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After weeks of speculation, Eddie Howe looks set to finally leave Bournemouth for Burnley over the weekend, just days after vowing to stay on at the League One side. The news will be a bitter blow for Cherries’ fans but once the disappointment of seeing Howe leave subsides, they will only have fond memories of Howe’s tenure.
‘Our Eddie’, as he is known at the Dorset club, will forever be a Bournemouth legend. He came through the ranks before making more than 200 appearances for the club during an eight-year stay.
He was then sold to South Coast rivals Portsmouth for £400,000 in 2002, a fee the struggling Cherries desperately needed to make ends meet.
His two-year stay at Fratton Park was massively disrupted by a series of serious knee injuries, restricting him to just a handful of appearances for Pompey. He then re-joined Bournemouth, initially on loan and then permanently, with the fans raising the cash to pay a proportion of his nominal transfer fee.
Another 50 appearances followed, but the Cherries were in dire trouble, both on the pitch and off it. Administration and a spell in the bottom tier followed. Howe retired aged just 29 due to the same knee injuries that had plagued him at Fratton Park, and moved into coaching.
When Jimmy Quinn was fired in December 2008 with the club second from bottom of the Football League, Howe stepped up to the top job, initially as caretaker and then permanently - one can only presume - because the club had such worrying financial troubles that finding the budget to employ someone else was beyond them.
A stroke of luck? A flash of genius from the club’s board? Or just the inevitable rise of a young manager accelerated by a set of circumstances that resulted in Howe being the only option.
At the time, Howe was the youngest manager in the Football League, having just turned 31. The club had started the 2008/09 season with a 17-point deduction and were marooned in the relegation zone, staring down the barrel of non-league football.
The club were also under a transfer embargo, but Howe somehow managed to unite the fans and the players and instil a belief and a spirit that had been lacking before. He dragged the club out of the bottom two, securing safety with a 4-0 home win over fellow strugglers Grimsby.
And the following season – his first full term as a manager - Howe led Bournemouth to promotion back to League One, despite still having to work under a transfer embargo.
Howe had gone from playing hero to club legend, from the cheap option and a gamble to one of the hottest young managers around - and clubs higher up the pyramid were quickly beginning to take note.
Then-Championship side Peterborough approached Howe in November 2009 but Bournemouth were keen to hold on to their young boss and Howe was in no rush to leave.
The club’s determination to keep Howe proved a shrewd move. He has now established Bournemouth in the League One promotion battle on a tiny budget, above traditional big-hitters such as Charlton and Sheffield Wednesday.
He hasn’t had any star players, tons of cash or a stream of top-quality loanees. He has even had to sell his most promising young players, Brett Pitman and Josh McQuoid.
But anyone who has had the pleasure of watching his side over the last year or two will vouch for the spirit, desire and togetherness that the Cherries have displayed and, coupled with the development of some promising young players plucked from non-league - like team captain Jason Pearce - they are now a real force in the third tier.
Following the club’s unbelievable start to life back in League One, Howe’s list of admirers was rapidly growing. Following the abnormally high turn-over of managers in recent weeks (eleven Football League managers have left their posts since Christmas Day) it seemed Howe was top of the shortlist at most clubs who decided a change was better than none.
Charlton and Crystal Palace made no secret of the fact they were pursuing Howe, and at one stage it looked destined to be a straight battle between the two South London clubs for his signature. But Howe resisted the move once more, much to the jubilation of Bournemouth fans. However, football can change very quickly, and now Howe looks set to finally depart Dean Court.
Tonight’s game against Colchester will be his 100th and quite possibly last game in charge of AFC Bournemouth. In that time he has transformed the Dorset side from a club looking certain to fall out of the Football League, to one on the brink of promotion to the second tier for only the second time in their history, the first being a three-year spell in the late 1980s under Harry Redknapp.
If you were to cut him in half, Eddie Howe would have AFC Bournemouth written through him like a piece of Boscombe rock. He will always be ‘Our Eddie’ to the majority of Cherries’ fans and there is no doubt he will leave Dean Court with a heavy heart.
But leave he must – for his own benefit – and if he can combine the passion, spirit and desire he instilled at Bournemouth with the playing budget of a top Championship side success at Burnley is all but inevitable, just like his rise to the top.
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