiment will of course be a major factor in this case; you do not need me to regurgitate the Dorset club’s story and Howe’s spearheading role in it, but the emotional aspect that Mr Mostyn will be forced to consider is something he simply does not need to get caught up in. Why?

Firstly, though it is a cliché that no individual is bigger than the club, that is just as much the case here as anywhere else.

Forget loyalty to Eddie Howe. He left them once before, he will get another job. This is not about Eddie Howe, this is about AFC Bournemouth, which will exist (provided it does not mismanage finances again) for generations after this unusually long managerial reign.

However, that is not to say that dismissing Howe is the answer. To reiterate that the club is top priority here, not the manager, it is the identity that Howe has instilled which allows it to operate as it does in the world’s foremost football league; something which sacking Howe could compromise.

Sceptics of the Bournemouth fairy-tale point sharply to Maxim Denim’s significant investment since becoming majority shareholder in 2011, claiming the rise from League Two to the Premier League as just another instance of ‘bought-success’ in English football.

But beyond that, Howe has kept a remarkable core of playing staff from the League One and Championship days, and coached the likes of Simon Francis, Steve Cook and Charlie Daniels to step-up through the pyramid and be competitive whichever division they contest within.

Assistant boss Jason Tindall, coach Steve Fletcher and technical director Richard Hughes the same. The trio are all former teammates of Howe’s there.

Moreover, by virtue of Howe’s positive philosophy, Bournemouth have consistently attracted talented young attackers who are either not making the grade in bigger sides or are plotting to further their development at a Premier League outfit.

In terms of the latter, injured Wales star David Brooks excelled in his first Vitality Stadium season, earning himself interest from the likes of Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.

But if the club was to dispense with its ethos and switch to a direct or pragmatic style in order to stay with the elite, would it still be that same appealing stepping-stone?

Even a defender like Nathan Aké, hardly propping up a watertight Cherries defence, is continuously scouted by Champions League clubs, as his quality on the ball and place alongside over-the-hill central colleagues or attack-first full-backs allow him to develop comfortably and unscrutinised.

AFC Bournemouth is therefore structured unlike any other Premier League club, so it is not an option for Mr Mostyn to hire a firefighter replacement for Howe to stay up this season.

If Howe has lost his drive to succeed, then that is the only justification to part ways. Not because the club owes him for his work, but because of the identity that the club has under him.

Though that is not to say that another head coach could not replicate this. Indeed, despite all probabilities being that Howe would remain at Bournemouth if the club were to be relegated, there are hungry coaches out there ready to permeate a new voice over the established structure.

For example, Swansea City’s appointments of, first, Graham Potter then Steve Cooper has the 2018-relegated Welsh outfit knocking at the door of the Premier League once again. Comparatively, Bournemouth, still backed by Denim, is a club on an even better footing to rebuild than the Swans.

The best decision AFC Bournemouth can make is to back Eddie Howe to ride out this injury-ravaged campaign, whatever the outcome may be.

Howe must right now pursue results by all means necessary. But long-term, the fairy-tale will be forgotten if Mr Mostyn changes gear at this stage. Indeed, Ian Holloway’s Blackpool side, and the captivating, narrowly-unsuccessful, football it played in 2010/11 is now but a blurry memory for English football fans.