THE third Monday in January has been deemed the most depressing of the year - indeed it has become known as Blue Monday.
But Eddie Howe was certainly not down this Monday as he celebrated the first anniversary of his appointment at Turf Moor.
It was more Claret and Blue Monday - and the outlook is bright.
Howe was finally unveiled as Burnley’s 33rd manager on January 16th last year, taking over from Brian Laws as the club looked for a fresh start after a traumatic 12 months, following Owen Coyle’s departure, subsequent relegation from the Premier League and struggle to re-establish themselves in the chase for promotion.
Things haven’t been plain-sailing over the year, with a need to trim the wage bill in view of the impending Financial Fair Play rules, while the majority of the heroes that got Burnley to the promised land have left, as Howe looks to build an exciting young side capable of replicating that feat.
And Howe looked back on an eventful 12 months, which also saw him become a father for the first time to Harry in August: “It’s gone really quick, I have to say. I know year on year time does seem to go quicker, but it’s flashed by.
“So much has happened when you look back, but it doesn’t feel like a year.”
Howe took over a squad containing the likes of Chris Eagles, Tyrone Mears, Danny Fox, Clarke Carlisle, Chris Iwelumo, Graham Alexander and Steven Thompson - but all those talented, experienced individuals have been replaced by fresh faces, and he looked at the changes: “There has been a big turnover of players and I think suffered with that at the beginning of the season for sure, where we were a new team and hadn’t played enough football together.
“I think that has shown in the performances as time’s gone on there has been a bit more of an understanding in each other’s roles. People have found partnerships within the team, they’re enjoying playing with each other, which I think has made a massive difference.
“In the summer there was probably too big a turnover of players. We were left without a recognisable spirit and a recognisable identity and I think that took time to develop.
“But we want to identify young, talented players, try to bring them here and try to develop them and mould them into a team.
“We feel it’s well suited to our best attributes, because we like to be on the training pitch with the players -we’ve had success with it.
“That’s not to say there isn’t a role for experienced lads as well because they’re vital, as people like Michael Duff have shown since coming back into the team. It’s absolutely priceless, that experience and know-how at this level.
“If you can get that mix between the two I think you’ve a good chance of being successful.”
Howe took in the goal-less draw with leaders, and eventual champions QPR at Turf Moor, before being officially unveiled, and he spoke of his first thoughts on taking over the squad: “From watching to QPR game, which was the first game I saw, I thought the squad needed some work. Part of the reason, probably, why I was brought in.
“There were a lot of experienced players and probably too far that way - I think it needed some more energy added to the side.
“It certainly had quality, there’s absolutely no doubt about that.
“There were some very talented footballers, some exceptional players.
“I think the team was strong, it just probably needed some more energy in it. I don’t think there was a lot that needed doing.
“Ultimately I don’t think we were quite good enough to make the top six, which was frustrating because we weren’t far away and some of those results that eluded us towards the end of the season were pivotal.
“The pleasing thing was we managed to win some games away from home, which we hadn’t done, and we felt positive going into the summer that we could add to the quality that we already had.
“The main thing was adding a bit more energy and pace to the team from when we first saw it, but the quality was certainly there.”
That energy and pace came with hungry, young players - with Charlie Austin and Marvin Bartley his first signings: “I think that is something we needed to do.
“Marvin and Charlie, reflected that really.
“That team had done so well, not only in getting to the Premier League but also competing in the Premier League, but that era was sort of over and we had to look to the future and try to change it around.”
The team that got Burnley into the Premier League wasn’t looking like taking the club back at the first attempt, and Howe added: “A key issue for us was we were obviously desperate to get there, as I know everyone was, but once you’ve been there and achieved that success there’s always that question mark hanging over.
“How much can the players find it within themselves to do it again? I think sometimes that can be difficult.
“There was an element of that. We had to look at it and say ‘right, let’s build a new team’.
“You can’t live off past glories. You have to always look to the future, and that’s what we did in the summer.
“We’re not there yet but hopefully we’re trying to identify the right players to build again.”
The supporters had a strong emotional attachment to that group of players - the best in a generation - and Howe found himself having to let some of those heroes and, in some cases, legends, leave to progress: “It was incredibly difficult as a new manager coming in and having now previous association with Burnley to suddenly have to break that team up.
“It wasn’t something we wanted to do.
“There was no desire to do it but we felt to do our jobs to the best of our ability that we HAD to do it.
“I know what the fans felt of those players and we ourselves – what we felt as them – because they are all brilliant professionals, fantastic lads and had been brilliant players for the club for a long period of time.
