Too Much Too Young
WHEN Eddie Howe accepted the challenge of becoming the youngest manager in Burnley`s 125-year history, he could have had no idea of the size of the task ahead of him.
Just 33-years of age when he arrived at Turf Moor, success in management had come easily to him in his formative years. He was helped with a lot of love from the club that had reared him. Lauded as a player, then respected as a coach, he showed maturity beyond his years to take on the role of team manager before his 30th birthday. But he was also hindered by the fact that Bournemouth were in and out of administration and he had to operate in a climate of points deductions, transfer embargoes and skeleton squads.
With that came zero expectation. It`s remarkable how adverse situations can bring people together. Howe got on with the job and did extremely well against this backdrop, earning stability and keeping the club afloat in the football league, before sprinting to promotion from League Two in his second full season. Free flowing football adorned Dean Court as Bournemouth made an impression in the 2010/11 League One play-off race. He was seen as a saviour by the supporters.
His work caught the eye of boardrooms throughout the country. Of Southampton, Charlton and Crystal Palace. He was reportedly offered the manager`s job at Southampton and Palace. But his inexperience would be exposed when flummoxed with blinding career choices. Turning down The Saints might just be one he has questioned since. But as the spotlight brightened, he couldn`t say no forever.
I recall his first interview after his Burnley appointment. He said he didn`t want people to label him unambitious after turning down an increasing number of approaches. It indicated perhaps that a sense of duress had played its part in his decision to move north. Like a referee who is derided for refusing a stone-wall penalty but then gives the same team one five minutes later for half the offence.
"The lure of Burnley was too strong" he said, but was it Burnley? Its history, tradition, the 'passionate supporters`. Or was it the attractive financial offer on the table? The parachute payments or perhaps the fear of being labelled unambitious.
Following the enthusiasm that greeted his appointment, there was the nagging feeling of whether he really was the right fit for Burnley. He looked like a rabbit in headlights at times early on, both on the touchline and in the press conferences. He appeared a touch ambivalent towards the Turf Moor experience, as opposed to say, Owen Coyle, who embraced it so eagerly, even on a cup night with 4,000 people there.
The lack of touchline dynamic - an overrated attribute in truth - irked supporters. But as time went on, the players too often mirrored his demeanour. Not sure he was always conscious of this but I hope the next one is more animated for his own sake. It`s important that the home manager wins the backing of the expectant Bob Lord Stand inhabitants behind. After all, half of them have seen us win the First Division
So at the end of what Eddie described as a "difficult week", he was back in the bosom of his beloved Bournemouth, caught on camera peering through what looked like a portakabin window, flanked by his trusty shadow Jason Tindall. He looked at ease in the modest surroundings. Relieved to be 'back home` at the club where he made over 200 league appearances.
A hero`s welcome and a watching brief over a 2-0 win against Leyton Orient will have compared well to the shock of Wilfried Zaha terrorising Burnley`s defence the previous Saturday.
After a relatively smooth transition back down to the south coast, one hopes he will have woken up happy with no more Burnley to worry about. He might have forgotten about us already!
Turns out that on a personal level, the last few months have been a much more difficult time for Eddie than many of us could imagine. There is more to it than can be detailed in an exit statement, but the sudden loss of his mother in March this year was an understandable trigger for his unhappiness.
It has been suggested that Eddie worked tirelessly for Burnley at a time when he should perhaps have been grieving. The team has undergone a rough trot of form since January and who`s to say that the manager`s ability to focus has not been ill-affected.
Until that point I thought he`d showed impressive resolve to turn round our season after the early part of the campaign had been blighted by the hurried exit of not only Eagles and Mears to Bolton, but (more importantly) Elliott and Fox.
He made minimum fuss of the moving goalposts but never used the actions of Board as an excuse. To tally up double figures in away wins was some endorsement of Howe`s tactical approach, rarely matched in all the time many of us have supported Burnley.
I don`t doubt he worked extremely hard to get things right. It really mattered to him but frustratingly, at home especially, we weren`t good enough often enough, and I`ve no doubt he`ll lament not being able to instil the Turf into a fortress. He sure seemed to enjoy it on the two notable occasions - Blackpool and Bolton - when the roof was raised.
This summer was less fraught. After the inevitable sale of Jay Rodriguez, an emphasis on reinforcing the defence was largely praised. There was certainly little to suggest otherwise after our bonanza win over Bolton Wanderers on that glorious opening day of the season. Whilst that remains our only clean sheet this season, I still didn`t think things were quite so worrying as many of my Claret peers believed.
The counter argument is that we were quickly losing our way and with doom and gloom infiltrating the stands, Eddie calling time and Burnley receiving a pay-off, the 21 months concluded in most convivial way for all parties.
Sometimes in life you have to take a step backwards to go forwards. In Eddie`s case, he`s still a young man. I don`t agree with those who believe his career will be irreparably damaged by his move back home. He should be in no rush.
He had perhaps come to the conclusion that he wasn`t winning the battle at Turf Moor despite the processes he had laid down. If we had been one of the few teams to show consistency like Cardiff or Brighton, he would have possibly felt better about himself and not thrown it all in. His leaky defence had perhaps made the decision that bit easier.
Whatever the determining factors, he was not in the right mental place to carry out his duties. Burnley had become a millstone round his neck and it was affecting his family life. He`s young and talented enough to recover his mojo, knowing that he has let nobody down.
The Clarets have the freedom to build again or change tack. Eddie Howe`s legacy will lie in the decision they make in the coming days. If the powers-that-be really believed in his methods, they will appoint a man to broaden his vision. If they feel uneasy by taking the young pretender option again, then the shortening odds on Mick McCarthy might yet have some credibility (though I remain convinced it won`t be McCarthy).
Either way, it is not young Eddie`s problem any more. He leaves with our thanks and best wishes.