Anthony Dodds gives his opinion of Eddie Howe’s reign one year into the job at his beloved Newcastle United
Flashback, to one year ago.
Newly monied Newcastle United was in the midst of a frantic managerial search following the sacking of Steve Bruce. Names flew left and right, every manager that was not already under contract and many who were. Following a multi-week exhaustive search, the new board settled on two main candidates – former Bournemouth and Burnley man Eddie Howe and then Villarreal and former Arsenal manager Unai Emery. Newcastle chose Emery, however by the end of the week Emery had elected to stay at Villarreal who he’d guide to a Champions League semi-final later that season. So, Howe, it was.
The ex-Burnley and Bournemouth man’s appointment was met with a multitude of reactions. From cautious optimism – indeed this was my verdict on the matter when writing about it as it happened – to disappointment and inevitably, ridicule. See the reaction of Jason Cundy and his talk sport colleagues immediately following the takeover when a toon fan called into their show telling them he’d be happy with Howe as an appointment. “The fella that got Bournemouth relegated” as then-incumbent manager Steve Bruce had referred to him just months before. Inside the fan base, there were questions as to why the Emery deal had fallen through but faith in the new regime that Howe had impressed enough in the interview to get the job.
In the following months, Howe lifted Newcastle from the foot of the table into a landing whisker from a top-half finish. Through jointly handled two transfer largely successful transfer windows and now to a start of the season which sees them sat fourth in the table following a 4-0 home victory to Aston Villa. Solidly in the champions leagues spots it has been Newcastle’s best start to a season since their infamous runners up campaign of 95/96.
There is three key elements to Howe’s staggering first year as boss in the north east; firstly, and most obviously, transfers. Newcastle have spent over 200 million pounds on shiny new players since Howe’s arrival. Bringing in experienced premier league heads like Dan Burn and Kieran Trippier alongside punchier snap ups of some of Europe’s most sought after talent in the snatching of Sven Botman and Bruno Guimares. The battle with European giants and reigning Serie A champions AC Milan over the young Dutch centre back in particular emphasising the weight the magpies now can throw around in the market. But the transfers aren’t all, teams have spent more and been much worse than Howe’s side.
The thing most directly attributable to Howe himself. The tactics, how Newcastle play, how they train and the transformation of several of the players who pre date Howe and the new regime. The tactics: Howe has taken Newcastle from being a regressive and reactive side easily carved up and torn apart under Steve Bruce to a high pressing, energetic monster. A mixture of physical fitness, strength and carefully planned and heavily drilled attacking play. This is not an in-depth tactical analysis of the way Newcastle now play so simply to paraphrase Howe himself – intensity is their identity. Finding space and hounding the opposition, operating like gangs mugging defenders and midfielders as they try to playout of the back. Smash and grab football at it’s ultimate best. The defending from the front, middle and back all at once approach of Newcastle has led them to over the first 10 games having the best defence in the league having still only conceded nine goals. Newcastle launch balls deep into the channels and move forward as a unit with a rapidity and bravery seldom seen outside of the most swashbuckling sides. The attack and defend as one and as high and as quickly as they can manage. Bruno Guimares, Joelinton and a rotation between Sean Longstaff and Joe Willock in the centre of the park provide the technical and energy soul of the team. While the defence of local lad Dan Burn, new boy Sven Botman, Rafa holdover Fabian Schar and England international Kieran Trippier are rock solid and key tot he team’s stellar record. Further up the pitch the attacking three would ideally line up with Saint-Maximin, Alexander Isak and Miguel Almiron but this staggering run of form has arisen with championship holdover Murphy and injury prone Callum Wilson in place of the Frenchman and the swede. All in all Howe’s tactics and coaching have been an immense success and are key to Newcastle’s position.
The biggest point I made this time last year was that Howe may not be the man for the job but he certainly is the man for the club. By this I meant given his history at Bournemouth Howe’s ability to entrench himself with a fan base give them what they wanted and make them feel like they’re on the same page gave echoes of previous toon greats. Well over the past year has Howe’s results and personality ingratiated himself to the Geordie faithful? Spectacularly so – In under a year Howe had raced up the ladder of Newcastle history and into the hearts of the black and white army. ‘King Eddie’ is sang about from the coast to the countryside, in the gallowgate and the heavens of the leases. Eddie Howe has talked at length about the importance of the connection between the fans and the team, utilising the famous atmosphere of Saint James’ Park to energise the squad and create a fortress that he can lean on in tougher fixtures. This has more than bore fruit, Newcastle have only lost once at home since the start of the year in the league, a 1-0 lost to then quadruple chasing Liverpool. The two most significant performances at home for Newcastle came either side of the summer break. At home to champions league seeking Arsenal who desperately needed a result, in the final home game of the 21/22 season the stadium was beyond raucous, a full stadium display by the independent fan led group wor flags preceded performance worthy of the passion shown. A lot was made after the fact of “playing to the level of the atmosphere” and yet arguably the best was yet to come. The third game week of the new season and only the second home game saw reigning champions freshly stocked with Erling Haaland made the trip north. Spurred by comments from City alumni Jack Grealish about fan favourite Miguel Almiron; Saint James’ park was at its deafening best as Newcastle strode into a 3-1 lead before collapsing to a spirit swelling 3-3 draw. The turnaround from openly hostile and confrontational relationship with the previous regime to the joyous love-in between the current team and the supporters is night and day, harking back to the glory days of the entertainers. Following years of anger and apathy Howe has transformed the team to once again be gods amongst men on Tyneside.
Ultimately Howe’s first year attempting to wake one of football’s biggest sleeping giants from their almost comatose slumber has been wildly successful thus far, and despite questions around the club’s ownership, the morality of their rise and the furore of the fans overwhelmingly positive reaction to the takeover which sparked and looms large over the 12 months which are rightfully deeply scrutinised, Howe himself has done a stellar job.