Cuban Claret reflects on Eddie Howe`s first year in the job….
Cuban Claret reflects on Eddie Howe`s first year in the job.
Our Eddie`s Quiet Revolution Takes Shape
WHEN Eddie Howe`s odds began to shorten for the Burnley hot seat a little over a year ago, like many Clarets I suspect, I was keen to gather any information there was on him.
An article written on the Vital Bournemouth site, straight from the heart of a dyed-in-the-wool Cherries fan, waxed lyrical about the football Eddie Howe`s side were serving up after a 3-0 win against Plymouth. This supporter could not hide his disappointment at Eddie`s pending departure but remained philosophical. Whatever happened, he said, after the long-term service he had given as a player and manager, he would always be “Our Eddie”.
It felt a bit wrong that we should be taking one of their “sons” and adopting him for our own selfish means. After all, we had gone through a similar situation with Owen Coyle and Bolton just a year earlier. The author`s enthuse for Howe`s dedication and the style of football his team produced did, however, make me feel we were getting a good ‘un.
From being the blue-eyed boy of a club he had served with distinction as a player, through running their youth team and eventually taking responsibility for the first team as a novice, it was clear here was a thinking football man ahead of his years. A young fella with the potential of a big future in management. Odds were even offered for him being a future England manager.
The legacy he inherited at Dean Court was a desperate one. He overcame points deductions and a subsequent transfer embargo to first survive, and then earn a promotion, from League Two against all the odds. The ability to develop a team in adversity has turned out to be a skill-set much required for the Burnley post – a club undergoing its own transition since relegation from the Premier League.
It would have been so easy for Eddie to pursue the Southampton, Charlton or Crystal Palace angles, but he seemed ready to leave his comfort zone. “The lure of Burnley was too strong”, he said on the eve of his move north.
The attraction of Turf Moor was surely heightened by the quality of the players at his immediate disposal, the parachute payments and, perhaps most importantly, the opportunity to develop and mould a state-of-the-art training facility at Gawthorpe. Manna from heaven for a young manager working wonders with peanuts.
Eddie`s start was steady then brilliant. Six wins in his first nine matches transformed aspirations from mid-table to genuine promotion contenders.
After the flannel of Owen Coyle and the nonsense of Brian Laws, Eddie`s early media appearances were reassuringly uncomplicated. Say only what needs to be said and no more. After a 1-0 midweek win at Hull, our fourth on the bounce, the scent of the play-offs was in the air. Then came Millwall at home. An inconceivable 3-0 reverse. The bubble burst. We lost the next five out of six. Eddie was human after all.
In the same way that Coyle`s midas touch had given way to a frustrating end of his debut season, Eddie fell short of the tall order handed to him, with a messy defeat at Leeds. But the late season rally helped him to a decent record (won 9, drawn 5, lost 7), achieved with many players who would soon be out of the door, and his marquee signing Charlie Austin hardly kicking a ball in anger. Eddie described the final performance at home to Cardiff as a “glimpse of the future” and when he had the chance to develop the squad to his liking in the summer, all would become clearer. Or so we thought….
In fact it was a summer of discontent at Turf Moor. Eddie spoke eloquently about the importance of early recruitment but an air of uncertainty hung over Gawthorpe with players wanting away. A fortnight before the big kick-off, the situation was exacerbated by the double whammy of a bid from Bolton for Eagles and Mears. The hysteria that greeted these departures was not immediately appeased by Eddie`s decision to bring in a pair of season-long loans (Ben Mee and Keiron Trippier).
But one of Howe`s key strengths – the nurture of young players – has been keenly evident with these two Manchester City youngsters. He has improved their game while assuring them that their future lies with Burnley.
I wonder how many fans would swap Mears for Tripps now ? Or for that matter Fox for Mee ?
We have better investments in these two players and a far better attitude in our back four (for considerably less money one would think).The common perception with the Fox sale was that Eddie “had the rug pulled from under him” and this was hard to refute. The Board simply failed to deliver the squad restructure early enough and it had a detrimental impact on the start of the season. Disjointed displays were inevitable as new players bedded in and this led to Eddie being on the defensive, but he never used these issues as an excuse.
For those who chose to look for them though, there were encouraging signs -the form of Charlie Austin and the promise of Marvin Bartley for two. A vibrant victory over Blackpool showed great promise but then a wretched November – with four consecutive defeats – left us hovering over the relegation zone.
Throughout this period Eddie stuck to his guns, concentrated on the positives and didn`t overact. He was beginning to feel the force negative innuendo from certain sections of supporters. His insistence that “clean sheets were just around the corner” was hard to swallow even from the more patient among us. Sometimes in football though, you just need the ball to run for you, and how it did at the KC Stadium on November 26th. The effects of all the hard work crystallised in 20 minutes of joyous madness which will forever be seen as a pivotal moment in Howe`s career.
Triggered by the boot of the much maligned David Edgar and completed by trusty Jay Rodriguez`s terrific finish, this 3-2 win was a turning point if ever there were one. An upturn of fortunes has seen us record title-winning form since. We`ve even kept the clean sheets – five from the last six matches in the league. Naturally when such prophecies come to fruition, supporters quickly fall into line. Eddie`s statements do seem to stem at least from a belief in his methods. Players are buying in to it, hence the permanent signings of Mee, Trippier and the extension of Edgar`s contract.
Edgar`s enlightenment is a particular triumph. Neither Coyle nor Laws put any trust in him. When eventually given a run of games by Howe he made enough mistakes to have blown his chance. But the manager stood by him and now he looks every part a decent Championship central defender.
There`s still plenty work to do with the likes of Junior Stanislas and Keith Treacy, but Howe is keen to stress their quality as he hopes to unlock training pitch potential on the main stage.
He has brought this young team a long way in a short time. He has earned himself what Steve Claridge calls “a degree of latitude” to progress the team without unhelpful pressure of unrealistic supporter expectation.
I believe winning more games than we lose this season would be a considerable achievement given the hand Howe was dealt pre-season, especially from the situation we found ourselves in late November. Play-off qualification is not out of the question but I`d still expect us to fall adrift of the current leading two, Cardiff, Birmingham, Leicester and Reading, to name but six.
The Championship will almost certainly be a more northern one next season and a good place to be for a hungry squad still capable of a consistently higher level of performance. The unknown factor remains what buy-in Eddie receives from the Board, and some tough decisions no doubt lie ahead in the shaping of the squad. All we can ask is they do everything within reason to help him complete his quiet revolution.