AFC Bournemouth’s rise from a perennial League Two outfit to an established Premier League side

By Tom Griffin 

In a list of recent success stories Leicester City’s title winning campaign in 2015/16 season and Huddersfield’s unexpected rise to the Premier League that lead to consolidating their place in the top flight 2017/18, surely AFC Bournemouth’s rise up the football pyramid across the past decade is high on the list of remarkable, yet baffling footballing fairytales.

Bournemouth are a club who have loitered in and around the third and fourth tier of English football for the majority of their history. Until recently, they’ve struggled to even mount a promotion challenge to the top flight and have severely suffered from a lack of financial muscle. In 2008, with the club in league one, they were struck with administration which lead to a 10 point deduction and ultimately facing relegation to League Two.

The permutations of the administration meant Bournemouth began their 2008/09 League Two campaign with a minus seventeen point deduction. A position which seemed like an impossible task for the first two managers who tried and this proved fruitful; Kevin Bond and Jimmy Quinn where both sacked before the turn of the year. Bournemouth turned to youthful exuberance with the appoint of former player, head of centre of excellence and youth team coach, Eddie Howe. Initially given the job on temporary basis, he began his managerial career with two away losses But Bournemouth took a gamble on Howe. The young thirty one year old had been left with a stern task to steer his beloved club away from safety, he took over with the club loitering second bottom of League Two and almost resigned to their fate.

But, the young manager came in with a fresh impetus and instilled the desire into the squad that he has for the club; Howe steered Bournemouth away from safety and guided them to a 21st place finish after only arriving 5 months prior.

His first full season in charge is where it would all come together. Despite a transfer embargo throughout the season, the English boss would make good use of what he had. A new club record would be set by Bournemouth winning eight out of their first nine games which put them well on the way to promotion. The Cherries continued their adventure into League One with Howe abandoning the ship just after the turn of the year.

Howe would return for a second spell at The Cherries after delivering an 8th place championship finish for Burnley the season prior. Ultimately, the remarkable road to success would begin in his second stint with the club. Unlike his counter parts who resorted to a more direct approach in matches by hitting long balls to a target man, Howe insisted on deploying a fluid, passing style of football where the whole team works in cohesion. This is emphasised by his sides team spirit and ability to overcome opponents whilst conforming to the managers ideologies. Howe became successful with this tactical emphasis because he insisted that his players play out from defence with a slower approach, whilst heavily utilising the wingers who, upon receiving the ball, are instructed to immediately attack the full back. Howe also deploys the second striker who’s job is to drop deeper to collect the ball from midfield, using their technical ability to beat a man, shoot or create a chance.

After becoming an instant success at Burnley deploying these tactics and signing the goals of Charlie Austin, big things were expected from Howe in his second spell at The Cherries. In the previous seasons, Bournemouth scraped into the play offs in 2010/11 losing to Huddersfield on penalties and the season later the south coast club finished in a secure eleventh place. But Howe would be the man to elevate the football club in the right direction.

In the 2012/13 season, Howe transformed the team in terms of new additions, adding recognisable new faces; Tommy Elphick, a defensive stalwart and leader, Lewis Grabban a goalscorer signed from Rotherham with 18 goals at the same level for The Millers in the season prior. A young, Scottish talent Ryan Fraser from Aberdeen who conformed to the pacy, direct wingers Howe deployed in his tactical approach. He also signed perennial goalscorer Brett Pittman who would be deployed as the second striker.

Bournemouth fans were in for a fantastic season, Pittman finished second on the top scorers list and Howe miraculously guided Bournemouth to a second place finish and promotion to the Championship. To put into the perspective how colossal this achievement is, this is only the second time Bournemouth have been higher than the third tier of English football

In preparation for the Championship, Bournemouth kept the core of their promotion winning team whilst adding a few additions such as; experienced goalkeeper Lee Camp and tireless, box to box midfielder Andrew Surman being the key signings.

