22 Jun 2016
EDDIE HOWE: ONE TO WATCH
In the seven years that Eddie Howe has been in management he has taken Bournemouth from League Two to the Barclays Premier League and retained its status among football’s elite during one of the most memorable seasons in Premier League history. It’s a remarkable achievement and one that saw Howe awarded LMA Manager of the Year in 2015 and nominated again in 2016.
From the way that the locals are looking at Howe through the steam of their coffees, it’s instantly apparent that there is genuine affection and respect for the young manager in this town. Howe looks composed and relaxed when we meet in a beachfront cafe in Bournemouth and it isn’t just the sea air; he has lived and worked in this town for most of his life, identifies with its people and is very much at home here.
Howe’s quiet and reassuring confidence belies his experience as a leader, but it’s not a new trait. The youngest of four siblings, he was always a quiet child.
“I was shy, an introvert I suppose, and a very deep thinker,” he says. “My way is to analyse things rather than act on impulse.”
Having inherited a solid work ethic from his mother, he was also a conscientious student at school; keen to learn and get the best education he could. “She taught me the importance of a good education and making the best of yourself and it’s an ethos I’ve carried throughout my working life,” says Howe, who went on to study physics, maths and PE at A-level.
He is, in many ways, a self-made man. “There will always be a debate over the relative importance of talent and hard work, but in my case there was no particular innate talent; I’ve just worked very hard to make something of myself,” he says. “I don’t have any special gift for numbers, for example, but I worked hard at my maths and physics studies.”
As Howe’s knowledge grew so did his self-confidence, and with it an assertiveness that would later prove indispensable in his career as a manager. Combined with his learning, his analytical style of thinking also afforded him an assurance in his decisions, something he says is essential in management.
“A big part of succeeding as a manager is knowing your own mind – what you want to achieve and how to do it – and then trying to get other people to buy into that. You need to have a plan, so having an analytical brain has certainly been an advantage.”
Despite having the proficiency and attitude to continue in academia, Howe had throughout his childhood been a lover of sport and he turned from the classroom to the football pitch without too much of a wrench.
Born in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, he moved to Bournemouth at 10 years of age and what would turn out to be a long allegiance to its football club began in earnest. Aside from a few years at Portsmouth, Howe’s 14-year playing career was spent exclusively at the club and it was there, at the age of only 29, that he first earned his stripes as a coach.
Promoted to the position of player coach in charge of Bournemouth’s reserve team by manager Kevin Bond, he returned as centre of excellence coach under Jimmy Quinn when his playing career was cut short by injury.
A brief stint as caretaker manager followed before he landed the permanent role in January 2009.
“My relationship with the club goes back a long way,” he says. “I was on the terraces for many years and I’d try to be there every week, but I never imagined I would be good enough to become a professional player. When you’ve spent many years going through a club’s youth system and centre of excellence you can’t help but have a love for it, a special knowledge of its culture and an understanding of the type of football the supporters want to see. It gives you a natural affinity with its ethos.”
His attachment to Bournemouth is tangible, but while such passion can be an incredibly motivating force, if left unchecked it can also cloud judgement and erode control. Fortunately, Howe’s cool head means he is able to detach himself from scenarios that might otherwise tip the balance. He can, he says, flip the switch when a different mindset is required, such as when he was forced to abandon his career prematurely as a player. “I got straight into the mindset of a coach and so didn’t really harbour any desires to play anymore; I buried myself in the world of coaching,” he says.
Moving into coaching wasn’t on his radar when he was on the field; he felt he was too introverted and quiet. But when the opportunity arose he found his personality was adaptable and that he could mould himself to the requirements of the job.
Emotionally he switched from being a supporter to a player and then a manager with apparent ease. “You have to take the emotion out of the decisions you make in management; they must be clear decisions, led by your head and not your heart,” he says. “Being able to draw a line under things once they have happened and maintain some perspective is also important,” he adds. “I try to be very calm, consistent and avoid overreacting, both to success and failure.”
That doesn’t, he is quick to point out, mean he is immune to the pain of losing; Howe is no automaton. But he can do what many of us struggle with at times – to feel the sting of disappointment acutely without allowing it to affect him in a negative way.
