Watchers of soccer perhaps more than any other sport suffer from recency bias.
All most all the popular narratives which dominate the discourse around the sport are based on sample sizes of barely a year.
Occasionally, certain ideas persist, but it is nearly always because they are twisted to fit with a more current set of events.
No more so is this true when it comes to comparisons between players or managers.
Last season, one such match-up began to gain serious momentum, the performance of Newcastle United’s Eddie Howe versus Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.
The consensus, within the British media at least, was that the former Bournemouth manager had achieved an improvement last season the Catalan could not better.
“In August, Newcastle and Manchester City drew 3-3 in a match that remains one of the season’s best, and it was that afternoon Newcastle established themselves as a force, tearing about the pitch with intensity, invention and intelligence,” wrote Daniel Harris in The Guardian newspaper’s season review.
“It is fair to say that Bruno Guimarães and Alexander Isak are just good players, the best available to Howe at this point and at the club because of the change in circumstance more than the change in manager.
“But it is Howe who has drilled one of the league’s meanest defenses, Howe, who is responsible for some of its most egregious gamesmanship, and Howe who converted Joelinton from punchline striker to midfield machine.
“It’s hard to imagine anyone could have done a better job, not even Guardiola, and there’s no higher praise than that.”
Putting it in even more definite terms was ex-Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher in his Daily Telegraph column.
“Eddie Howe is the Premier League manager of 2022,” he wrote.
“The first phase of the new era at Newcastle United is a triumph of coaching more than the result of a financial revolution.
“I don’t believe any other manager could have bettered Howe’s work at St James’ Park over the past 12 months. Had the club’s Saudi Arabia owners somehow lured Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp to the northeast upon completing their takeover, the team would not be in a stronger position.”
Only a complete idiot would try to argue that Howe’s work at Newcastle United has not been impressive, but to decide it could not be bettered by one of the greatest coaches of all time is insane.
Misconceptions About Howe
The response former Bournemouth manager’s successes has a lot to do with the preconceptions which existed before he took over.
When Newcastle United appointed a man who’d relegated his previous team, many scoffed and called it a bad move.
His stock in English soccer was not high, no one thought he was an elite manager.
Mouthy pundits like Stan Collymore and Simon Jordan slammed the appointment and looked very foolish when Howe succeeded.
Part of what they and so many others were wrong is that they failed to consider Howe’s achievements as a whole.
This is a manager who made his name by taking a team that had a -17 points deduction and saving them from relegation, then in the following season earned promotion despite a transfer ban.
He was a coach who, after a brief spell with Burnley, took the unfashionable Bournemouth to back-to-back promotions and established it as a Premier League team.
One bad season, as can often be the case, resulted in relegation, but it did not wipe out all of those previous successes.
But the recency bias was so severe it meant pundits lined up to suggest Howe’s style of play would somehow be too soft and pretty to survive the relegation dogfight he was entering with Newcastle.
“I questioned the fact that, despite playing beautiful football under Howe, the Cherries shipped so many goals and why he never worked out how to stop it,” said Collymore “He wasn’t pragmatic enough. Both he and his old club paid the price for that with relegation.”
To suggest a manager whose entire career was built on overcoming a 17-point deficit in the third tier of English soccer, a place, especially in the era Howe was coaching, as unforgiving as any around, was just ludicrous.
But Collymore’s shortsightedness is not an anomaly, it is reflective of the same bias which sees Howe favorably compared to Guardiola.
No Credit For Creating A GOAT
The Catalan has been so successful with Manchester City that the respect in which his achievements are held seems to be diminished with every trophy earned.
He is ‘expected’ to win the league and therefore any setback overcome, tactical innovation implemented or player improvement is somehow not as great an achievement.
This lens not only applies to City, it can be seen in the appreciation of his past work with Barcelona too.
Rarely if ever does Guardiola get the credit for turning Andreas Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez into two of the greatest midfielders of all time.
But it was his system that enabled those two diminutive stars to flourish into legends.
Likewise building a team around Lionel Messi in a central role with the benefit of hindsight sounds glaringly obvious, but it is frequently forgotten Guardiola jettisoned the far more established Samuel Eto’o and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to do so.
Those choices were a huge risk and at the time heavily criticized. Yet they enabled Messi to become the greatest of all time.
With the greatest respect being polite Howe simply doesn’t have that on his CV yet.
After seven years of steady success, it’s easy to forget Manchester City was not the consistent winning machine Guardiola turned them into when he arrived. During that near decade, the list of players he’s elevated to amongst the best in the world is lengthy.
We take it for granted Kevin De Bruyne or Bernardo Silva are almost untouchable, but when Guardiola began working with them they were not.
The trouble is, especially in England, if you make good players world-class and world-class players the greatest of all time you will not receive the same accolades as if you elevate a poor or average talent.
Only the most obvious improvements are lauded to the extent they deserve, Claudio Raneiri’s title with Leicester City will probably continue to be heralded as the zenith of managerial greatness over anything Guardiola delivers.
But the reality is his achievements stand beside only a handful of coaches, like Johan Cruyff and Arrigo Sacchi, in their revolutionary impact on the game.
Perhaps Eddie Howe will go on to have a career that is up there with those coaches, but in the same way, as he shouldn’t judge him for one relegation with Bournemouth, let’s not jump overboard with the improvement he’s overseen with Newcastle.