When Eddie Howe said on Friday, almost two weeks into the job, that he is yet to see Newcastle in daylight such is the time he has spent at the club’s training ground, it offered a glimpse into the world of a workaholic manager who was in the building before 7am on his first day.
“When he takes a job on, he is fully invested,” says Marvin Bartley, who played under Howe at Bournemouth and Burnley. “One day I thought: ‘I’m going to beat the gaffer in.’ No matter what time I came in in the morning, his car would be there. I’m thinking: ‘How is he getting in so early? Is he sleeping there?’ I was never able to beat him in.”
There is no chance Howe’s team will be underprepared for Brentford’s visit to St James’ Park on Saturday, even though he has to miss his first game after testing positive for Covid-19. Howe will be in contact with his staff from his hotel room and his assistants, Jason Tindall and Graeme Jones, will lead the team. “He always thought the training would take care of the weekend,” says Tommy Elphick, his captain when Bournemouth won promotion to the Premier League. “As a player, you could always see he was working backwards.”
Howe has spoken of feeling refreshed and energised on his return to management after 15 months away, but in that time, as well as enjoying playing sport with his eldest sons, Rocky and Harry, he focused on self-improvement, visiting Atlético Madrid, Rayo Vallecano and Liverpool, optimising his colour-coded training plans into a digital format and analysing Newcastle’s strengths and weaknesses long before taking the job.
“People would say: ‘You’ve been out of the game’ and question that, but for me I’m more relevant and in touch than I’ve ever been in terms of what is going on at the top level,” Howe said last week.
Day one provided a snapshot of how Howe works. First came the bleep test – high fitness levels are paramount for his teams to be dynamic – and on the grass he was typically hands-on, playing out a passing drill focused on overlapping runs. “His energy in training is what drove us,” Elphick says. “He taught us a way to win. We all got a text message the night before his first session. He asked us to bring some money in to put into a pot. He split us into four teams and we had a winner-takes-all tournament. It was a way he tapped into us to bring a competitive edge to the group. We never looked back.”
Those who have worked with Howe stress how much he cares about his players and staff. He was there for Harry Arter after the tragic death of the midfielder’s daughter, and Ryan Garry, who played under Howe during the manager’s first spell at Bournemouth, recalls his support after breaking his leg for a second time. “Eddie was first-team coach at the time and he was one of the first staff members, after the physio, to give me a call,” says Garry, the England Under-18s manager. “He has got that empathy for people on a personal level. Those little things you don’t forget.”
He would often lay on “extras” at training. Garry remembers Howe and his assistant Jason Tindall putting on a 45-minute session for defenders – “Eddie’s appetite for developing players is huge” – and when Bartley joined Burnley from Bournemouth, he and Charlie Austin would head in early because Howe would put on tailor-made sessions. Garry raises another episode after a League Two defeat at Aldershot. “I was marking their striker, Marvin Morgan, and myself and Eddie had a difference of opinion. We got back to the ground, everyone’s gone home, the lights are out, and we’re having a half-hour discussion in the tunnel about how you can mark someone in the channel.”
When Howe, formerly Bournemouth’s centre of excellence manager, took the reins in 2008, the team were lumbered with a 17-point deduction, bailiffs turned up on a regular basis and players went unpaid. Howe galvanised the club, washing the kit and dipping into his own pocket to fund equipment and bring in a conditioning coach. He and Tindall would scout the opposition. “I would know everything about my opponent before I went on the pitch,” says Bartley. “Eddie was ahead of his time.”
Howe was quick to foster a sense of buy-in. After avoiding relegation to non-league, he told the squad on the first day of pre-season that the aim was promotion, which they achieved. “He makes you believe in yourself and in him,” says Bartley, recalling Howe’s first spell at Bournemouth. “We were almost like robots; we believed in him so much, we respected him so much. Anything that he said went. If he said you have to run 10 miles before you train, we would do it without question. When he went to Burnley, they had just been relegated and there were a lot of players that thought they knew better.”
Howe demands high standards. Sitting on balls in training is punished with a fine and players recognised they could not ease off. “It was always: ‘How are we going to get better for tomorrow?’” says Elphick. “When he walks into the canteen, you would always sit up that little bit straighter. On away trips I would always make sure I was down and looking fresh and ready for breakfast. You were always conscious what he was thinking about you. He definitely carries that presence and aura and keeps you on your toes.”
The 43-year-old seems permanently fresh-faced and although he is personable, he is not merely a Mr Nice Guy. Howe sent Aaron Ramsdale, an £800,000 signing from Sheffield United, on loan after the goalkeeper missed the bus for a Bournemouth game at Chelsea. “If he needs to rollick you, he will, but he loses it in the right way, to make sure it has an impact on the team,” says Bartley, recalling the time he snaked down the team bus carrying a cowboy costume for the Christmas party in Manchester, a couple of hours after being sent off early in a 5-0 defeat at Morecambe.
“It was one of those old-school coaches that only had one way on, one way off, so to get off we had to walk past the gaffer. I had the hat and everything, boots with the spikes – they were clinking along as I was walking down the coach. I was saying to Darren Anderton: ‘I can’t come.’ As I went past him he didn’t even look at me. I could just feel he was disgusted with me. He brought it up in every team talk after, saying: ‘You boys owe me.’”