After his appointment as Newcastle’s new manager, those who know Eddie Howe best tell Sky Sports why he could end up being the perfect man for the job.
Howe’s arrival, following breakdowns in talks with Villarreal boss Unai Emery and ex-Roma head coach Paulo Fonseca, has not been met with universal acclaim across the footballing world. His doomed final season as Bournemouth manager lingers as the prevailing memory for some having joined a team for whom relegation, despite their current predicament, is unthinkable.
Howe is also a victim of circumstance. He did not ask for Newcastle to be linked with Antonio Conte and Zinedine Zidane before settling on a man who has managed only Bournemouth and Burnley, or for the news that he was second or third choice, perhaps lower, to become so publicly apparent.
Speaking to those who know him best, pressure is something Howe is unusually comfortable – and certainly familiar – in dealing with. When he took his first managerial role, at then League Two Bournemouth, Howe was warned by the owner the club would likely fall into liquidation if he did not keep them in the division, despite contending with a 17-point deduction awarded for serious financial issues.
“You’d have to have been a mad man to take that job,” says Sky Sports News’ Mark McAdam, who was on the club’s staff at the time and has got to know Howe well in the years since. But within 18 months the club had retained their league status before then winning promotion the following season, the start of a decade-long journey which would, eventually, lead him to St James’ Park.
“That’s what makes this so remarkable. Everything was against Eddie Howe when he first became the manager. And yet he succeeded in the most glorious fashion. When you look at the current Newcastle situation, whilst they’re in the Premier League, the remit will be very similar to those first few days in that job.”
The 43-year-old was certainly not one of the big names touted around when Steve Bruce was sacked, but he has already done enough to dispel any doubts the club hierarchy had about his ability when they met last week. In a job that has also been mooted as merely a stopgap for a club in transition, can Howe prove he is the man to see out the long term?
‘He’ll bring a feel-good factor straight away’
“In the time he’s had out, he’ll be prepared. That’s one thing I can guarantee you. He won’t go in there not being well enough prepared,” ex-Bournemouth defender Simon Francis, who played under Howe in all five of the Cherries’ Premier League seasons, tells Sky Sports.
Newcastle’s primary concern at present is staying in the Premier League. They are already five points adrift and have not won a league match since the final day of last season.
Howe will need to hit the ground running. A punishing run of seven league games looms large in December, one which could leave the Magpies with a mountain to climb if they don’t get points on the board soon.
That daunting prospect is one Francis believes his former manager will be perfectly qualified to address, through the man-management and coaching skills he saw first-hand on the south coast. His existing relationships with three players he knows from his former club in Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser and Matt Ritchie will likely add additional help.
“He’ll bring a good feeling into the camp straight away because his training sessions are inventive, they’re enjoyable and they get you thinking,” he says. “I enjoyed going into training every single day because you knew you’re in for a good session, you’re going to be worked hard.
“I think that that’s going to be important even with this international break coming up. Whenever we had international breaks in the Premier League, it was great because a lot of the time the players would think we’d get a lot of days off. The reality was we’d have two or three and then be in every day because he sees it as a perfect opportunity to get work in on the training ground.
“I’m certain it will help that he knows players within that squad already, and he would have come up against a lot of players that are still there at Newcastle. Those three will be excited, if you get to work with a manager again, who would arguably be the best coach you had in your career, why wouldn’t you be excited?
“I think it’ll be good for the dressing room because they can then relay their experiences with Eddie, they can let the lads know what to expect to get them on board.”
Can Howe be pragmatic to keep Newcastle up?
There are fair questions about whether the style sometimes characterised as gung-ho football Howe championed at Bournemouth can translate at a goal-shy Newcastle who need points over performances.
The Cherries twice finished as the seventh-highest scorers in the Premier League during their five-year stint under Howe – even outscoring Manchester United in 2016/17. However, they conceded at least 60 goals in each of those seasons and had the third-worst defensive record in the division in 2018/19, despite finishing 11 points clear of relegation.
Francis, though, believes the characterisation of his old boss can be oversimplified for a man with the tactical nous and meticulous preparation of Howe.
He says: “He’s as astute as you can get in the game. He’s a real student of the game, and the time he’s had away from it, he wouldn’t have been sat around the whole day. He would have been doing a lot of homework and taking notes because he’ll be ready, he wants to get back into management.
“I think the Newcastle fans will see a difference almost in the first game. They want something to get behind, a team that’s going to create chances, and I can almost guarantee that that will happen.
“We ultimately got relegated from the Premier League but we had five years there as well, playing some great football, winning some big matches against some of the best teams. So I don’t think anyone should take that into consideration too much.
“The reality of it is that they’re in a relegation battle, but he’ll assess the situation, he’ll think of the best way to get the best team out there on a matchday and get the best results possible as quickly as possible.
“I think they’ll see a difference almost in the first game. From what I’ve seen over the past couple of years at Newcastle, they have been very cautious in games and sat off teams, not just the top teams, but let a lot of teams within the division to have the ball for large periods.
“I don’t think that suits a football club like Newcastle. I think the fans want something to get behind, a team that’s going to create chances, and I can almost guarantee that will happen.”
