Very few people know the fact that Eddie Howe was Harry Redknapp’s first signing after taking over Portsmouth. Eddie Howe was 24 back then and with 2 England u21 caps, a fee of 400,000 euros looked excellent business as Howe was slowly building a reputation for being a calm and talented center back. But a knee injury sustained in his first ever game at Fratton Park that would recur often, prematurely ending Eddie Howe’s career 5 years later. Eddie Howe was 29 and was playing for Bournemouth. Injuries are rarely beneficial to a player but Howe’s injury took him to an alternative path, a route even Howe would have never imagined. After announcing his retirement at the ripe age of 29, Bournemouth immediately offered him to take over as the manager. His cruel luck inadvertently shaped up the man he is right now and the legacy he holds at the Vitality Stadium. Within 6 years, he transformed a team that was League 2 relegation fodder to a daring top flight side playing fearless attacking footballing game. He took a team that was on the brink of extinction to being the most talked about side in the English top flight.
When he became the manager in January 2009, Bournemouth were on the verge of financial ruin. The club were imposed a 17 point deduction at the start of the 2008-09 season due to their poor financial condition. The club faced a colossal struggle to survive and not dissolve. Despite losing his first two games in charge, leaving the club 10 points from safety, Howe was left with a mountain to climb. But Bournemouth went on a run that saw them lose just two of their next 13 games and steered themselves to safety without any real struggle. He led the south coast club to a second place finish the following season and earned a promotion to the League one from League two.
His impressive performances didn’t go unnoticed and Eddie Howe rejected lucrative offers to stay the club but a move always looked inevitable. It came in January 2011 when the then Championship side Burnley came calling. Along with his assistant Jason Tiendall, Howe made the switch to Turf Moor. But his 21 months at Burnley didn’t prove to be fruitful as he had to face mental stress due to his mother’s death during this time period. The loss of his mother was inexpressible for Howe but it also gave him the motivation to succeed as a football manager. After leaving Burnley, he lost no time in coming back to the South Coast.
When he returned to the Vitality Stadium in October 2012, Bournemouth, as a team, were struggling on the pitch, having won just one of their opening 11 games in League One. Again, though, Howe waved his magic wand and cast a spell that has kept fans engrossed till date. Bournemouth didn’t lose in the league until January 19, and even a five-game losing streak between February and March couldn’t stop them storming into the Championship in second place. A first campaign in the English Championship since 1989/90 saw the Cherries finish in 10th place after a late rally in the final two months. They ended up just six points below the play-off spots. The next season Bournemouth took the league by storm scoring, a league high 87 goals and getting promoted to the English Premier League for the very first time in their history. With promotion almost a certainty, Eddie Howe became the inaugural winner of the Manager of the Decade awards in the Football League awards ceremony.
Since getting promoted to the Premier League, Bournemouth have become synonymous with their devil-may-care approach to games which may particularly have disastrous effects on newly promoted clubs with Blackpool being the most recent example. But Howe has done a brilliant job to keep the club safe and comfortably above the relegation zone. In his first season in the top flight Bournemouth finished 16th followed by finishing an impressive 9th in the 2016-17 season. Bournemouth have been a part of many EPL classics in these two years, their 4-3 wins against Liverpool and West Ham and their 3-3 draw against Arsenal being the highlights. They have also defeated the Premier League giants Chelsea and Manchester United since getting promoted. Howe has earned himself a label as a young mastermind: his vision of how football should be played and how he has altered and adapted his style to remain a fixture in the Premier League.
Eddie Howe sets his teams to play possession based football, moving the ball around in a dynamic and an expansive manner. The way Bournemouth stroll around with the ball on the pitch makes it attractive to the viewers. While defending, they look to win possession back as quick as possible and the pressing scheme starts right in the opposition half. But their pressing dynamics doesn’t look very aggressive, they focus on winning the ball cleanly conceding very few fouls as possible. Once the ball is retrieved, the quick recycling and turnover of possession is completed and the team looks to create as many chances as possible. Despite not boasting a team full of individual match-winners, Howe has created a setup which brings the best out of a team displaying passion and spirit for the badge.
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Usually Bournemouth line up in a 4-4-1-1 structure which shifts to a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 depending on the situation. This formation particularly suits Howe because this structure gives him a balance between the attack and the defence. Once the ball is won back, Bournemouth make a string of passes and through patient buildup they reach the final third. Despite being apparently inferior to the other EPL teams on paper, Howe has done a commendable job to get his players running and setting them up to work as units.
While in possession of the ball, the team focuses on quality of the chances rather than the quantity of chances which leads them to repeatedly recycle possession until a desirable chance is created. The build up starts right from the defence and the team attacks and defends as a unit.
