Marc Pugh On Bournemouth, Playing In The Premier League And Working Under Eddie Howe

Marc Pugh On Bournemouth, Playing In The Premier League And Working Under Eddie Howe

An interview with Marc Pugh, by Callum McFadden for WFi.

You came through the youth system at Burnley and spent time on loan at Kidderminster Harriers. How much did you learn from your time in Lancashire and out on loan?

“Looking back, it was an incredible time for me but also such a challenging time too.

“My upbringing at Burnley at the time was old school and involved a lot of long, gruelling running and building fitness whereas players in academy systems in the current era would spend most of their time on the ball.

“We also had jobs to do around the club such as preparing the nets for the goals before training, cleaning boots and other odd jobs around the stadium or the training ground.

“I have to say that those experiences at Burnley toughened me up and strengthened me mentally for a career in football. There is no doubt about that.

“Then, moving to Kidderminster was another great opportunity for me to develop as a player and as a person as I moved away from home for the first time.

“I played for the club as a winger in the Conference so it is fair to say that I was kicked to death at times (laughs).

“However, those days were vital in my overall development when I look back now so I would not change them.”

You had spells at Bury, Shrewsbury Town, Swindon Town, and Hereford United before moving to AFC Bournemouth. How do you reflect on your spells at each of those clubs?

“I was released by Burnley which led to me moving on to Bury where I played for one season.

“I played a lot of football that season which taught me a lot. That was a breakthrough season for me as there was interest in me at the end of the season.

“There were a few things going on behind the scenes at Bury back then so I rejected a new contract and moved on to Shrewsbury Town who offered me a three-year contract.

“Unfortunately, things did not work out for me longer term at Shrewsbury as there was a change in management during my first season there and I ended up being released at the end my second season there.

“Believe it or not, I was actually told I was being released while I was on my honeymoon which was not ideal… (laughs).

“I was still paying off my wedding and that was a tough one to take for me and my partner but thankfully I had believe that I would find another club and kick on.

“That was the case when Hereford United gave me an opportunity to go and play there and I ended up having one of the best seasons of my career.

“I scored thirteen goals in League Two for the club and three of those were against Bournemouth who were managed by Eddie Howe.

“He must have taken a shining to me as he ended up signing me for Bournemouth at the end of that season.”

You joined Bournemouth in 2010 when they were in League One under Eddie Howe before he left for Burnley. What was he like to work with during his first spell at the club?

“I was gutted when he left for Burnley in 2011 because I was only six months into my time at the club and I loved working under him.

“His philosophy is all about attacking and playing positive football which I share and he cares deeply about all of his players on and off the field.

“His attention to detail was frighteningly good in all aspects of his management.

“I could tell even in my early weeks and months working with him that he was a special coach who would work at the highest level.

“Thankfully, he was not away from the club for too long and he returned in 2012 to lead us on an unbelievable journey to the Premier League.”

You go from League One to the Premier League under Eddie in his second spell in charge. How do you reflect on that success? 

“When he came back to Bournemouth, he kept evolving as a coach and he demanded high standards every single day.

“He comes across in the media as a calm and collected character which he is but he also has a steely side to him. He is not shy in letting you know if you have stepped out of line.

“In his second spell, he recruited a good core of players which enabled him to take us from 21st in League One to playing Premier League football.

“It was an unbelievable time to be involved at the club.”

It is a dream for many players to play in the Premier League. What was it like for you when you experienced that level for the first time?

“Playing in the Premier League was a dream come true for me.

“Going from League One to the Championship was a jump in standard. Thankfully, I proved that I could play at the level as I had people tell me in the past that I was not good enough for League One never mind the Championship or the Premier League.

“The Championship was tougher than League One physically and mentally and the Premier League was another big step up in those regards too.

“I constantly analysed and adapted my nutrition over the years to ensure that I was in the best shape possible to cope with the demands placed on me in any league. I knew I needed to give myself an edge to cope with the increased levels of athleticism in each of those leagues.

