“Five years ago we were on the abyss. We were 10 minutes away from the Conference and the chances are we would never have got out of the Conference with the resources we had available to us at that stage.”
That was Jeff Mostyn, Chairman of Bournemouth AFC, speaking after his club won promotion to the Premier League. How times change. The Cherries’ march to the Promised Land is a story worthy of Hans Christian Andersen. Well, maybe his Russian equivalent, with a £25m influx of cash from oligarch owner Maxim Demin playing no small part in the club’s rise. For those claiming that the ‘bankrolled’ fairy-tale lacked romance, the vibrant, entertaining and effective football played by Eddie Howe’s troops most certainly did not.
In any case, however the club got to the Prem, they did. The question is, can they stay there?
Before you ask, yes, I’m being a cop out, and no, I’m not sticking my neck on the line and making a fool of myself. I’ll leave that job to Robbie Savage. The fact is that the Premier League is so competitive today that anyone can beat anyone. It’s too hard to say this early into the summer whether a club will stay up or not. Indeed, Bournemouth’s activity in the summer ahead will undoubtedly have a huge impact on where they end up in the table next season.
There is already a good nucleus at the club, a band of brothers, with a solid spine of Tommy Elphick, Harry Arter, Matt Ritchie and Callum Wilson, the latter bagging 23 goals in the title-winning campaign. Getting the right balance between player retention and player investment is crucial, and I fully expect the Cherries to nail it. Their recruitment policy has been lauded by top managers from the top leagues, and with Demin’s rubles behind them, do not be surprised to see the club sign and sign well, with the focus likely to be on young, driven footballers with a point to prove on the pitch.
Bournemouth would do well to take a leaf out of Leicester’s book. It may have taken a while to click, but the combination of Championship talent in Leonardo Ulloa and the newly England capped Jamie Vardy with international experience in Esteban Cambiasso is a recipe for success. What’s more, sharing the goal-scoring onus across a number of players is crucial. Charlie Austin and Liverpool-bound Danny Ings may have scored more overall for relegated QPR and Burnley respectively, but the contributions of Ulloa, Vardy, Nugent, Mahrez, Cambiasso and Schlupp as a whole for the Foxes ended up keeping them in the league. Bournemouth will have to shell out for a front-man to partner Wilson, and continue to score goals from midfield, if they want to survive.
After promotion from the Championship, the temptation can be to embark on a frenzied summer of transfer spending. QPR spent huge sums on 17 new players in their calamitous 2012/13 season, while Crystal Palace had a shocking start to the 2013/14 campaign after signing 16 players following their play-off win. There is no need for Bournemouth to undergo a similar revolution.
As the aforementioned Rs and Clarets will testify, it’s desperately tough for any newcomer in the Premier League, but Bournemouth will fancy their chances with Eddie Howe at the helm. Only 36 years of age, the former Bournemouth player has been a revelation since joining as manager. Willing to give youngsters a chance, as well as encouraging attractive, attacking football, the man in charge has won the hearts of the Dean Court faithful. Mind you, it would have been damn hard not to do so after winning the league. Those fans will need to create a fortress on the south-coast next year. It’s so important to win your home games, and it’s possible to stay by riding on that wave of positivity and adrenaline. Reading did it, Wigan did it, but Blackpool and Burnley came up short. Fortunately for Bournemouth, the club have found a manager who believes in his crop of players and who has given them tremendous confidence to achieve great things. Hard work, humility and determination can get you a long way in a relegation battle, and Howe has crafted a squad with those traits in abundance. Combine that with passionate and vocal support and anything could happen.
If the club back Howe in the transfer market, and stick with him if things get tough (which they inevitably will at some point next season), Bournemouth can survive. Whether they will is another matter. Time will tell.