Howe has unfinished business
Our resident sports psychologist Gary Leboff returns with his fortnightly column, analysing the latest stories from the football world. This week, why Eddie Howe's return to Bournemouth, after less than two years away from Dean Court, may prove the exception to the rule and bring success to both club and manager...
If there's one piece of advice I give to out-of-work managers, it's this: never revisit old haunts. Going back to the scene of past glories is always tempting but, rarely, if ever, does it prove wise. Kenny Dalglish is just the latest to find that some things are best left well alone.
Eddie Howe's return to Bournemouth has been greeted by the Dean Court faithful as nothing short of the Second Coming. Two wins in two games have merely added to the sense of feverish excitement on the south coast.
Howe's record at Bournemouth is, quite frankly, prodigious. He took over as first team coach in January 2009 with the club miles adrift at the foot of League Two, struggling to recover from having started the season with a 17-point penalty for entering administration for a second time.
Despite having no experience of management (amid suspicions that Bournemouth had no money to pay anyone who did), Howe pulled the squad together with a series of masterstrokes: refusing to tolerate any degree of self-pity, presenting the situation as an opportunity to achieve against all the odds and re-signing totemic striker Steve Fletcher.
Not only did Bournemouth escape the drop but recorded a club record of nine consecutive wins the following season to achieve promotion.
But the hangover from administration remained. The Football League refused to lift a long-standing transfer embargo and the club missed out on key targets Matt Tubbs (belatedly signed from Crawley last summer) and goal-machine Charlie Austin (who would, ironically, join Howe at Burnley).
Progress under Howe remained unstoppable. With Bournemouth heading for the League One play-offs in 2011, their prepossessing coach was linked with virtually every managerial vacancy going, before finally – and rather oddly – departing for Turf Moor. Insiders suggested a reluctant departure was largely due to Howe's concern that turning down so many jobs meant he was in rapid danger of being perceived as lacking ambition.
The job of succeeding Howe was the classic 'hospital pass'. Lee Bradbury came and went, during which time the side that Howe built was broken up and sold. His successor Paul Groves lasted barely six months despite an unprecedented influx of players courtesy of a new Russian owner.
So the Dean Court messiah returns; in some style too with a win against table-toppers Tranmere. And in a classic case of the exception that proves the rule, Howe represents a rare instance of a manager I WOULD have advised to return to old pastures (not that he asked).
The reason is that the job remained unfinished. Howe was tempted away before he could complete the task he set out to achieve: guiding Bournemouth into the Championship.
It won’t be easy. Despite back-to-back wins, the club remains just above the relegation zone. In his first spell in charge, Howe would often fill the reserves bench with apprentices (when he could do so at all). Now he finds himself with a top-heavy squad, particularly in the striking department.
But Howe is exceptional for another reason too. Like his vanquished foe at the weekend – Ronnie Moore – he has an instinctive feel for the DNA of his club. Success in such cases is far more likely than not.
The only real question is how long will Eddie Howe stay second time around? Turning around fortunes at his beloved Dean Court will only remind others of what he can do. Eddie Howe's second spell might well be even shorter than his first.
Gary Leboff is one of the UK's leading sports psychologists. He has worked with numerous Premier League clubs and players from 12 different international squads. Visit Gary’s website at www.garyleboff.co.uk
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