When Eddie Howe and Celtic came to their parting of the ways, a mere 48 hours elapsed before he seemed on the brink of the job some said he had wanted the whole time; Everton announced that they were saying farewell to their Italian boss.
I think most of us would have bet on Howe – a lifelong Everton fan – landing that job and it’s readily apparent that he wanted it. Yet this morning the news from Merseyside was that Rafa Benetiz was on the brink of that appointment.
To understand why that’s a major blow to Howe, you only have to look at the volcanic response from the Everton fans to the news that the former boss of their rivals was set to take the job.
Protests have erupted. Banners are being strewn outside the ground.
This morning, a major escalation after a weekend report confirmed more talks; a bedsheet draped over a house in the street where Benitez and his family stay reading “we know where you live” and telling him not sign the deal.
The police are taking that very seriously.
To say that their supporters aren’t keen on the idea is an understatement.
But their board is pushing forward with it because they think he’s the best man for the job.
Howe might be a fall-back option, but that they would rather publicly court Benetiz and take on their own supporters over it is a clear indicator as to how much the Englishman appeals to them.
I am not going to re-write history here. I wanted Howe.
He was the right guy at the right time. He wouldn’t have been my first choice – that was Martinez – but there were good reasons to be excited about the prospect of having this guy as boss.
Yet as the weeks wore on, doubts surfaced and after the first month I wrote a piece suggesting that if Howe turned the job down people were going to wonder if he bottled it.
The accusation was already being made north and south of the border.
The warning was being sent out to him by many in the mainstream press and within the game itself.
He can’t say that it wasn’t. His delaying was seen as dithering.
People were telling him that if kept Celtic waiting and then didn’t take the job that it would cast a dark shadow over him.
Chairmen don’t like managers who appear indecisive or dishonest. Howe has actually managed to look like both. His assurances to Celtic turned out to be worthless.
“How,” people at top clubs are asking, “can he have waited all that time without knowing whether his coaches were up for it or not?” It reeks of amateur hour … or it’s an excuse, and club chairman who want someone to come in and run their show can’t be impressed.
The idea that Howe is a bottler is far worse than the allegation that he’s indecisive, dishonest or just incompetent. Bournemouth more and more looks like somewhere he settled into because it was comfortable and there was minimal pressure.
Whether that’s the case or simply the perception many have, the damage from that will not heal until he proves otherwise and top clubs may not want to take a chance on him.
Even Crystal Palace, where he was widely tipped as a candidate, are not turning back towards him with the collapse of their proposed deal for Lucien Favre.
They are looking at Lampard and the boss at Swansea, Steve Cooper.
They’ve also been linked to Fonseca after his deal with Spurs collapsed. Speaking of them, they considered Rino Gattuso a better option and press reports in England don’t mention Howe at all, but they do mention Gerrard.
Did Howe expect the phone to be ringing off the hook when the Celtic deal collapsed?
Did he think that clubs in England who were holding off on sacking their managers would jump the minute his availability became known?
That didn’t happen.
We were so lost in our own shock it took a while to recognise that he had probably done more damage to himself and his own career prospects than he had to Celtic.
Not that we cared much about that as shocked as we were by our own failure.
Yet in a weird sort of way, we won the PR war in spite of looking a mess.
The swiftness with which we opened talks with Postecoglou made us look more professional than Howe did and in England the settled view is that we took our licks and swiftly moved on.
It was Howe himself who faced the harsher questions in their press corps.
We know the Scottish press focussed on our club’s failings … so did we.
But the neutrals down there saw how quickly we changed the story.
Howe, then, became the focus of the attention.
If he believed that he would emerge from all this with a better bargaining hand that was a colossal misjudgement.
The amazing thing is that when Howe finally does land a job down there it is likely that it will be a lesser one that he’d have gotten before Celtic approached him, and the chances are that he’ll take it knowing that he wasn’t first choice for the club that hires him.
If he takes one of the available jobs right now – even the Spurs one – he’ll know, in fact, that he wasn’t even second choice.
Postecoglou laughed at the question on Friday.
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“How do you know I wasn’t fifth choice?” he asked an idiot hack.
Howe will not laugh it off when the question comes to him.
Instead, I suspect he’ll cast his mind back to the moment when, as first choice, he told Celtic a deal wouldn’t be done. Whether he’ll have regrets at that point depends, really, on how long he has to get over them.
It might be a while.