On Monday, FA chairman Greg Clarke stood before MP’s at a special parliamentary committee sitting. Clarke was questioned over the association’s appointment of Sam Allardyce and the brevity of his reign in charge. Events took an odd turn when Conservative MP James McCartney lobbied for Eddie Howe to be the next England manager.
McCartney was rightly criticised on social media for wasting parliamentary privilege on issues that shouldn’t concern the tax payer, preferring not to focus on allegations of widespread corruption in British football. That aside, the fact that Howe is deemed significant enough to earn a mention in the political sphere reflects the Bournemouth manager’s burgeoning reputation. Howe is undoubtedly the most exciting coach to emerge in Britain for many years. Listen to him speak or read any interview he gives and it is difficult not to be impressed. More importantly, watching his team play, you get the sense that this is a hugely astute and well prepared man.
Football writers and fans can occasionally overplay a coach’s influence, but Bournemouth’s rise from the fourth tier of English football to the Premier League’s top table is almost solely down to Howe and his vision.
When his playing career ended abruptly, Howe became the youngest manager in the football league at the age of 31. It was January 2009 and Bournemouth were in the League Two relegation zone and in the grip of financial problems. Despite a 17 point deficit, Howe kept them in the division. The following season, he earned promotion even though the club had a transfer embargo enforced upon them. After two years at Burnley, he returned to the south coast and guided the club into the Championship, before winning that league and delivering top flight football for the first time.
McCartney isn’t the only person canvassing for Howe. Former footballer Danny Higginbotham and Times journalist Henry Winter have been among those calling for him to be given an opportunity. “The FA would be wise now to turn to Eddie Howe, a manager of great promise and a man of high standards. England have some young players; why not a young leader, growing with them?”
Naturally, Bournemouth’s ascent has led to widespread praise for Howe. In a footballing culture which spawns figures such as Tim Sherwood and Ryan Giggs (both of whom feel entitled to jobs they are patently unqualified for), the 38 year-old is a breath of fresh air. He is intelligent, measured and articulate – preferring to work his way to the top on merit rather than complain to the masses that British managers are overlooked.
Recently, Howe was interviewed by Gary Lineker on BBC’s football focus and the subject of the England position cropped up. “The England job is the ultimate, but I’m fiercely ambitious for this club. If I want to be the best manager I can be, I have to get now right.”
This chat was of course filmed before Allardyce’s acrimonious departure, so it would be interesting to gather his thoughts now. Bournemouth lie 11th in the Premier League table, showing few signs of the traditional second season syndrome that afflicts newly promoted teams who survive. They destroyed Hull 6-1 on Saturday, displaying a brand of attacking football atypical for perceived relegation candidates. They did this with nine British players in their starting lineup, so inevitably he will enter the conversation at the FA’s headquarters.
The problem is, it’s hard to see the conditions which have facilitated his success being replicated at national level. Howe has been given time to develop Bournemouth in his own image as well as hone his coaching skills without too much scrutiny. With England, he would neither be afforded the patience nor the understanding if results didn’t immediately follow.
International football is also largely an elder man’s game. Very few elite coaches are currently in charge of national sides. Antonio Conte, for instance, found himself yearning for the riggers of daily training sessions and the relentless stream of fixtures during his two years as Italian manager. It suits a more experienced hand, someone content with less time working alongside their players.
Howe explained to Lineker that football consumes him, so at this point it wouldn’t make sense for him to trade that in in favour of a less taxing job. He appears primed for the very top of the game, and his next move will be crucial in that process. Recent history suggests that the England hot seat does more to depreciate a coach’s worth than enhance it.
Why would Howe take that risk?