WHEN Simon Francis received the news Eddie Howe would be leaving Cherries by mutual consent, he openly admitted he was “gutted”.

Howe was the man who helped accelerate the defender’s career from League One to England’s top level – and gave him the opportunity to captain the club he now calls home.

And while the situation surrounding Francis’s own future is left “up in the air” having seen his contract expire at Cherries – the 35-year-old will never forget the manager who took him to the peak of his career.

Francis found out of Howe’s departure from Vitality Stadium after speaking with technical director Richard Hughes, shortly before the news went public at 9pm on Saturday night.

Asked by the Daily Echo for his emotions when Howe’s decision was made, the defender said: “I’m gutted really. I’m disappointed the way it has (ended) more than anything for him.

“I always thought I would have loved for him to have left the football club when it was perfect for him to leave, if you know what I mean. A big football club for him to move on to – the England job even a few years ago I always pictured he could do.

“It was a shame that it had to be off the back of relegation but I don’t think it should tarnish anything he’s done with the football club and I don’t think it will. I think fans would agree with me when I say he is the football club, really.

“He’s done so much for the football club, for the players and staff alike. On behalf of all the players I want to say thank you.

“I spoke to him on Sunday, we had a good chat about things and I just hope we can remain friends and build that relationship off the field now more than ever.

“I wanted to thank him for what he’d done for my career really. Until he came back to the football club, I never thought I would get to the level that I did.

“That was down to him. Of course, I worked hard for it as well and put in the time and effort but, ultimately, he showed the belief in me and the confidence that I could go and play to that top level.

“I owe him just about everything really for the career that I’ve had at Bournemouth and I will never forget that.”

As is so often the case with a change of manager at a club, within hours speculation arises as to who would be next to step into the hot seat.

Regardless of who takes charge, defender Francis admits they will have big shoes to fill in succeeding 42-year-old Howe.

“Obviously it’s not my place to say who would get the job, or who should get the job or anything like that,” he said.

“But how do you follow Eddie Howe? It is such a big job to follow and an important one because we need to be playing Premier League football again as soon as possible.

“We can’t become one of those football clubs that sits around in the Championship for too long – that wouldn’t benefit anybody.

“It has to be someone who knows the history of the club, of course, can get to work straight away because this is no ordinary off-season.

“Next season will be different as well, there’s going to be so many games coming thick and fast, we know what the Championship is like.

“The next couple of weeks are going to be really important for the football club and I think the future is going to be down to what happens over the next few weeks. It will be really interesting to see.”

Francis became a stalwart member of Cherries’ side which sealed promotion from League One in 2013 and then won the Championship in 2015.

He was then appointed club captain following Tommy Elphick’s departure to Aston Villa, leading Cherries to their highest ever finish of ninth in the top-flight during the 2016-17 campaign.

A knee injury which required surgery saw Francis unable to take to the field after lockdown this season, with Cherries unable to beat the drop in their remaining nine league games.

The former Charlton and Sheffield United man’s focus is now getting himself fit, in a bid to hopefully earn himself a new contract at the Dorset club.

Asked whether anything had been resolved regarding his own future, Francis replied: “Not yet. Obviously, the ideal scenario would have been the manager stays on and I could have signed a year’s extension to get myself fit and back involved again.

“That would have been the ideal scenario. Obviously after Saturday’s news it’s still up in the air a little bit. Until maybe a manager gets announced and there’s some news over the next couple of weeks, I’m not too sure to be honest.

“The club know my stance, I don’t want to go anywhere else. I just moved house a couple of days ago – I certainly don’t want to be moving clubs at all, especially at my age and with the family situation.

“I’d love to play on for another year at Bournemouth and that’s always been my aim.

“I remember making my debut at 17 years old. I’d love to have 19 or 20 years in the game and bow out on that. We will see over the next couple of weeks.

“It’s a strange time because I am in every day in the week – I’m not having a holiday. I’m in every day with the physio. Chris Mepham is in as well and it’s a lonely place when you are injured – especially when the lads aren’t in at all.

“On top of that, you don’t know if you’ve got a contract at the end of it, so it’s tough at the moment. Trying to find that motivation is hard, then the news about the manager. We will just have to wait and see.

“Time is an important thing, especially in football. The lads will be back in about two weeks’ time. I’d like nothing more than to be involved in that when they are back in, so we’ll see.”