How Bournemouth are beating the big budgets to continue their rise

Words by Vishnu Anandraj Illustration by Philippe Fenner
November 23, 2018

Premier League teams outside the top six have grown in prominence in the transfer window over the past few years. Ambitious owners who are looking to take their clubs to new heights are spending large sums of money to acquire the best talent, as teams look to make an impression on the top six. Yet this can lead to a lack of cohesion, as managers rarely have enough time to develop a philosophy within a team, particularly with lots of new arrivals unaccustomed to their new teammates or systems.

Bournemouth, on the other hand, seem to be a more forward-thinking club of far greater stability. Their belief in one manager and a particular philosophy has provided a sense of direction, leading to success both on and off the pitch.

Eddie Howe was appointed as head coach in January 2009, and rescued the club from the relegation zone in League Two. Howe, a former Bournemouth player whose career was cut short by injury, has employed an ambitious tactical set up. He predominantly sets his side up as a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 with an emphasis on attacking, possession based football; he likes to counter-press aggressively and be fast on the counter attack, but the main feature of his side is patient build up in attack through rotating possession.

Bournemouth look to work the right opportunity before transitioning the ball into the final third, where they aim to play through balls into the path of the strikers or play it wide for the wingers to get into one-on-one situations. This system requires high technical ability and intelligence from players, and this need for a specific type of player drives much of the proceedings off the pitch. As such, Bournemouth have a slightly different approach when it comes to player acquisition. Rather than pursuing players who might be considering bigger clubs, they look for players that can fit into Howe’s system and are hungry to improve. This strategy places a great deal of trust in Howe’s ability to improve individual aspects of a player’s game in order to better the team as a whole.

This particular type of management style is reminiscent of Pep Guardiola, and Howe’s ability to execute such a style with great success has been recognised by those around the club. In an interview with the Daily Echo, Nathan Ake said that “He is a good one-to-one manager. He tries to develop everyone personally” and added that “If there are things to improve, he will go to you after training to do some things with him. He is trying to make you better and that is a really good thing.”

Moreover, first team coach and club legend Steve Fletcher backed Howe to be a future England manager and remarked to the BBC that “He is so meticulous on the training ground, his attention to detail is phenomenal and his man management skills are brilliant.” Howe himself has said that a key part of his management is a focus on getting the best out of individual players.  He said in a 2014 Telegraph interview that “players need to be internally motivated, but there are ways that you can get that little bit more to inspire them to great things” and cites a quote from Muhammed Ali that is on the wall of a gym in the Bournemouth training facility that reads “what you are thinking is what you are becoming” as an example.

This attention to motivating and tactically improving individuals enables Bournemouth to sustain a player recruitment policy that can focus more on potential rather than current ability.

Despite the fact that Bournemouth have a relatively small recruitment team and no formal head scout, it’s a well-structured system that is effective in finding talent. Andy Howe, Eddie Howe’s nephew, is one of the many domestic scouts, and David Webb, former Chelsea and Bournemouth manager, heads up foreign scouting. Craig McKee, who was formerly at Southampton and specializes in recruitment analysis is the recruitment coordinator and works closely with Howe and Steve Fletcher in deciding which players are approached. The common theme among the Bournemouth staff is a close connection to the club and an understanding of the lower leagues in England, giving them an advantage in acquiring promising talent within the country.

This transfer criteria set by the club and Howe focuses mainly on signing young players. This is not by any means a full proof policy, which was shown at the start of the 2016/17 season, and Bournemouth were heavily criticized for signings labelled as flops. In a post match interview, Howe expressed trust in the policy stating, “It will show, in time, to have been very successful […] when I first work with a player there is nearly always a period of adjustment […] That’s why we need a little bit of patience with the younger guys.”

This patient approach is developing players is a clear example of the mindset Bournemouth have when conducting business, and it often leads to Bournemouth signings talents who are either not fulfilling expectation at bigger clubs or exceling at smaller clubs. Jordan Ibe, Nathan Ake, Lewis Cook and Callum Wilson are all good examples of Bournemouth’s recruitment policy; players who have the potential and attributes to fit a specific system while also having room to improve. Whilst each has their own flaws, Howe has shown patience in his willingness to develop and shape his signings into the type that can succeed for his team.

Whilst long term projects are risky, the potential for such teams to exceed expectation and elevate the status of their club means they can achieve success which remains beyond other clubs. Through intelligent player acquisition and the work of staff members who understand the long term goals of the club, Bournemouth are showing a bold way to structure small teams that can lead to more than simply sacking managers, constantly selling players, and barely surviving relegation.

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