While everybody’s eyes are currently directed at the incredible story unfolding at the top of the Premier League another story is unfolding mid-table that’s being largely ignored by the footballing masses. AFC Bournemouth who are enjoying their first season in the Premier League have not only beaten the odds and survived relegation, they have done so with some aplomb and have passed the magical 40 points barrier with 5 games to play, currently 14 points above the drop zone their relegation from the premier league is now border line impossible.
When they were promoted to the Premier League at the end of the 2014/15 after pipping Watford to the Championship title by a point few experts gave them a hope of survival. This was considered to be too great a step for the South Coast team, their Stadium with a capacity of just 11,494 too small to be intimidating to any team visiting the south coast. Pundits and experts alike were stating that the team wouldn’t the technique to cope with the rigours of the Premier League and a change of style would be required to somehow survive their first season.
Eddie Howe aged just 38 was given little hope of building a team that would survive in the premier league let alone compete but they currently sit 11th with 5 games to play, above all the other promoted teams. While Watford started aggressively their form has fallen off Bournemouth on the contrary have grown into the league. They have remained true to the style that Eddie Howe likes, to play, of all the premier league teams only Arsenal, Manchester City, Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester, Chelsea and Everton have had more possession over the season, and they’re as good away from home as they are at home too averaging 51.5% of possession both home and away.
Their record away from home has been particularly useful in their development, having earned 3 more points away from Home than at Dean Court itself the latest being revenge on Premier League basement dwellers Aston Villa for their opening day defeat they have earned 22 points away from home which will play a huge part in any Premier League team’s survival prospects. That’s the same number of points away from Home as Chelsea who currently sit one place above them and Manchester United who currently sit 5th. That’s some achievement in itself.
They haven’t been without their share of bad luck either, record signing Tyrone Mings was removed 6 minutes into his debut with a season ending injury and they’ve been mid table in the injury league all season, where teams like Leicester have proven what you can do when you have your starting XI fit for most of the season. Bournemouth have endured some longer term and more impactful injuries, while the raw number of injuries has been mid-table the number of games missed by injured players is amongst the highest.
Curiously, they aren’t exactly fashionable appearing on TV only 7 times this season despite their apparent style and plucky appearance, which in an era of narrative driven sport is wildly disproportionate to their achievements.
Many would consider this another fairy story in a season of fairy stories but this is far from the case, this has been the product of graft, belief and ideology. Like most good Premier League teams, they have an identity, they have a way of playing and everybody in the squad has a clear understanding of their role. Howe has given chances to players who helped in their promotion push and has been rewarded by performances from his players. There’s a heck of an atmosphere at the club and that’s good for players to grow.
Unlike the teams that are going down, who’s transfer policies are erratic, change managers with the changing of the seasons and have far more money, bums on seats and arguably history, Bournemouth have an identity. Their knowledge of their own game allows them to select players carefully to suit what they want to achieve they can spend money well and add to their squad with specific requirements. They know themselves and they understand themselves as a team, a club and a squad and that is a much harder battle than it may appear. It’s something Sam Allardyce, Rafael Benitez and whoever winds up in charge of Aston Villa would give body parts for, useful Body Parts too.
While Claudio Ranieri will no doubt be Manager of the Season and frankly, rightly so but Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe definitely deserves some recognition too and is easily runner up in this vote for my money. His history with Bournemouth is long by modern standards and frankly incredible. He was hired permanently as manager on 19th January 2009 after taking over as Caretaker on the last day of 2008. 17 points adrift of safety and rock bottom the entire football league at the base of League Two Howe guided the team to safety. Cycle forward a year and Howe and Bournemouth were promoted to League One despite the fact the team was still under a transfer embargo. He was tempted by a move away to Championship side Bournemouth in 2011 but returned to Bournemouth in October 2012 unable to settle at the Northern Club. It was timely as his return to Bournemouth saw them promoted to the Championship as League One runners up in April 2013. They finished 10th in their first Season in the Championship and won it at the second attempt. A remarkable rise if ever there was one.
If ever a manager was made for a club its Eddie Howe and Bournemouth. 8 years ago this team scraped to avoid relegation from the entire Football League and now they are a mid-table Premier League side.
The future is bright for the Premier League’s “Minnows” with Stadium Expansion on the way to take them to 14,000 and further improvements planned after that should their Premier League run continue. Whatever happens, with a giant Television windfall due and expansion and development planned AFC Bournemouth are preparing for the Long Term and with Eddie Howe at the helm who knows what the limit is.
Whatever happens, Bournemouth’s survival deserves to be more than a foot note in a remarkable Premier League campaign.