“I think the fans want something to get behind a team that’s going to create chances, and I can almost guarantee that that will happen.”
As with many managers, there is a danger of recency bias setting in when it comes to Howe; you probably would not think of him as a survival specialist based on his final season at Bournemouth.
His ability to shake off a slow start two seasons earlier and guide the Cherries from 19th position after 10 games to finish 12th paints a very different picture, and is one he will have to replicate at St James’ Park.
“A lot of people label Eddie Howe as the man that took Bournemouth down – but really, he should be labelled as the man who took them from League Two to the Premier League, and kept them there for five seasons,” McAdam says. “He’s the man that gave Bournemouth, little Bournemouth, a ninth-place finish in the Premier League in 2016/17.
“As Bournemouth manager, he has been able to mix it and go toe to toe with some of the biggest teams in the Premier League and pick up results, not just as a fluke, he’s done it on a number of occasions. That’s what people seem to have forgotten.”
Big-money signings or improve what you’ve got?
The breadth and quality of the names linked with Newcastle suggest that sooner or later big spending is planned by the new owners. Paying large fees has not always worked out for Howe, with Dominic Solanke and Jordon Ibe the most prominent examples.
Conversely, there have been plenty of arrivals who have hit the spot and are sometimes overlooked. The Cherries racked up a £21m profit on Nathan Ake three years after signing him from Chelsea, while Jefferson Lerma and Phillip Billing may have played a part in their relegation season but have remained popular players at the Vitality Stadium.
Perhaps the Newcastle hierarchy should also think closer to home. Even by the time of their relegation last July, Bournemouth’s first-team squad still included four of the team promoted from League One seven years earlier, having grown alongside their coach as the group rose through the divisions.
“I think I was 25 or 26 when Eddie came back to Bournemouth. I didn’t think I had a lot more improvement in me,” recalls Francis, who was part of that quartet. “I was at an age where sometimes you think you’ve either hit your peak or you’re hitting your peak, but there’s not that much more improvement. But I was completely wrong.
“For eight, nine years, I felt like I was improving every single season under him. So despite age, I think a lot of the players will pick up a lot from him moving forward.
“I can’t speak for the hierarchy at Newcastle on how the transfer situation will go, how recruitment would look up there. But I always know that with Bournemouth, he was very keen on bringing in, yes the best players that he could, but the ones who would bring good character to the dressing room.
“There was no way he would ever sacrifice attitude and work ethic and character just for quality. He wanted to bring in good lads for the dressing room who had quality as well, and it was always important that we had a very good bond within the team.”
‘Howe can deliver Europe and silverware’
Could the Newcastle job be the best job that no big manager wants? The money around the club is unlikely to bring instant results, given the Magpies’ precarious position in the Premier League and the reluctance of clubs to do significant business in January.
There have been understandable parallels drawn with Manchester City, whose success took four years to materialise after their Abu Dhabi takeover, in which time Mark Hughes came and went as manager before Roberto Mancini built on his work to lead the club to their first Premier League title.
The words transition and stopgap have been used to describe Newcastle’s next appointment, and the idea may have put some managers off the job entirely. History suggests whoever does take the hot seat could find themselves cast aside when the availability of more illustrious names becomes too alluring to resist.
Can Howe, the protagonist behind one of the domestic game’s most stunning rises, prove international reputation isn’t everything?
“I think Eddie can absolutely take Newcastle to the level that they want to be,” says McAdam. “Their remit is to mix it with the top four, challenge for the Premier League title, get into the Champions League season after season.
People talk about Eddie Howe being a stopgap. I think Eddie Howe will surprise people – he can be the man that they’re looking for.
“Is Eddie Howe the man capable of doing that? Absolutely. Of course, what everyone needs to be aware of is there’s a process and these things take time. You’re not going to be in a relegation scrap one year and then the following season be challenging for the title. it’s not going to happen. He’s an intelligent man and will have a plan. You don’t have a plan for six months and 18 months and the three seasons, he’ll have a plan for five years at Newcastle.
“People talk about Eddie Howe being a stopgap. I think Eddie Howe will surprise people – he can be the man they’re looking for. They’re looking for the sort of big-name manager that could deliver European football and titles and silverware. He could do that.”
Francis believes Howe will be well aware of the challenges he will face working under owners who have never run a football club.
“I think he definitely sees long-term projects and how he can improve and shape and mould a football club,” he says.
“Of course, we’re looking at the short term, keeping them in the division is the main thing, but then that buys him time with the fans, with the hierarchy to then invest in and strengthen the squad and build one that’s capable of competing a lot higher up than where they are right now.
“I don’t think he will be going into this job blind. He’s too clever for that, he’s a very, very clever man. A great football guy. And he’ll go in with his eyes wide open and realise the situation at hand.”
Newcastle’s upcoming fixtures
November 20: Brentford (H)
November 27: Arsenal (A)
November 30: Norwich (H)
December 4: Burnley (H)
December 12: Leicester (A) – live on Sky Sports Premier League
December 16: Liverpool (H)