Every year, promoted teams are the ones that are sure bets to go straight back down. Part of it is due to the huge gap in financial might from the Championship to the Premier League. This makes Gary O’Neil’s escape to safety last year all the more remarkable. AFC Bournemouth were going nowhere under Scott Parker and looked to be sleepwalking towards relegation before O’Neil, despite doubts over his ability, rallied the squad to win crucial points. It was confusing, therefore, when Bournemouth parted ways with him and replaced him with Andoni Iraola.
However, their moves since then, combined with the exciting ceiling of Iraola as manager, points towards an astute long-term project at the Vitality Stadium.
One look at their squad and it’s clear that the board is backing a young and exciting team to grow along with the manager and become a sustained force in the Premier League.
They no longer want to rely on miracles to keep them in the league every year. Here’s a look at the Bournemouth project and why it is one to keep an eye on in the upcoming season-
A wunderkind army
Bournemouth have signed truly outstanding talent that would normally be considered beyond a side that fought against relegation last season. The most recent one, Milos Kerkez, from AZ, might just be the best of the lot.
The 19-year-old left-back is one of the best fullback young talents in football and his capture from under the noses of Lazio shows that Iraola’s pull is real.
Then there’s Hamed Junior Traore, whose loan move has been made permanent. He played a bit-part role last season, playing just 429 minutes of Premier League football but the raw tools at his disposal have the potential to make him a real nightmare for opposing defenders.
Fans will also be looking forward to seeing Justin Kluivert in action. The wide forward was a highly rated prospect at Ajax but has failed to hit the heights expected of him at that time. Now getting his first taste of the Premier League, his all-action style based on raw pace could be utilised perfectly in Andoni Iraola’s tactics of controlled chaos.
Existing young talent is one year old in Premier League
Bournemouth’s strategy of banking on potential is not new. They did the same last year and the experience youngsters have of a relegation scrap last time is expected to pay dividends this season.
The likes of Ilya Zabarnyi and Dango Ouattara are more seasoned and the latter, in particular, seemed to be coming into his own near the end of the campaign. A proper breakout cannot be ruled out this season.
Combine that with talents like Chris Mepham and David Brooks returning, the wunderkind army of Bournemouth is looking strong and experienced.
They just need a coach to harness their talent and extract the maximum from it. Speaking of which…
Andoni Iraola effect
Takes over a team that had just been promoted to the second division in CD Mirandes and guides them to the semifinals of Copa del Rey, beating sides like Sevilla and Villarreal in the process.
Then goes to a more established, albeit struggling Rayo Vallecano. Immediately achieves promotion to La Liga, and repeats the semifinals heroics with the club. Fighting against claims of relegation, the team almost finishes in the top half of La Liga.
Andoni Iraola is a managerial wunderkind in the truest sense of the word. Therefore, it makes sense that he will now manage a wunderkind army.
His playing style has been covered in detail before. It lends itself to maximising the potential of the team and making them worth more than the sum of their parts.
The Bournemouth board saw that potential clearly and appointed him immediately upon sacking O’Neil, making it clear that it was their long-term plan from the beginning.
With a pre-season under his belt, expect him to turn heads in the Premier League where young managers are increasingly making their mark.
Although Bournemouth will once again be expected to fight against relegation, if their young pieces click, and Iraola turns out to be the real deal by continuing his overachieving days, they will even have an outside shot of “doing a Brighton” in the 2023/23 season.
Exciting times are ahead for the Cherries!