Just over ten years ago, AFC Bournemouth were starting the 2008-09 season languishing in the bottom tier of the Football League.
Having been forced into administration a few months earlier, Bournemouth’s future as a professional football club was looking bleak after a 17 point deduction for failing to comply with the Football League’s insolvency rules. With the team struggling in the first half of the season, a 31-year-old club stalwart by the name of Eddie Howe took over as caretaker manager. As the old adage goes, the rest is history.
Fast forward ten years, one great escape, three promotions, one league title and three successive Premier League campaigns later, the Cherries now find themselves as the sixth highest ranked football club in the English football pyramid. Their meteoric rise to the top flight has been remarkable enough, but the way they have entrenched themselves as an established member of the Premier League has been equally impressive.
Having avoided the drop by five points in their debut season, two mid-table finishes of 9th and 12th followed, laying the foundations for this campaign. Currently sitting in 6th position, Bournemouth’s excellent start to the season is down to the hard work done in each of their three previous Premier League campaigns.
At a time when the economic benefit of being a member of the Premier League is at a dizzying high, the impact of preserving one’s status in the top flight is one that simply cannot be understated. Being a recipient of TV money and countless sponsorship deals for three consecutive years has enabled Bournemouth to financially compete with many of the teams around them.
And that doesn’t just mean having the capacity to smash their record transfer fee in each of the last four summer transfer windows. It has also allowed the club to tie down their best players on long-term contracts, preventing them from leaving for more illustrious teams.
The Eddie Howe factor is another vital aspect of the Cherries’ spectacular climb. Strong and stable governance may now have negative connotations after a certain Prime Minister’s recent election campaign, but in the case of AFC Bournemouth it has been the key element behind their success.
Barring a brief spell in charge of Burnley in 2011-12, Howe has been instrumental, and it is no surprise to see him touted as a possible replacement for Jose Mourinho at Manchester United. His stubbornness to deviate from his attacking style of play is a breath of fresh air and the main reason that he has earned so many admirers.
At a time when so many teams focus on the defensive side of the game, it is Bournemouth’s attack that has set the Premier League alight this season. Their 19 goals this season are only bettered by sides in the top four, and the emergence of their fantastic four has been vital. Their recent summer signing of 21-year-old David Brooks has perfectly complemented the attacking trident of Ryan Fraser, Josh King and Callum Wilson, with the quartet plundering 15 goals already this season.
What is all the more remarkable is that Wilson cost £3 million, King arrived on a free from Blackburn Rovers and Fraser joined from Aberdeen for just £400,000. Although Asmir Begovic’s recent assertion that the Cherries’ front three is up there with Liverpool’s trio of Salah, Firmino and Mané may be a little premature, the fact that Bournemouth’s frontline cost almost 30 times less than Liverpool’s speaks volumes about the club’s recruitment team and their transfer strategy.
Whilst much of the talk this year has been about their goalscoring ability, Howe has managed to steadily sure up the defensive side of Bournemouth’s game too. After ten games in their three previous Premier League campaigns, the club had conceded 22 goals once and 14 goals twice.
This season that statistic stands at 12. Combined with their prolific attack, Howe has managed to turn Bournemouth into a well-oiled machine that can match most sides in the Premier League.
The work done at Bournemouth since their debut season in the top flight is an example that all newly promoted sides should look to follow. Survival should be the sole focus in the first campaign. It does not matter how it is done, but being a yo-yo club does not pave the way for future success.
Smart recruitment is obviously vital, and it is hard to argue with the highly efficient transfer activity at the Vitality Stadium. Signing young players from the Football League has paid off massively for the club, as well as keeping a number of stars that helped earn the Cherries promotion to the Premier League in the first place.
However, what is arguably the crucial component of the AFC Bournemouth blueprint is the bilateral loyalty displayed by the board and Eddie Howe. Whilst many football fans will suggest that Bournemouth should just be a stepping stone for Howe, it is easy to forget that just last season the club endured a torrid start to their campaign – picking up just four points from their opening eight matches.
The board can now bear the fruits of their decision to stick by their man, and this is proof that sacking a manager after a mere downturn in form may not be the best strategy to adopt. Keeping a manager who has a long-term vision for a club is a far more sustainable approach than appointing a survival specialist such as Sam Allardyce or Tony Pulis.
Bournemouth may indeed drop down the table, with a run of tricky fixtures on the horizon. But the fact that the club with the league’s smallest stadium capacity of just 11,360 can compete with the Premier League big boys is testament to the outstanding work carried out by the board, the recruitment team, the players and one man in particular: Eddie Howe.