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‘I block criticism out’: Eddie Howe on coping with pressure at Newcastle | Newcastle United

‘I block criticism out’: Eddie Howe on coping with pressure at Newcastle | Newcastle United

Eddie Howe has two main strategies for coping with the stress of managing Newcastle United during a suddenly bleak midwinter.

While his boxer dog, Willis, has been taken for extra long walks in the Northumberland countryside surrounding the Howe family’s new home north of the city, his owner studiously ignores media coverage of the team’s run of six defeats in their last seven games.

“The dog’s a useful tool for me,” he said. “He’s always up for exercise, so that’s a good way of switching off. And I purposefully avoid the media and just focus on what I feel is important. The very few supporters I’ve met have been hugely supportive and, I think, understand a lot of what’s happened.

“I block criticism out. But I know the narrative. I’m not stupid. I know the questions being asked. It does fuel me. I’m a human being, of course it does. I want to do a good job. I’m fully motivated.”

Howe is focused so intensely on his job that he has deliberately adopted a reclusive lifestyle. His dedication is such that even Rafael Benítez, the most workaholic of his recent predecessors, almost looks a dilettante by comparison.

For the moment at least, Howe’s tactical Midas touch has disappeared. As Newcastle rose to a fourth-place Premier League finish last season their exhilaratingly aggressive high-pressing style served as a compelling advertisement for the brilliance of the manager’s training ground choreography.

This term, though, the demands of Champions League involvement have cut Howe’s coaching time down appreciably, while their energy-sapping modus operandi has left a shallow first-team squad fatigued and injury ravaged. It has become standard for Howe to name two goalkeepers on the substitute’s bench in a not-so-subtle message to the club’s Saudi Arabian majority owners that reinforcements are needed.

While financial fair play regulations restrict the Saudis’ room for transfer market manoeuvres, injuries have dictated that Howe is unable to rotate his starting XI. He is arguably paying the price for not resting players during a Carabao Cup run which ended with defeat on penalties at Chelsea at the quarter-final stage.

Bruno Guimarães and Eddie Howe after Newcastle’s defeat on penalties by Chelsea.
Bruno Guimarães and Eddie Howe after Newcastle’s defeat on penalties by Chelsea. Photograph: Javier García/Shutterstock

“No part of me doubts the ability in the squad, or its character,” he said. “I just think we’ve had a difficult few weeks. It happens. What you can’t allow is those difficult few weeks to hang over and become a difficult few months. The challenge is to bring our best qualities back to the pitch.”

He hopes to start the process at Liverpool on Monday night as Newcastle enter a potentially treacherous January featuring further Premier League fixtures against Manchester City and Aston Villa after Saturday’s FA Cup third-round trip to Sunderland.

Given the excellence of Howe’s work during his first two years in charge on Tyneside his job appears almost as safe as any top-tier manager’s can be. Yet if Newcastle’s UK-based minority shareholders – Amanda Staveley, her husband Mehrdad Ghodoussi and Jamie Reuben – remain totally supportive of a manager they hope will remain in charge at St James’ Park for many years to come, the Saudis’ thinking remains opaque.

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Even so, it would be a major shock were Howe not given time to put things right in what the British domiciled ownership, at least, always expected to be a difficult season. For his part, Howe is still not ruling out Champions League qualification.

“European football will always be a target for us,” he said. “We’re still very ambitious for this season and we haven’t given up hope or belief that we’re capable of fighting back. If the top four’s possible, we’ll go for it. We haven’t written anything off.

“But at this club you have to consistently prove yourself. The players are no different to myself, to everyone; you’re in a job where you’re there to be questioned. And you have to continually find answers. We know we need to perform better.”

Howe has been criticised for a lack of a plan B when the hard, high press malfunctions and looks a high-stakes gamble. Given Newcastle’s execution of a low defensive block in drawing at Paris Saint-Germain and taking Chelsea to penalties, that seems slightly unfair but he is adamant that every available “key statistical marker” tells him the team’s default system should remain “plan A”.

“I’ve got lots of weaknesses, as we all have, but one of my strengths is that I can stay calm under pressure,” he said.

“It’s important not to overreact. It’s important not to judge your team against moments in a football match. I won’t be necessarily influenced by results in a negative way.”

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