The wide players, ie, the full backs and the wingers are heavily utilized. The fullbacks push higher up the pitch and are often seen either overlapping/underlapping or helping as an outlet in the possession retention cycle. One of the wingers (Ritchie until he was there and currently Fraser) cuts inside and the fullback on that side overlaps to create width on that side of the pitch. On the other side, the winger hugs the touch line and stays wide while the fullback has a supporting role. The fullbacks especially feature in the most touches category after the completion of a match due to their involvement in the build-up play. In all the phases, support in the wide areas is provided by the full backs who are actively involved in progressions into the final third.
Both the wingers are expected to be excellent technically and dangerous in one on one situations as they look to beat the opposition full back and deliver a ball into the final third. The team tends to build up through the centre while the final ball comes frequently from the wings. While the wingers are taking on against the opposition fullbacks, Bournemouth’s fullbacks are often seeing providing support to the wingers. They surge forward losing their markers to help their fellow wide men to create overloads and isolate the opposition full backs. Due to their attacking role, both the wingers and the full backs are expected to have a high work ethic, pace and stamina.
The two midfielders form a conventional double pivot. One of them is instructed to be anchor and shield the defence while his partner is often a box to box midfielder with decent passing and distribution skills. The two players upfront take the major goal-scoring responsibilities. Callum Wilson, Benik Afobe and more recently Jermaine Defoe are placed upfront as advanced forwards. They lurk in between the two centerbacks trying to get in behind them and place a shot. The one behind the striker is probably the most important player in their attacking system. Joshua King and at times Callum Wilson act as the second striker and his role is to create a link between the midfielders and the strikers. He roams and floats around the pitch, dropping in at times to receive the ball and move towards the opposition goal. His technical prowess and close control allows him to take on the opposition defenders and he also has the ability to put a telling final ball in the space created. The second striker is the centre of the teams attacking play. Joshua King has been doing wonders in this role for Bournemouth in the last couple of years.
Out of possession, the shape is very compact as one would expect a team playing two banks of four to be. The wingers slot into the midfield and help clog the half spaces. Also, the pressing scheme in place at Bournemouth demands such discipline and the players are up to it. As seen below, the wide areas in the opposition half are let free and the center is very compact. The opposition is forced wide, reminiscent of the Leicester side that won the league under Ranieri. However the systems are very contrasting as that Leicester side would sit back and absorb pressure whereas Howe’s men look to press from the off.
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As soon as Bournemouth lose the ball, their high pressing scheme begins. The ball near midfielder closes down the opponent and pressurizes him to make a poor pass. When the opponent themselves are recycling possession, the ball near player continues to this process. To make it efficient Eddie Howe uses pressing triggers. The triggering scheme is different for a poor touch by the opposition player and for a poor pass by the opposition player. Once any of these is made, ie, the opponent makes an error Bournemouth players pounce on the ball and this triggering and intense pressing overloads the space to restrict the opponents’ passing options. However one drawback of this pressing scheme is as soon as the opponents evade the pressing, it will be very easier for them as they can push forward while Bournemouth fall short of numbers at the back. It can be argued though that any pressing system has this shortcoming.
The pressing from Bournemouth is well coordinated. The shape remains compact and the space between two players is optimal. The refernce is usually the opponent and the ball carrier. The press is local and there is an element of man orientation in the press, especially in the midfield where the Bournemouth players take on their direct opponent.Versatility and work ethic are essential for any player looking to thrive in this system.
Eddie Howe knows how to get the best out of his players. His players are also very loyal and committed towards the club and play for the badge with an unrivalled team spirit. Players like Harry Arter, Charlie Daniels and Simon Francis have been with Howe and Bournemouth since their League One days and this shows their dedication for their manager and the club.
Eddie Howe is arguably Bournemouth’s greatest ever manager and he has created a legacy at the South Coast club that will never be tarnished and always be revered. In the modern day where managers leave their clubs in search for more attractive offers and where clubs who sack their managers and put them under pressure even where there is a slight change in form, the chemistry and the bond between Eddie Howe and Bournemouth looks refreshing in our eyes
Unlike the stereotypical English mid-table team manager, Eddie Howe focuses ball retention and attacking rather than defending as a deep block and hoofing up long balls to target-men. The latter, though, has been tried successfully. Amidst all these English managers, it is pleasing to see Eddie Howe follow an exciting brand of football that makes the world sit and take notice of them. At 38, Eddie Howe can reach greater heights in the managerial world if he can work on his flaws and he has all the time to do that.
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