Amidst all the excitement surrounding two unlikely title contenders in Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur, Bournemouth’s incredible story has flown somewhat under the radar.
2015/16 has been a season of miracles and fairy tales: Leicester have confirmed their participation in Europe and taken a massive stride towards their first title in history, Chelsea are languishing in 10th place in what is one of the worst title defences ever, and Spurs are chasing their first top-division title since the 1960-61season. But one success story that has been somewhat overshadowed by the Foxes’ inexorable march towards glory has been that of the league’s new boys AFC Bournemouth.
Any football pundit — expert or fan — would’ve ruled out the unlikely scenario of the Cherries beating the drop at the start of the season, let alone achieving the feat with serious injuries to key players and little experience in the top flight. Twenty-goal Championship hero Callum Wilson, 10 million pound signing Max Gradel and Tyrone Mings all suffered season-ending injuries, leading many to fear for Eddie Howe’s men.
Bournemouth had a difficult start to the season, their lack of experience and inferior quality summed up by two consecutive 5-1 losses to Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, leaving them ever so close to the danger zone. But what followed was nothing less than spectacular: a comeback that featured a historic 1-0 victory against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and a 2-1 victory against Manchester United.
The Cherries have clawed their way out of the danger zone match after match and have started to dominate matches, turning their weakness into their strengths by surprising teams with their mentality. Covering more than 115 kms (at the time of writing), Bournemouth are second only to Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs in terms of total distance covered this term, which is a testament to their all-action high intensity approach. Midfielder Dan Gosling presently has five of the top ten distances covered by an individual in a match this season. Apart from him, Andrew Surman and Harry Arter have been effective in the middle of the park, dominating with 115.4 passes, 4.3 tackles and 3.2 interceptions per game between them. Their favoured style of play that allowed them to dominate in the Championship has been pivotal in their memorable first season in the Premier League.
Their experienced players – including Charlie Daniels, Harry Arter, Steve Cook and Tommy Elphik — have gradually stepped up to the plate after slow starts.
Record signing Benik Afobe is also proving to be a great buy for the Cherries as he brings the physical presence up front that they have lacked since Callum Wilson’s injury. Considering how they had the odds stacked up against them, breaking the 40-point barrier is a superb achievement and a solid foundation to build on for next season.
Arguably the most important quality the players have displayed is the knowledge of what it means to play in the top flight of English football and the respect and value they have for the crest on their shirts. There is a tangible unity among them, a reflection of their historic journey as a club that has risen from the lower leagues to where it is today. “I was here when we got promoted to League One,” said Harry Arter after club record signing Benik Afobe scored his first goal for the club. “The fans like to remind us how dark it was – the club was in a real bad way. When I first joined it was wash your own kit and bring your own lunch and the training ground was poor. There’s been a massive change and rightly so as it’s the least we deserve.”
The future is bright for the Cherries
Things are looking quite bright for Eddie Howe’s men, as they not only survived their maiden Premier League season, but are on the verge of finishing far away from the danger zone – a heist that the Bournemouth faithful would’ve only dreamed of before the season began. The Cherries do face a tough run of fixtures till the end of the season, but their fighting spirit has been similar to that of league leaders Leicester.
Bournemouth are, without a doubt, in very capable hands as well, with Eddie Howe doing a remarkable job with his squad. Someone who has always let his players express themselves on the pitch, Howe has cut an animated figure on the sidelines and has shown great ambition throughout the season. Averaging about 51.3% possession this season, he hasn’t let the maiden season tag effect the way the team has played. Instead, Bournemouth have always looked like a side wanting to make their mark.
And with Howe in charge, surviving the season is just the start. Another good transfer window with smart transfers such as that of Roma starlet Juan Manuel Iturbe, and the Cherries may even be able to solidify their place as a mid-table club in the Premier League. But for this season, Bournemouth’s story is a fairytale in its own right and both Eddie Howe and his squad deserve recognition for their achievement.
– guest piece by Sai Teja