Aidan O'Hara: 'Howe's focus on both person and player leaves Cherries looking

Answer: Bournemouth.

Last Thursday marked the 10-year anniversary of Darren Anderton’s final game as a professional footballer when his 88th-minute goal gave Bournemouth a 1-0 win over Chester and brought their points tally for the season to three, after they had started the season on -17.

If Anderton’s finale was a fairytale, the club looked in the midst of a horror story with 31-year-old Eddie Howe handed what looked one of the most difficult jobs of the 92 clubs in English football.

Like Bournemouth, Rotherham were docked 17 points before the start of the season for financial irregularities while, beneath them, Luton Town were effectively handed a Football League death sentence on -30 points which eventually meant five seasons in the hell of the Conference.

Under Howe, Bournemouth survived the hangman’s noose by nine points and they haven’t looked back since.

A decade after beating Chester was a big deal, Bournemouth host Liverpool today, are seventh in the Premier League, ahead of Manchester United on goal difference.

“Several board members told me, ‘If we go down into the Conference this club is finished’. It might have been all over anyway, because the bailiffs were in literally every day. It was, ‘we want kit, we want money, we want this, we want that’,” Howe told Michael Calvin in his excellent book, ‘Living On The Volcano’.

“The players weren’t paid for two and a half months. We couldn’t pay for the training ground, a local school, so they were threatening to kick us out.

“I don’t think the scenario could have been more grim. I would be negotiating about the electricity bill, having conversations with the water company about not cutting us off.

“I’ve experienced incidents of results having an effect on people’s jobs. It’s not necessarily the players who are affected.

“It’s those in supposedly smaller roles at the club. It doesn’t sit easily with me. That burden of responsibility is one of the things which motivates me to get up in the morning when it’s still dark, to come in and try to make the team better.”

At the time of speaking to Calvin in 2014, Bournemouth were at the top end of the Championship and on their way to a third promotion under Howe, while still in a ground that can only hold 11,000 people. But, like a golfer who finds himself putting for a Major having once been putting to keep his Tour card and his livelihood, the pressure cooker of the Premier League is all relative to Howe.

In their first season, they finished five points above the relegation zone, they were 12 points clear in 2017 and, this year, had 11 points to spare. This season, they are already 14 points clear of the drop zone and are looking up with a group of players which combine Howe’s ability to spot potential in young players as well as improving those who looked destined for a career in lower leagues.

Ryan Fraser has been a revelation this season, having made his debut for the club as a 19-year-old in League One after signing from Aberdeen. That’s the same division in which Steve Cook made his bow for the Cherries in 2012 after signing from Brighton for £150,000.

Adam Smith played one game for Tottenham and after seven loan moves, finally signed with Bournemouth for £250,000 and, like the club, moved seamlessly into the top flight.

Like many Premier League clubs, Bournemouth have benefited from television money and generous owners to the point where they can spend £20m on Nathan Ake, have Jermain Defoe as their highest-paid player and be rated as the 28th richest football club in the world, according to Deloitte.

However, it’s the likes of Fraser, Cook and Smith that form the character which builds the foundation for Howe’s team.

Few sum it up better than Callum Wilson who will pose the main threat to Liverpool this afternoon having been trusted to make the step up from Championship to Premier League four years ago when Howe signed him from Coventry for £3m.

As he prepared for his England debut last month, Wilson recalled his journey which included part of his childhood in foster care followed by his mother raising six children alone after his father left.

When he spoke with Calvin, Howe revealed how much the death of his mother, who had raised Howe and four other children by herself, affected his decision to move back to Bournemouth to be closer to his family following a 21-month spell with Burnley in 2012.

It would be trite to argue that the similarities in their family backgrounds would help Wilson fulfil his potential but Howe’s insistence on knowing about the person as well as the player at his club is part of a modern management style, albeit from a person who has been doing the job for a quarter of his life.

“When I was playing it was ‘get on with the job, you’re here to do a job, train and play so it doesn’t matter if your kid is sick’,” Howe told Calvin. “I try to be a shoulder to lean on because it can only help you, as a manager and the player himself in the long run.

“There are several players in the current group I know I can raise my voice to. There are others who, if they have not had a good game, I’ll ignore and speak to another day. I know confrontation will solve nothing, because barriers will be raised.”

Regardless of today’s result, for a club who know real hardship and a group of individuals who have been through plenty away from the pitch, any negativity isn’t likely to linger.

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Irish Independent