While much attention has been given to Leicester City’s rise to the top of the Premier League table this season, there is another team that has seen an almost miraculous rise through English football. Just eight years ago, AFC Bournemouth had entered into bankruptcy and faced being removed from League Two, the lowest fully professional league in England. Eventually, it was able to secure its status in the league for the 2008-09 season after agreeing to a penalty of 17 points (“Bournemouth Accept League Penalty” 1). The club went through three managers that season, eventually settling on 31-year old Eddie Howe in January 2009, who had worked as a youth coach for the club but had never actually managed a senior side. He made an instant impact, eventually helping Bournemouth to avoid relegation on the last home game of the season with a 2-1 win against Grimsby Town (Bell 1). The following season, Eddie Howe led the club to a second place finish, leading to promotion to League One.
The 2010-11 season saw Howe leave the club to manage Burnley. Despite that, Bournemouth managed to earn a promotion playoff spot under Lee Bradbury, though it eventually lost to Huddersfield Town on penalties (1). The following season saw a mid-table finish, and Bradbury was sacked in favor of Paul Groves, who was then sacked in October 2013 following a string of poor performances that left the club near the bottom of the table (1). Eddie Howe was brought back in, and in a dramatic turn of events, not only saved the club from relegation, but won promotion to the Championship. After just two seasons there, Bournemouth won the Championship title in the 2014-15 season, leading to its first ever season in the Premier League.
Heading into the 2015-16 season, Bournemouth was widely tipped for relegation, along with the two other promoted sides, Watford and Norwich City. Bookmakers on August 6 on Bovada gave relegation odds of +135, the third best odds for relegation (McGuire 1). This made sense; its manager was still untested against the highest level of opposition, and the team lacked star or even mid-table-level players. However, Bournemouth was able to bring in quality players during the 2015 summer transfer window, acquiring players like Max Gradel and Arter Boruc and spending a total of just 23.5 million pounds (“AFC Bournemouth – Transfers 15/16” 1). In the winter window, Bournemouth added even more players, including Benik Afobe and Juan Iturbe (on loan).
Since the summer, Bournemouth has defied the odds, finding itself currently in thirteenth place with 38 points from 31 games and 12 points clear of relegation (“Bournemouth Results” 1). It has beaten both Manchester United and Chelsea in league play. Much of this success is due to Bournemouth’s style of play, which is dependent on keeping possession, though at a faster tempo than teams like Barcelona (Lee 27). The team relies a lot on both its wingers and fullbacks, who are expected to make overlapping runs and runs behind the defense. The wingers tend to be involved a lot in the middle third of the field as they drift inwards, while the fullbacks can then run down the wing (49). The team also makes use of center forwards to both run behind the defense as well as serving as target men, especially when under pressure at the back (45). Within the midfield itself, the players strive to make themselves available for support, and the forwards make runs in order to draw defenders out and create more space in the midfield. As an overall strength, Bournemouth tries to outnumber its opposition locally, be it a 2v1 on the wing or a larger confrontation in the middle of the pitch (30).
Defensively, Bournemouth tends to press high and to adopt two lines of four players, with the wingers tracking back to help. It also tries to double team (with wingers) when defending against crosses and to maintain a compact shape both within and just outside the box (35). Bournemouth does tend to have problems on the counter, given its high press, both defensively and offensively. It tries to counter this by immediately pressing the opponent in order to delay the attack in order to force mistakes and cut out passing lanes (34).
A cynic would look at Bournemouth’s recent successes and point to Russian billionaire Maxim Demin’s purchase of 50% of the shares of the club in November 2011 (Sokolov 1). Comparisons to Abramovich’s Chelsea are not completely unjustified, and in the lower leagues of English football, his money did in fact have a large influence, with the club spending a million pounds more than any other club in League One (Kilpatrick 1). However, the club has operated within Financial Fair Play rules, and Demin seems to want to take a more organic and homegrown approach. Much of the coaching staff, including Eddie Howe, used to play for the club or have ties to the area. Moreover, much of the squad is English; in its latest game against Tottenham, more than half the squad was English, and many of the regular starters are English as well. Tactically, it has kept the same style of play that had propelled its rise through the English divisions in the first place. While it is still too early in Bournemouth’s Premier League life to predict what it will look like in future seasons, the club currently does look like the story of the improbable rise and potential success of a small English club in the modern era.
“AFC Bournemouth – Transfers 15/16.” Transfer Markt. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2016. <http://www.transfermarkt.co.uk/afc-bournemouth/transfers/verein/989/plus/0?saison_id=2015&pos=&detailpos=&w_s=s>.
Bell, Kieran. “The Rise of AFC Bournemouth.” Read Championship. N.p., 09 Apr. 2015. Web. 21 Mar. 2016. <http://readchampionship.com/2015/04/09/the-rise-of-afc-bournemouth/>.
“Bournemouth Accept League Penalty.”BBC News. BBC, 08 Aug. 2008. Web. 21 Mar. 2016. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/teams/b/bournemouth/7547284.stm>.
“Bournemouth Results.” BBC Sport. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2016. <http://www.bbc.com/sport/football/teams/afc-bournemouth/results>.
Kilpatrick, James. “Who Is Bournemouth’s Russian Owner Maxim Demin?”Sky Sports. N.p., 29 Apr. 2015. Web. 21 Mar. 2016. <http://www.skysports.com/football/news/11743/9827260/who-is-afc-bournemouths-russian-owner-maxim-demin>.
Lee, Gavin. “AFC Bournemouth – A 10 Game Team Analysis.” SlideShare. N.p., 9 Dec. 2015. Web. 21 Mar. 2016. <http://www.slideshare.net/JonTrew/afc-bournemouth-a-10-game-team-analysis>.
McGuire, Dan. “2015-16 Premier League Odds.” Sports Insights. N.p., 3 Mar. 2016. Web. 21 Mar. 2016. <https://www.sportsinsights.com/blog/2015-16-premier-league-title-odds/>.
Sokolov, Ilya. “AFC Bournemouth and Their Untypical Russian Owner Maxim Demin.” Russian Football News. N.p., 17 Jan. 2016. Web. 21 Mar. 2016. <http://russianfootballnews.com/afc-bournemouth-and-their-untypical-russian-owner-maxim-demin/>.