We have mentioned the madness surrounding the current employment of football managers on this site before in recent weeks, but today there was a rare outbreak of common sense as Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe decided, after much speculation and tribulation, to stay with the club that gave him his chance in management and turn down the overtures of Crystal Palace and Charlton Athletic. Howe was honest enough to say that he had been seriously considering leaving the club on account of the offers made to him, but stated that it was ultimately the quality of his players and the momentum behind his team that led him to make the decision to stay.
Howe cuts a singular figure as a football manager. He was brought up in Verwood, barely fifteen miles from Bournemouth, and had two spells at the club as a player, making over two hundred and fifty appearances for them before returning as their manager at the age of just twenty-nine, having retired two years earlier on account of a persistent injury. Financial difficulties meant that the club had a transfer embargo in place for much of last season, but he still managed to guide the club to promotion to League One and has continued his good work there this season – a win for Southampton this evening knocked them down to third place in the table, but such a position is still a remarkable achievement for a newly-promoted club.
The level of surprise expressed today that he has decided to stay at Bournemouth says a lot about our expectations of what players and managers should do and the moral code – or lack thereof – that we now expect them to live by. Crystal Palace and Charlton Athletic could both, in some regards, be considered “bigger” clubs than Bournemouth, with large grounds and memories of Wembley appearances and Premier League football. Indeed, Howe’s decision not to leave for the bright lights of London shines a light upon the nature of the moral quandry that faces the in-demand manager, and how we should gauge success or otherwise in this uniquely cut-throat profession.
A cursory look at the Championship table indicates that the Crystal Palace manager’s job has more than a hint of poisoned chalice about it. They avoided relegation from the Championship on the last day of last season, but their fortunes haven’t been any better this season and they currently sit in the relegation places. Charlton Athletic, meanwhile, could be considered as rivals to Bournemouth amongst those that are currently jostling for position in the play-off places in League One, but there been has a whiff of poison in the air at The Valley of late, and it would be a brave individual that would bet on them above, say, Brighton or Southampton to win one of the division’s automatic promotion places at present.
Perhaps, then, Eddie Howe’s decision was as much pragmatic as it was emotional. It wouldn’t be too much of a leap of the imagination to consider both Crystal Palace and Charlton Athletic to be a potential banana skin for any manager. Both clubs have greater expectations than Bournemouth and are, on balance, currently probably less likely to get anywhere nearer to matching those ambitions than Bournemouth are to wildly exceed their more modest hopes of their supporters. He may even have paused for thought over the dog’s abuse that Roy Hodgson received at Liverpool and considered the cons of taking “the step up” before making his decision to stay at Dean Court. At thirty-three years old, Howe is likely to have a further three or four decades ahead of him as a manager, so it’s hardly as if he doesn’t have time on his side. Why take a chance now, when he has the opportunity to write his name still further into the folklore of AFC Bournemouth?
Howe’s position as the manager of the club is also immeasurably strengthened by his decision to stay. In an ever-competitive transfer market, how much value might his reputation as a manager carry to the club to a player that is in demand? In an era of increasing player power, the benefits of having a manager with the absolute respect of his players could also have side-benefits in a tight promotion race, if there is any traction to the idea that a little extra effort might be enough to force one team over the winning line above their rivals. To this extent, it is possible to see Howe’s decision to stay at Dean Court as a practical choice as well as what we, as supporters, might consider to be the right one.
Perhaps it is healthier for all of us to see this decision through a moral prism rather than through a practical one, though. Modern football seems to exist within a moral vacuum, in which winning is the only object while a pantomimesque lip service is paid to the very notion of “sport” itself. Players shake hands with each other before matches in lines that look like two congas passing in the night and then spend ninety minutes kicking lumps out of each other. The captains meet and greet the referees, but woe betide the man in black if he gives a decision against, well, either team that they don’t like. It doesn’t always necessarily have to even be a contentious decision to the neutral – he’ll still find himself surrounded by players with bulging eyeballs and veins throbbing in their temples, insistent that no crime has been committed and that the blowing of his whistle is the greatest travesty of justice in the history of the game. We should reach out to the idea of Eddie Howe’s decision to stay at Bournemouth being for the love of the club for the sake of our own sanity, as football descends further and further into madness with each passing day.
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