Outgoing Newcastle United manager Steve Bruce described successor Eddie Howe as "the fella from Bournemouth that got a team relegated last year". It perhaps doesn't quite encapsulate all of the 44-year-old's achievements in the game – well, it's a little mean – but it wasn't exactly an opinion only held by Bruce.
You're only as good as your last game, after all. Bournemouth's last few games in the Premier League were limp, to say the least with Howe constantly overlooked for jobs at Crystal Palace, Southampton, Arsenal, Tottenham, West Ham, even Celtic – we'll never know why exactly he never got that one – suggesting something that maybe wasn't obvious from the outside.
In fairness, Howe never really had a strong tactical identity. His teams ran a lot, sure, played an energetic 4-4-2 and liked a quirky set-piece. But there was never a buzzword of "high-press" or "possession-centric" that followed his football. Nothing concrete to convince a chairman that he could overhaul a club in his image. Not anymore, though.
Simply put, Howe's reinvention of Newcastle United, from the Toon treading water around the whirlpool of relegation to targeting a top 10 finish, has been nothing short of mesmeric – and his place on the nominees for Premier League Manager of the Season is well earned.
This is a coach who was thought of as a motivator rather than a tactical expert – yet he's turned Joelinton from one of the biggest flops in Premier League history to one of the best midfielders in England. This is a coach who has ditched the back three of Bruce and Benitez, brought in a 4-3-3 and actually got the results to back it up. You know the cliches: if his name was Eduardo Howedinho, he'd be lauded as a genius.
And of course, he had money to spend in January – when targets actually agreed to arrive, that is, with multiple linkees deciding a relegation battle didn't sound like much fun.
Even with vast investment, who would have predicted Newcastle actually avoiding relegation back then – especially if you'd have told them Kieran Trippier and Callum Wilson would miss almost the entirety of the campaign? Did £20 million Chris Wood really get Newcastle out of jail – or was it incredible training ground detail that made the Magpies more compact?
Newcastle haven't relied heavily on anyone, though. Not even Allan Saint-Maximin. This is a team far bigger than the sum of their parts – some of whom have been superbly acquired, others of which refused to even play for Bournemouth under Howe in lockdown.
Howe has gelled his northeast Galacticos exquisitely. Bruno Guimaraes has been magnificent – but not at the immediate expense of Jonjo Shelvey: that's good man-management. Dan Burn was never considered the best, second-best, even third-best defender at Brighton – yet he's commanded his boyhood club like he wasn't a backup choice to lead the Tyne line.
It's astounding from where the club were. The Toon were totally and utterly doomed that afternoon at Old Trafford when Cristiano Ronaldo announced his second coming with a brace. In the return fixture, Joelinton outplayed them in midfield, with Sky Sports' Patrick Davidson rather cheekily telling the Brazilian, "I didn't know you were that good" – and it's been mostly uphill since.
None of us knew Newcastle were that good, to be fair. The fans certainly didn't. The players didn't look like they did either – and Steve Bruce most certainly didn't.
But Eddie Howe knew. Perhaps Bruce wishes he hadn't dismissed the new king of St James's Park quite so flippantly back then.
More Newcastle United stories
Apparently, Romelu Lukaku has no interest in moving to Newcastle United. The Belgian has endured a torrid season back at Chelsea and is subject to interest from the Toon – as is Darwin Nunez, also wanted by Manchester United and Arsenal.
Meanwhile, former Magpie Mikel Merino could well return to the Premier League with Manchester City, according to reports.
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Mark White has been a staff writer on FourFourTwo since joining in January 2020, writing pieces for both online and the magazine. Over his time on the brand, he has interviewed the likes of Aaron Ramsdale and Jack Wilshere, written pieces ranging on subjects from Bobby Robson's season at Barcelona to Robinho's career, and has been to the FA Cup and League Cup finals, working for FFT.
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