WHEN Eddie Howe answered the call on New Year’s Eve 2008 to step into the hot seat as manager at Cherries, he said: “It’s going to be a great experience to take the team for however long it turns out to be.”

Even in supporters’ wildest dreams, the homegrown hero’s story, from academy product to star defender, rookie boss to club legend, would never have seemed possible.

Howe did not just revolutionise AFC Bournemouth – he has had a huge impact on the town as a whole.

He put Cherries on the map globally, with a rags-to-riches story which will be told for generations.

While the club was turned upside down after his departure by mutual consent at 9pm on Saturday, August 1, the 42-year-old still had its best interests at heart.

When first stepping into the role as a 31-year-old, Howe declared: “This isn’t about any one individual. This is about trying to keep this club in the Football League where it belongs.”

More than 450 games, two managerial spells, three promotions, one Championship title and five seasons in the Premier League later, Howe still had his beloved club at the forefront of his decision making.

In an open letter to fans released on Saturday evening, the 42-year-old said: “Bournemouth will always be in my heart, but I firmly believe that now is the right time for the club to have a change.

“I have always ensured that every decision I have ever made as manager has been in the best interests of the club and its supporters, and this is no different.”

Howe’s journey could have gone down so many different paths with Cherries – even going back to the start of his 25-year association with the Dorset outfit.

He was actually released by the club at the age of 16 and drafted back in for an FA Youth Cup home tie against Swansea City at Dean Court in 1995, due to a player shortage.

Mel Machin, then manager of the first team, watched the 5-0 victory from the stands and queried why the young centre-half had not been signed up.

Taking the spell as caretaker manager, Howe lost his first two contests against Darlington and Rotherham – but the side showed enough improvement for the board to employ him on a full-time basis.

The emotion of Howe’s final press conference after relegation from the top flight at Everton last month was tough to take in – let alone having to carry it out virtually due to COVID-19.

After admitting he would speak to owner Maxim Demin and the board of directors about the club’s next steps – the boss said: “In terms of feeling and emotions, this has been the hardest moment of my career.”

With those discussions had and decisions made, the club must now regroup, be galvanised and go again after losing its most loyal, successful manager.

They do not have long until their Championship campaign starts on the weekend of September 12 – a new boss needs to be appointed, players are likely to come and go and preparations have to gather pace for 2020-21.

But when the dust settles, the club will always look back on miracle maker Howe – one of their own who made the impossible dream a reality - and his legacy for generations to come.