Eddie Howe: 'Rightly hailed for his outstanding work, but not a flawless hero'

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Watch Howe's last interview as Bournemouth boss

Eddie Howe's departure from Bournemouth seemed an inevitable consequence once their relegation from the Premier League was confirmed on the final day of the season.

The 42-year-old's iconic status among Cherries fans is assured having served them for 25 years and taken them from League Two to the top flight - indeed #thankyoueddie was a Twitter trend on Sunday morning.

But when the emotion has evaporated and both Bournemouth and Howe look to the future, a bitterly disappointing final season at the club leaves both with questions to answer.

What next for Howe?

It was not too long ago that Howe was touted as the outstanding young English manager - a prime candidate for the England job and indeed any big vacancy that would become available.

Not any more - and not simply because he cannot escape the fact he now has a relegation on what was a previously impressive CV.

Gareth Southgate is England's manager for the long term after reaching the World Cup semi-finals and building an exciting young side, but more intriguingly a succession of high-profile Premier League jobs came and went in recent months without Howe ever being under serious consideration.

Tottenham had Jose Mourinho in place as soon as they sacked Mauricio Pochettino. Arsenal went for the previously untried Mikel Arteta as successor to Unai Emery and won the FA Cup. Everton - the club Howe supported as a boy - went for a three-time Champions League winner in Carlo Ancelotti rather than the man who guided Bournemouth through the divisions. West Ham turned back to David Moyes.

These were the sort of jobs Howe's disciples insisted he was perfect for, so why was he not approached?

Was it because he was seen as in his comfort zone and at "his" club, where he had total control and it was very much 'Team Eddie' - a position earned through his earlier stellar work, work done ensuring safety in the bottom half of the top flight rather than fighting for honours at the top?

Was his one unsuccessful spell away from Bournemouth - at Burnley, where he also had family issues to deal with after the death of his mother - a consideration?

Howe explains Burnley departure

Either way, it was an indicator Howe's stock was maybe not as high as his admirers thought, and perhaps he would need to work successfully at another club before landing what might be regarded as a "big" job.

While not sharing the devotion to Howe displayed by many others, it must be said he deserves huge credit for his work in transforming Bournemouth into a club that sat relatively comfortably in the Premier League before this final flawed season.

A club's fans are often the best measure of a manager's reputation and his departure was greeted with an outpouring of thanks from those who had lived the dream with Howe on the south coast.

In their eyes he leaves a hero, a man with a prime place in Bournemouth's history.

What must also not be ignored is that his last season was a truly dreadful one, raising further questions about his approach and work in the transfer market, where expensive failures cost the Cherries dear.

He built the club from the bottom up but this does mean he can escape scrutiny for a season that was, by any measure, a serious failure.

Howe made some excellent signings - such as Callum Wilson, Joshua King and David Brooks - who will either serve Bournemouth outstandingly well in the Championship or, far more likely, leave to reap a huge profit, as will Nathan Ake when he completes a £41m move to Manchester City.

Brooks, in particular, was badly missed because of injuries this season.

But, on the other side, Liverpool were prime financial beneficiaries of an uncertain touch in the transfer market.

Bournemouth spent a combined £34m to lure Dominic Solanke and Jordon Ibe from Anfield. Solanke, at £19m, has scored three goals in 32 league games. Ibe started just two league games all season.

And Howe failed to cure serious defensive problems which raised the red flag in 2018-19, when Bournemouth conceded 70 league goals in finishing 14th. That was the highest outside the relegated clubs and even Cardiff, who went down, conceded fewer.

In losing 22 of 38 games this season, Bournemouth conceded 65 goals, even with a defender in Ake who Manchester City feel can improve their rearguard.

Flaws were not cured and it proved fatal to their Premier League status.

Howe is rightly hailed for his outstanding work at Bournemouth to get them into the Premier League but he cannot be seriously portrayed as a flawless hero who finally failed to overcome unbeatable odds.

So where next for him?

He has enjoyed huge levels of control at Bournemouth, which he earned and justified by his successes, but may find clubs higher up the ladder will not give him that

Aston Villa have just appointed Johan Lange as sporting director so Dean Smith looks safe after avoiding relegation. Moyes has fully earned an extended stay at West Ham.

There has been speculation about Roy Hodgson's future at Crystal Palace but he has done a solid job. Sean Dyche has been linked with that post after his magnificent work in guiding Burnley to 10th this season but Hodgson is still very much in position.

Howe is hardly likely to want to drop back into the Championship.

There will be plenty of clubs willing to take him, but would he want them?

The big jobs his admirers felt he was ideal for went elsewhere. He may have to wait and recharge his batteries.

What next for Bournemouth?

Relegation is a huge blow for Bournemouth, and these are not the "plucky little Cherries" the romantics will sometimes talk about. That narrative is somewhat mythical.

Bournemouth are owned by a wealthy and ambitious Russian businessman - Maxim Demin.

Let's not forget this is the club that had to pay £4.75m to the Football League in July 2018 to settle a Financial Fair Play dispute arising from their promotion to the Premier League in 2014-15. They had originally been expected to be fined £7.6m after accruing a loss of £38.3m as they won the Championship.

The EFL settled on the lower figure saying the club "did not make any deliberate attempt to infringe the rules or to deceive".

Bournemouth now find themselves back in the second tier without the manager who has been the inspiration and symbol of their success, and more than likely without key players such as Ake, Wilson and King.

Howe has been a towering presence since his return in October 2012, so the club now face a crucial decision on their direction and ambition.

Do they go for an experienced figure who knows the Championship, with Watford and Bristol City also in that market and with much bigger fanbases? Do they look abroad in a complete shift from what they had in a manager who was locked into the very fabric of the club? Do they try to uncover a young manager in the Howe mould who can revitalise the club?

Given the uncertainties surrounding this appointment and the future of key players, it will not be an easy job to make a swift return from a division that is notoriously difficult to escape from.

Bournemouth's hierarchy will have known this day was coming, either via Howe being lured away or by the circumstances they now find themselves in.

It still does not make it any easier to deal with.

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