“I can honestly say that the speed of play in the Premier League was extraordinarily quick. As was the strength of players.

“The main difference between playing in the Football League to the Premier League was how clinically mistakes would be punished. Strikers only need one chance to score in the Premier League whereas down the levels you may get away with a few mistakes that lead to chances for the opposition.

“For example, in one of our first games in the Premier League at Bournemouth, we faced Aston Villa and we played really well. I think they only had one chance on target that day and they scored with it through Rudy Gestede.

“That shows you just how fine the margins are between winning and losing at that level. You cannot take a thing for granted.

“I will never forget scoring my first Premier League goal against West Ham United because it was also our first win in the league too. We won the game 4-3 away from home at the old Upton Park and the atmosphere was sensational.

“Overall, it was a joy to be able to play at that level and at Bournemouth, getting to the Premier League was a good achievement but being able to stay there for a fair few seasons was a great achievement.

“Testing yourself against the best players in the world is what every player wants to do and with Bournemouth, I was able to play directly against players such as Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Wayne Rooney.

At Bournemouth, you finished in the top half of the Premier League in your second top-flight season under Eddie Howe. Looking back, how special was that group of players?

“It was a wonderful group made up of strong characters and players of real quality too.

“Hard work was paramount to what we achieved and my motto has always been ‘hard work always beats talent when talent does not work hard.’

“That epitomised our approach because we had the right balance of players with technical quality and players who could battle for everything in a game.

“We kept a core of players who had played in the lower leagues at the club which helped us because so many of us wanted to prove that we deserved to play at the highest level and we knew that this was our best chance to do so.

“We also brought in players like Nathan Ake who is a sensational player as he is showing now under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.

“I am so pleased to see him doing so well in his career because he was a humble lad who never got above his station and worked as hard as he could in every session and in every game.”

You played alongside Artur Boruc who, it’s fair to say, is known as a bit of a character. What was he like in the dressing room?

“What can I say (laughs). Artur is an absolute legend.

“He is such a tough guy and you would not want to cross him but deep down, he is a lovely guy who would do anything for you.

“He was a monster of a goalkeeper who kept us in so many games especially away from home. I always remember him saving a penalty from Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Old Trafford to help us hang on to a 1-1 draw against Manchester United.”

Following nine years at Bournemouth, you moved on to play for Hull City under Nigel Adkins and QPR under Mark Warburton. How do you reflect on those spells?

“I enjoyed working with Nigel and Mark. Both of them are terrific people who love the game.

“Nigel was a good man manager. I used to commute from Bournemouth to Hull which meant that I would not get the chance to spend a lot of time with my family.

“Nigel understood how challenging that was for me and allowed me to have a Monday off every so often so that I could be with my family which was the mark of the man.

“I loved playing for him at Hull and if the club did not move him on after my loan spell then I would have happily returned to play there under him on a permanent basis.

“That was not to be and that led me to QPR.

“Mark was another manager who impressed me and I enjoyed my time at the club. I had a clause in my contract that I would be due a new contract if I played 26 league games.

“I had played 25 games just before the COVID lockdown hit which led to a mini break with no football.

“Unfortunately, upon returning from that break, I was told that I would not be making another league appearance in the season.

“This was due to the club stating that they could not afford to give me a new contract on the same terms which I would have been due should I have made my 26th appearance.

“That was a kick in the teeth and a sad way to end my time at QPR but such is football. I enjoyed my time with the club regardless of how it ended.”

Finally, Marc, you are now known as ‘The Foodie Footballer’ due to your work promoting healthy nutrition in the game at various clubs and organisations. What has it been like to share your passion for this aspect of the game with others? 

“I was aware that football never lasts forever and nutrition is something that I am very passionate about because it took my game to the next level.

“I started studying nutrition at the age of 26 and I was able to improve my overall speed and the overall duration of running with changes to my diet and approach.

“I now want to help raise awareness for the role that nutrition can play in enabling a footballer to improve their game both physically and mentally.”