Bournemouth face an uncertain future - with or without Eddie Howe
A club dependent on Premier League riches and with an unsustainable wage bill begins the process of how best to secure immediate promotion
Sometimes statements are notable for what they do not say as much as what they do.
Bournemouth owner Maxim Demin released a largely reassuring letter to supporters this week, voicing his commitment to taking the relegated club back to the Premier League. “This is not the end of the journey,” he pledged.
Yet, mentions of the manager were conspicuous by its absence. Eddie Howe first took over when Bournemouth were 91st in the Football League. He steered them, at their highest finish, to ninth in the Premier League. He is alone in current managers in being the single most important figure in his club’s history.
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But, both before and after relegation was ratified at Goodison Park on Sunday, he was non-committal about his own future. It could be determined at a board meeting this week. In theory, he is the best man to bring Bournemouth back up, and not merely the finest available.
In 2015, Howe was named the Football League’s manager of the decade. In the current environment, both he and they may benefit from a break.
Certainly Howe has looked drained from the strain of a demanding job; some 39 defeats in his last 66 league games showed the slide was more than a blip, that some of the failings were fundamental and that erratic recruitment came at a cost.
Now there is a financial price. With an undersized ground and a historically small fanbase, no club was more reliant on Premier League funds. In 2018-19, more than 88 per cent of their income came from top-flight broadcast revenue and prize money. Just under four per cent came from matchday income. Meanwhile, 85 per cent of their turnover was spent on salaries.
While parachute payments provide a cushion, that wage bill is unsustainable. Their greatest asset, Nathan Ake, reportedly does not have a clause reducing his salary which, in turn, should cut his transfer fee. The two Manchester clubs could be interested.
Yet Bournemouth’s diminishing status affects their chances of getting premium prices. There was a time when Chelsea were tipped to spend £50 million (Dh238m) on Callum Wilson. As recently as January, there was a £25m price on Josh King when Manchester United wanted a forward.
Those fees would have to be halved while the £25m to buy Jefferson Lerma might have to leave at a loss. In Ryan Fraser, they lost a potential windfall when he went on a free transfer but in David Brooks, Lewis Cook and Aaron Ramsdale, there are talented young players who should tempt suitors.
The problem lies in who it leaves. There are Howe’s lower-league stalwarts, veterans of promotions who figured more than many expected in the top tier, even if Charlie Daniels, Andrew Surman and Simon Francis are all out of contract and Harry Arter has spent successive seasons out on loan.
Then there are the signings who, to varying degrees, are culpable for Bournemouth’s demise. Jordon Ibe, the most egregious of the overpriced and the underachieving, has already gone. But it leaves Dominic Solanke, Arnaut Danjuma, Lloyd Kelly, Diego Rico, Chris Mepham, Asmir Begovic, Brad Smith and Philip Billing.
Some can plead injury in mitigation, but their combined cost exceeded £100m, and they have delivered too little in return. Liverpool, in particular, will miss Bournemouth’s willingness to pay inflated fees for their bit-part players.
So Bournemouth’s destiny rests partly with men who currently look mistakes, who are unsellable at anything remotely resembling their purchase prices and yet who could be propelled to prominence by the departures of those the Premier League clubs will covet.
Thus far, it scarcely looks a recipe for promotion, even if the prospect of banking sizeable sums offers the opportunity to reinvest some of it in a depleted market. It means, however, that Demin’s backing could be crucial.
There are other Championship clubs who will argue Bournemouth’s was no fairytale rise. They made a £38.3m loss when they got promotion in 2014-15 but they were among the smallest clubs in the second flight, let along the Premier League. They punched through their glass ceiling.
Howe has been integral to their identity but decisions beckon. Without him, what are Bournemouth? With or without him, can they stage a sequel and return to the Premier League?
Updated: July 30, 2020 07:22 AM