No current Premier League manager can claim to have moulded the club they coach as strongly as Eddie Howe can about Bournemouth. Indeed, the Cherries in their modern form are a reflection of the 42-year-old who took them up the divisions, from League Two to the top flight in just six seasons. Bournemouth are a Premier League club first and foremost because of Howe.
Now, though, the South coach side are in position where they might have to consider the unthinkable. Bournemouth are in freefall having won just one of their last 11 league fixtures. Sunday’s 3-0 home defeat to Watford compounded the problems the Cherries are suffering, leaving them slumped in the Premier League’s bottom three.
Bournemouth are now 10/11 to suffer relegation to the second tier and with good reason. While others around them, the likes of Aston Villa, Watford and West Ham, have demonstrated signs of life in recent weeks, the Cherries’ performances are only getting worse. Any other club would have sacked their manager by now.
Of course, it’s natural that Bournemouth should feel a level of loyalty towards Howe. He is, after all, the man who carried them to the Premier League in the first place. Few thought Bournemouth could ever be a Premier League club, but Howe proved such doubts wrong and even kept the Cherries in the division for four seasons in succession.
However, Bournemouth will likely pay with their top flight place if they stick with Howe for the full season (he is now the 6/4 favourite to be the next Premier League manager to lose his job). The 42-year-old just isn’t getting the most out of his squad anymore. Bournemouth need someone to revitalise them to give them a shot of staying in the Premier League. After a eight-year stint, Howe no longer looks to be the man for the Cherries.
“We need to rediscover our belief in the team,” he admitted after the damaging home loss to Watford at the weekend. “For me, that’s the only thing missing because we’ve got good players. With the run we’ve been on, it’s just damaged us a little bit and I think that’s the big challenge we face. I don’t doubt the players’ quality because they’ve proved and delivered it before. That’s been chipped away at and that’s my biggest challenge, to re-find that.”
In making such an admission, Howe might just have made a rod for his own back. He is right to point out the quality at the Vitality Stadium. While Bournemouth may be Premier League minnows in terms of their size as a club, they have spent money in recent years. Their squad is better than their current league position suggests.
Up front, for instance, Bournemouth have Josh King, Dominic Solanke and Callum Wilson to choose from and yet they have struggled for goals of late. In midfield, Ryan Fraser was the Premier League’s most prolific assists-maker behind Eden Hazard last season and in defence Nathan Ake, a full Dutch international, is believed to be on the radar of both Arsenal and Chelsea. Bournemouth should be good enough to stay up.
Injuries have been a significant factor in Bournemouth’s slide down the table, but even with such problems clearing in recent weeks they appear no closer to turning things around. A new manager could achieve a bounce in much the same way Nigel Pearson has at Watford since his unexpected appointment at the start of December.
Bournemouth might choose to stick with Howe just like Burnley stood by Sean Dyche after suffering relegation in 2015. The Clarets’ faith was repaid when Dyche guided them back to the Premier League at the first attempt the following season. In terms of the here and now, though, Howe is only taking Bournemouth in one direction and for once it’s not up.