After an excellent season in which they defied odds and expectations to clinch the Championship title, Bournemouth’s fairytale rise from near-extinction to a place in the Premier League has reached heights that few would have thought possible when the Dorset club sat bottom of League Two with minus 17 points just 7 years ago. But, thanks to an exciting, forward-thinking manager in Eddie Howe and a dedicated group of young, talented players, they have done it, and for the first time in their 125 year history they now have the opportunity to battle against the big boys in the top flight of English football. Ben Cullimore looks at what Bournemouth need to do to survive.
Much has been written about their historic, Championship-winning campaign, and plenty of praise has rightly been heaped on both Howe and his team for their heroic displays over the course of nine wonderful months, but now is the time for planning, not romantic reflection. The Premier League is a brutal, cutthroat and mercilessly unforgiving league, one that leaves newly promoted clubs with little chance of avoiding immediate relegation. So, now that they are here, what will Bournemouth have to do to stay up and help keep the dream alive?
Looking back at the last Premier League season, it is interesting to compare and contrast the methods employed by the three newly-promoted clubs and the impact that they had on their survival, in the case of Leicester City, and their eventual fall from grace, in the case of both Queens Park Rangers and Burnley. Bournemouth could do little better than learning from the Foxes, who were careful and clever in their methods both on and off the pitch, even when they were struggling at the bottom of the table at Christmas.
One of the most important things for any newly promoted team is making sure that there is enough experience in the ranks, as knowledge of top-flight football can go a long way in improving any club’s chances of success. Being thrust into the Premier League is a daunting prospect for any footballer – ex-Blackpool striker Brett Ormerod once described the experience as “like finding yourself on the moon without a space suit” – let alone a group of relatively young players that have little to no experience against top-tier clubs. This was the case for Leicester, who ended their Championship-winning 2013/14 season with only five players that had any sort of substantial Premier League experience, with the majority of that coming from veteran striker Kevin Phillips, who decided to hang up his boots at the end of the campaign. However, they invested wisely during the summer months, bringing in experienced figures in Matthew Upson, Danny Simpson, Marc Albrighton and, most importantly, Esteban Cambiasso. The 34-year-old was a huge coup for the club and brought more than just name recognition and marketing opportunities to the King Power Stadium. His experience gained over the course of a brilliant, highly-decorated career proved to be absolutely vital in helping Leicester pull themselves out of the relegation zone and up to 14th place, where they eventually finished after a stunning end to the season. The mere presence of the Argentine in the heart of the Foxes’ midfield seemed to galvanise those around him, and his five goals, three of which came in the final three months of the campaign, were very helpful as well.
In the midst of a rough patch at the start of 2015, Leicester’s then-manager Nigel Pearson decided to delve into the transfer market to once again add much-needed experience to the club’s ranks, bringing in Robert Huth and Mark Schwarzer to help them gain more defensive solidity when they needed it the most. Despite the latter not playing a huge role in the final half of the season, he still impressed in the absence of first-choice goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, whilst the aforementioned centre-back looked strong and confident in each of his 14 league appearances, and as a result he was offered a full-time contract shortly after the completion of the season.
If Bournemouth are to have any chance of avoiding an instantaneous drop back down to the second tier, players with Premier League experience are imperative. Howe knows that and has already bolstered his ranks accordingly, snapping up 37-year-old Sylvain Distin, who currently holds the record for the most appearances made by an overseas outfield player in the English top-flight, on a free transfer after his release by Everton. Despite being in the twilight of his career, the Frenchman still has plenty to offer on the pitch, whilst he will no doubt have a similar impact to that of Cambiasso at Leicester when it comes to motivating those around him in the dressing room. Further to this, the Cherries have done well to sign former Southampton goalkeeper Artur Boruc, who was on loan at the club last season, on a permanent basis, as well as back-up shot-stopper Adam Federici, whilst on-loan Ghanaian winger Christian Atsu boasts considerable experience for such a young player. With 40 international caps to his name already, the 23-year-old could prove to play an important role in front of goal.
It is in those aforementioned new players that Bournemouth will no doubt find the energy and excitement to inject into the heart of an already impressive team. With tough battles facing them on a weekly basis, squad rotation will be key, and it is important that Howe brings with him a group of players that exhibit a deep and well-rounded set of skills. Last season, many praised Burnley boss Sean Dyche’s decision to stick with largely the same set of 11 names throughout the campaign, but his inability to chop and change ultimately cost him as his side limped over the finish line with just 3 wins from their final 19 games, compared to 8 during the same period for Leicester. In the end, the Foxes’ impressive depth and shrewd business acumen in the transfer market proved to be their saviour, whilst Burnley, who made just one addition to the squad during the transfer window when they brought in young defender Michael Keane on a permanent basis, quickly tired and were unable to put up a fight when it mattered most.
Only time will tell if Bournemouth decide to add to their ranks further before the start of the season on August 8th, but so far they have done well to steer clear of the risky QPR method of throwing money around like confetti in the hope that it brings them some sort of success. Throughout the course of the 2012/13 season, the West London club spent close to £50 million in transfer fees alone bringing in 16 players on full-time contracts. Unwise decisions and a poor use of funds cost them dearly, and they ended the campaign bottom of the table with just four victories. Newly-promoted clubs should never underestimate the damage that misplaced spending can bring, not to mention the lack of belief and effort that can result from ill thought-out purchases.
It is in that final statement that Bournemouth may find Premier League success. As a club that have enjoyed a meteoric rise over the course of the last half a decade, they must remember how they got where they are and who it was that helped get them there. Whilst, as previously mentioned, the addition of new, experienced blood is imperative if they are to hold their own against the more established names, the fantastic, ever-evolving brand of exciting football exhibited by the Cherries under the watchful eye of Howe must be built upon and enhanced by those joining the club. The likes of Callum Wilson, Matt Ritchie and Harry Arter not only looked excellent when pushing forward but also exhibited great passion and belief, two things that Bournemouth will need in abundance over the course of this season. By keeping faith with the core group of players that helped make Bournemouth’s dream a reality whilst simultaneously adding depth and eradicating their weaknesses with new blood, Howe has the opportunity to build a talented and well-balanced team that exhibits the perfect blend of excitement and pragmatism.
In the end, it is all about finding a safe and responsible middle ground between retaining faith with the old guard and bringing in experienced newcomers. Too much too soon runs the risk of damaging the fabric of the squad, whilst too little fresh blood could result in an incredibly difficult campaign for a club that will be constantly punching above their weight. This season is going to be a real challenge for Bournemouth, but it is no doubt one that Howe and his enthusiastic players are chomping at the bit to get started.
Written by Ben Cullimore