When Howe took the manager’s role at Bournemouth in 2009 the club was battling against financial difficulties and a possible relegation, thanks to a 17-points deduction. For Howe, who was at the time the youngest manager in the Football League, it was a true baptism of fire.
“The things we dealt with in those first 18 months were probably the equivalent of what a manager would normally face in the first six or seven years in the job,” he says. “During the first six months it was all about trying to stay in League Two, and I’ve never felt pressure like the games in that period, because our very existence as a club depended on our results.”
It was a valuable learning curve, but there was an even steeper one to come the following year when Bournemouth were placed under a transfer embargo.
“I remember at the start of the season I shared with the chairman my belief that we would struggle to avoid relegation without recruitment of new players. Then with the embargo in place I quickly realised that we would have to get the best from the players we already had.”
Exceeding even his own expectations, Howe’s Bournemouth eventually finished second in the table, securing a place in League Two. It was to be the beginning of a steady climb for the club under Howe’s leadership right to the top tier of English football.
“It taught me an important lesson,” he says. “Although initially you might think that the answers to your problems lie outside the club, sometimes they’re actually inside it. I had all the players I needed to be successful and the key was to get them to play at their maximum levels.”
It was a lesson that shaped Howe’s ongoing approach at Bournemouth – one of always training and developing his players to their full potential before casting the net elsewhere.
Facing such an uphill struggle early on in his career also taught the young manager that it can be counter-productive to use a setback or disappointment as an excuse. “It’s easy to make excuses to give yourself and the players a way out; whether it’s an injury, points deduction or lack of finances,” Howe says, “but the more you do it the more your team members will latch onto it.”
Instead, when he and his team face a setback, he will use it only as a motivational tool; a reason to prove the doubters wrong or a common cause to unite the team in battle.
Having had his own brush with setbacks – Howe suffered a serious knee problem for two years that eventually ended his playing career – he can empathise with his players. “That experience definitely shaped me,” he says. “They were bleak and lonely years, but I emerged stronger, more mentally resilient and with better empathy skills, which are increasingly important in leadership. I always make sure that when a player is injured they feel included in the team and are in regular contact with me and my coaching staff. It’s an overused term, but we really are like a family.”
THE LEARNING GAME
Howe has been away from the Bournemouth family for only a short period of his management career, when he spent almost two years as manager of Burnley. He has only positive things to say about the experience.
“It improved me as a manager quicker than I could ever have hoped,” he says. “I wanted to challenge myself, so I took the Burnley job because it was big club in transition. I needed to prove myself to a group of players, supporters and a board who didn’t know me; I would have to survive on my ability to coach and manage alone. That period was all part of my learning process and I don’t regret it for a second.”
This kind of ongoing development is important to Howe and something he demands equally of his players. “Every summer I ask them to go away and come back better,” he says, “and I know that to demand that means I need to do the same.”
However, the constant desire to improve himself needs to fit in with the demands of the job, which often leave little time for study and reflection. Howe therefore makes good use of coaching courses and resources and regularly seeks inspiration and affirmation from outside the football world.
He is, for example, a fan of the works of legendary US basketball coach John Wooden and was recently gripped by the book Legacy, an insight into the All Blacks. “You only ever see and feel the world from your own perspective, so it’s useful to discover what other people have done in similar situations,” he says.
A CLEAR HEAD
Having successfully kept Bournemouth in the Premier League and always building on his strengths as a manager, the future looks bright for Howe. A detailed planner, he is constantly jotting ideas down, and has a notepad and pen by his bedside should inspiration strike during the night.
Howe is far from alone in finding considerable success with a quiet and analytical approach. At home his family keeps him grounded and helps prevent him being swallowed up by the all-encompassing role of manager, and he makes time most days to go for a run or walk the dog to clear his head and create thinking and planning time.
At work, meanwhile, he tries to be true to himself and honest, open and transparent with everyone on his team. “Rather than raising my voice to get what I want, I believe in sharing the reasons behind my decisions.”
Clearly one to watch, Howe demonstrates that you can still make waves with a quiet approach to leadership.