After being tipped for a season of struggle given the stature of the club, Bournemouth defied all odds and finished in a respectable 10th place. Lewis Grabban bagged 22 championship goals, but it was defensively where Howe’s side came unstuck.

The following season, Howe reluctantly sold his star striker Grabban to relegated Norwich City. However, Howe used his breadth of knowledge of the lower leagues and completed an astounding piece of business, signing the youthful, talented striker Callum Wilson who netted 22 goals in 49 senior appearances for Coventry City. Howe also captured the signing of Dan Gosling on a free transfer, the energetic midfielder was looking to revitalise his career again under Howe and he certainly fitted into the managers high pressing, attacking style.

Bournemouth began the season with a mixture of results; registering a triumphant 4-0 win away at Huddersfield on the opening day and then a battling 1-0 win over Brentford. Bournemouth then failed to register a win in their next six league games and fans would certainly be satisfied with Championship consolidation again. However, Eddie Howe’s Cherries had different intentions.

In the next nine games that proceeded, Bournemouth recorded 8 wins including a rampant 8-0 away win over Birmingham City. Howe’s high pressing, relentless counter attacking style with explosive pace would prove to take some stopping as AFC Bournemouth, under his stewardship, created history; promotion to English footballs elite.

Howe managed to brandish a style of football the championship doesn’t often see and he managed to bring the best out of his players. Callum Wilson proved to be a bargain, scoring 20 championship goals. Yann Kermogant chipped in with 15 goals operating as a ‘second striker’ and Matt Ritchie reached the same total playing off the wing. Even dynamic, tireless midfielder Harry Arter was an unsung hero netting nine times. A free flowing, exciting and cohesive unit deserving of their success.

In the Premier League, Howe has kept the core of their promotion winning team, even four seasons down the line. Steve Cook, Simon Francis, Andrew Surman, Junior Stanislas, Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser and Artur Boruc are still key features in the Bournemouth side. Its unusual for a team to have kept and shown the faith in players that brought them the success. Promoted clubs tend to use the buffed finances to over spend on players that have a risk tagged to them. Whereas, Eddie Howe has struck a perfect balance with keeping players that fit his footballing philosophy whilst building on success and signing youthful players who he can develop, such as; Lewis Cook, Jordon Ibe and more recently, Dominic Solanke.

Players that he’s signed have all bought into this style that focuses on retaining possession, being patient with the ball, exploiting the wings and deploying the energetic runners from midfield. Howe has enhanced his tactic by bringing in players he feels can improve a position. Signings such as; Nathan Ake from Chelsea, a ball playing defender who is comfortable in possession and poses a threat from set pieces too. Under the management of Howe, Callum Wilson has developed into a terrific striker which has caused for some of the big clubs to come sniffing. It’s a surprise that none of the big clubs have taken a punt on Bournemouth’s messiah (Eddie Howe).

So, how does Howe elevate The Cherries to the next level? A string of consecutive mid-table finishes is excellent for a club of Bournemouths stature with gates that loiter around the 12,000 mark. But there is an increased sense of hunger for more success. Making a push for European football is certainly a possibility, quite remarkable considering only ten years ago, the club almost fell out of the football league and now, even with small gates, Eddie Howe’s team are still producing football that is exciting to watch and taking the Premier League by storm.

If Eddie Howe wants to take Bournemouth into Europe, squad depth is certainly a key component. For instance: if Callum Wilson gets injured, where are the goals coming from? Dominic Solanke would be the likely candidate, but he needs to develop and playing regular matches will do that.

There is a sense that pushing a football club forward is also expanding the fan base. Although, a stadium expansion would be a dent to the clubs finances for the short-term, in the long run Bournemouth would profit. Ticket revenue would sky rocket and you can readily attract the better players.

I think the key to any success at a club has is consistency. Bournemouth tend to blow hot and cold. If I’m being overly critical, to move Bournemouth forward as a club, being able to grind out a result when you aren’t playing particularly well is an important component if the Cherries are going to go elevate from the top half to European competitors.

By Tom Griffin

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