- Eddie Howe under pressure at Bournemouth
- Cherries are in the relegation zone after run of poor form
- Quality of transfers have been called into question
- Is Howe overrated or worthy of recent praise?
With modern football being somewhat notorious for a lack of managerial stability, there are a few clubs who stand out as having a manager almost synonymous with them. In the Premier League right now, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool would be an obvious example, with Chris Wilder at Sheffield United and Eddie Howe at Bournemouth being probably the main others. Howe, in particular, is the longest serving manager in the league, and would have been Bournemouth manager for over a decade had he not left for a spell at Burnley from 2011 to 2012.
But everything must end. For a number of years, it seemed as if Howe would leave Bournemouth at a time of his choosing, touted as a future England manager as well as being linked with Arsenal, Man United, Everton and other traditionally larger clubs throughout his time with the Cherries. This might still be the case, but as Bournemouth languish in the relegation zone in poor form, with questionable recent transfer moves (Jordon Ibe and Dominic Solanke, anyone?) hanging over the Englishman’s head, and Howe being the favourite with most bookmakers to be sacked next, could he end up facing the axe? Of course, the convincing 3-1 win against Brighton in midweek will go some way to keeping the wolves at bay, but it was a victory that the Cherries had been waiting what seemed like an age for.
Poor league form and questionable signings
Let’s look at the stats from this season. Bournemouth sit in 18th place with West Ham and Watford either side of them, while Norwich’s 1-0 win at home to Bournemouth has made the relegation fight a little more interesting. Bournemouth have won just six times in the league this season, only Watford and Norwich winning less, and lost 13 times, joint second-worst with Aston Villa behind Norwich. Top scorers Harry and Callum Wilson are both on seven goals each, not quite at the levels of Norwich’s Teemu Pukki (10 goals) and Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish (nine). Simply put, it’s worrying times for the Dorset club. It also won’t have escaped Bournemouth’s attention that Lys Mousset, sold by the Cherries to Sheffield United for £10m after an unremarkable three years at Dean Court, is now sitting pretty in the top half having already seen his best return in a Premier League season.
Howe has kept faith with a number of players that got the club promoted in 2015, with captain Simon Francis still at the club, along with Steve Cook, Charlie Daniels, Andrew Surman and Callum Wilson, amongst others. Yet, all squads need to evolve and change from time to time, and with Francis and Cook amongst the players not getting any younger, Bournemouth have had to invest in the transfer market.
However, many big-money signings have failed to deliver as Bournemouth’s recruitment has been something of a mixed bag in recent windows. Lloyd Kelly and Arnaut Danjuma were both signed for upwards of £13m in the summer from Bristol City and Club Brugge respectively, but neither have made an immediate impact after struggling with injury – although they are both young and will have time to make an impression. Then, yes, there’s the likes of Ibe and Solanke, and even in their first Premier League season it can’t be said that the signings of Tyrone Mings, Max Gradel and Benik Afobe set the world alight, even if Mings was sold onto Aston Villa last summer for a larger fee.
Premier League stability
When Bournemouth first got promoted to the Premier League, they were seen as a breath of fresh air, somewhat like Swansea City a few years before them. Here was a team lead by an exciting young English manager, who had kept faith with the core of a side that had seen them go from League One novices to Premier League stardom. Since getting promoted, they’ve almost always finished in mid-table safety:
2015-16: 16th (5 points clear of relegation)
2016-17: 9th (12 points clear of relegation)
2017-18: 12th (11 points clear of relegation)
2018-19: 14th (11 points clear of relegation)
If the 2016-17 seasons was their peak, it’s difficult to argue that there was a severe downturn in form in the meantime. Certainly, nothing suggested that they’d be right in a relegation battle this season. However, they are, and the club’s main concern will be to stay in the league. Their number of losses speaks for itself – despite the win on Tuesday, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Bournemouth kick off February with a home match against relegation rivals Aston Villa, in what has become a real relegation six-pointer. Of course Villa aren’t having the best of times at the moment either, but will be hoping for new signing, Genk’s Mbwana Samatta, to hit the ground running up front. Bournemouth’s transfer window has been quiet, barring a few outgoings in the form of goalkeeper Asmir Begović moving on loan to AC Milan and a couple of other young loanees departing the club, and it’s difficult to see where their next spark will come from.
Howe and Bournemouth – an immninent end?
But where does this leave Howe? His time at Bournemouth shows him to be an exciting young manager – he’s still just 42 years old – and the story of him rescuing the club from being on minus 17 points in League Two and taking them to the Premier League will remain one of the most remarkable footballing fairytales of the 21st century. It’s difficult to imagine owner Maxim Demin or chairman Jeff Mostyn being too eager to let him go, but even if they avoid relegation it might be that the relationship between manager and club is approaching a natural end.
Critics argue that Howe is lauded simply because he is English and relatively youthful, an antidote to both the influx of foreign managers in recent years and the Pardew/Allardyce/Hodgson/Moyes/Bruce collective of ageing British stalwarts. Yet to say so is to do him a disservice. He’s clearly talented and his record with Bournemouth reflects that. However, could it now be the end of the road for Howe at Bournemouth?