“They were difficult calls to make, but we felt we had to make them.”
It was all about creating new heroes for the fans, as Howe said: “That’s exactly it. You’d love to be successful with a team that had been together for a long time – you’d like that to last forever.
“But unfortunately in life, as we all know, good things don’t last forever and you have to try to build a new team that the fans then get that identity with and they have new heroes that they support, and that was our aim.
“Of course along the way we lost some players that we didn’t want to, which I think everyone knows about, and that was difficult because you lose quality players; established Championship players who do a very good job for you in what is a very competitive division.
“To lose those players was difficult, and that meant the overhaul of the squad was drastic, and that’s probably what we didn’t want at the time.”
The fans seem more united than they have in two years, with a more positive outlook - although Howe notes that the recent run of form is a major factor: “It’s helped with results.
“If you don’t get results it’s incredibly difficult to buy into anything.
“From the fans’ point of view they saw a lot of changes. They saw the team change and the team wasn’t winning games so there are going to be questions raised.
“But now, thankfully, results have improved and the fans have seen the players do well and perform at this level and hopefully they’ll continue to back the lads.
“I believed in the players that we have.
“The ones that are here I’ve always believed are good enough.
“I felt we brought in good players in the summer. Some players take longer to adjust to a new club than others.
“Some have come up from a lower level and there’s always a period of adjustment there; some have moved area for the first time and had big changes in their lives and you need to give them that time – just as me and Jason needed that time off the pitch to settle as well.
“You have to treat the players the same way.
“I believe in them all and I think they will all come good.
“And if they do and they really develop their confidence at this level, they’re all young players and they’ve all got lots of potential and time ahead of them to get even better.”
Moving from Bournemouth - where, bar a spell with neighbours Portsmouth he spent his entire playing career, before his move into management with the Cherries - meant a change in lifestyle as well as a job, but Howe is happy and settled in the north west: “For me I had the baby as well come along, a new area for the first time – a long way from home. I wouldn’t say it was difficult for me personally, moving up here.
“I think it’s been difficult for my wife, but we’ve all settled now.
“It is a different way of life, but personally I’ve found it quite easy and enjoyed it, and I’ve enjoyed the experiences that it has brought with it.
“I’ve found the people and the supporters have been really, really good to us, and that makes a massive difference.
“The people around the club have really helped us settle in as well.
“Everyone, from top to bottom at the football club, has been brilliant.
“I can’t speak highly enough of all the staff here. I include the board members and office staff – people that we’re in contact with day to day, around the training ground – they are exceptional people, and that definitely helps.”
Constantly looking to improve himself and his players, Howe admits there remains much to do before he is satisfied: “The end goal is something you never reach because you’re always trying to get better.
“I think we’ve still got some way to go. We’re pleased with the progress we’re making and how the team’s looking but we know in our own minds that there is still some work to do to get to where we want to be which is, ultimately, top six.”
But he feels the experience so far has probably made him a better manager: “It’s something you never really think about and evaluate yourself and say ‘am I better than a year ago?’.
“I’d like to think I am. I’d like to think I’ve learned a lot.
“Different situations have cropped up and you learn how to handle them.
“I’d like to think we’re better on the training ground as well as coaches.
“It’s a big test. Even with very good players, trying to coach very good players I think you have to evolve.
“Just like we talk about the players and making them better, we constantly strive to get better every day and we analyse ourselves every game – what have we done well, what haven’t we done well, how was the training week, what are we going to do differently next time.”
That quest to improve often leads to brainwaves when you least expect it: “I get my best ideas at about three in the morning.
“I wake up and I’ve got a notepad next to my bed and I’ll write it down straight away.
“I do think my best when I’m in a state of semi-consciousness, I think of loads of drills and I have to write them down.
“Football never goes from your mind when you’re in this job, even when the wife’s talking to you. She knows it now.
“She’ll be talking to me and then say ‘you’re thinking about football aren’t you?’. Of course I am.
“You’re always thinking about what you can do to make certain aspects better.
“Hopefully we’ll continue to do that.”
And he is looking forward to making further strides forward over the next year: “Hopefully we’ll continue to progress. That’s the key thing in our eyes all the time.
“We look at it day in day out, week in week out, we want to try to get better all the time and I think in a year’s time we’d like to be even stronger than we are now.
“For us, going back a year ago, the biggest change in that time has been the training ground.
“Hopefully there are little things we can add to that and make it even better, obviously a stronger squad and winning games, that’s the aim.”