Remembering the Portsmouth nightmare which could be the making of a managerial great as Scottish giants Celtic await former Bournemouth boss
For the injured party it was the start of a nightmare, from which his playing career would never recover.
It was the moment which effectively provided the catalyst to launch Linvoy Primus into Pompey greatness.
But it was also the very same instant Eddie Howe’s hopes of becoming the top-level defender his career promised was wrecked.
Nine minutes into the opening-day clash of the 2002-03 season against Nottingham Forest, Harry Redknapp’s first signing as Blues manager was left writhing in agony in the shadow of the Fratton End.
Primus was the man who replaced the £400,000 arrival and went on to become one of the most unlikely heroes of a never-to-be-forgotten campaign, which ended in player-of-the-season plaudits and eventually a place in Fratton folklore and royal blue hearts.Ironically, it was also the genesis of a journey which would make him one of the game’s most highly-regarded young practitioners in the sphere he now occupies.
Through an 18-month period of rehabilitation, Howe was a fixture at Pompey’s ramshackle Eastleigh training ground where it felt, to this observer, a darkness descended over him as he faced his demons.
On a press day, the 42-year-old would make his way past the assembled press huddle to a hut masquerading as a gym, often with barely a glance cast in his direction.
This journo would make a point of checking his progress and, though the rhetoric was what you’d expect of a rehabbing player speaking to a press man, his despondent body language told its own story.
And was there any surprise a storm cloud followed the man brought in from Bournemouth around? Howe was forced to look on as the archetypal forgotten man through the start of the most successful period in Pompey’s modern history, all while coming to terms with the reality he was no longer the same player.
Harry Redknapp’s man-management skills to those he preferred are legendary. Perhaps, it wasn’t quite the same for those out of favour or perceived as no longer being of use to him. Howe fell firmly in the latter category.
There’s little doubt the pain suffered at PO4 has framed elements of his managerial make-up, for someone now being pursued by Scottish giants Celtic. It certainly fuelled the kind of character traits which set apart the best in his trade.
An interview with the excellent website The Coaches’ Voice, gave an insight into Howe’s ‘isolation’ at Pompey and how it helped point him towards a managerial path he's travelled with success.
He said: ‘There’s no doubt that my injuries accelerated my move into coaching. Without them I would have continued to play; with them, I was forced to look at the game differently.
‘I knew I wouldn’t be playing very long after the serious injury I got at Portsmouth. I was well aware that my career was going to be cut short – I could feel it in my body – so I was looking at alternative ways to find employment in the game.
‘There’s also no doubt that that period has made me a better manager. I felt very isolated and alone – not through any fault of Portsmouth – and, when you’re in that place, you feel detached from the bubble that is football.
‘Even though I wouldn’t have wanted it for myself at the time, in hindsight it was probably a very good thing for me.’
It appears the role of a gentleman whose Pompey voyage traversed a very different route to Howe, is central to completing his move to Parkhead.
Richard Hughes, of course, is remembered warmly in these parts for his services across nine years, after following his close friend to Fratton from Bournemouth a couple of months after his signing in 2002.
The midfielder went on to provide the kind of intelligent under-the-radar performances on the pitch which gave him estimable status among peers, who were the most gifted to wear royal blue in the club’s modern history.
And off it, the Scot ingratiated himself with the city he represented by showing a sense of community none of his team-mates, with the exception of Primus, came remotely near to matching.
The pages of The News were lit up for a number of years by his Look Hughes Talking column, which gave an insight into both Hughes’ football intelligence and eloquence on matters impacting the game and beyond.
Readers would have picked up on the 41-year-old’s Celtic links back then, along with fervent backing of AC Milan and near obsession for Barcelona and their approach in their Pep Guardiola pomp.
Hughes was talking about false nines before the term had even been coined, heralding Roma’s Francesco Totti as the great modern exponent of the role then waxing lyrical over Lionel Messi elevating its execution to an art form.
As Howe’s steely focus had turned to making his name at Dean Court a distance grew between the two long-term pals for a period, before Hughes took a disillusioned footballing leave of absence after being treated dismally by then chief executive David Lampitt over a contract dispute in 2011.
It was Paul Groves who would eventually tempt Hughes to take his focus away from the restaurant industry after opening an Italian in London’s Soho, however, and return for a playing swansong at Dean Court, which then was to bring him back into contact with Howe.
And that rekindling of a link-up between the pair has travelled a route which now sees the football thinker likely to be named sporting director at the club he supported as a youngster.
To gain an insight into Howe’s standing within the game, you only have to hear the esteem in which he’s held by Pompey’s new head coach.
Danny Cowley has earned his plaudits for his own theorising in his opening weeks at Fratton, but the chance to pick Howe’s brains was one which had him cooing over the insight afforded.
So after eight months away it appears a return is nigh for a man whose Pompey career spanned two appearances, 61 minutes of playing time and a lot of pain.
Strange as it is to say, Howe might one day just have that dark period to thank for making him a managerial great.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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