AFC Bournemouth were arguably the best story in world football last season, as the tiny south coast club earned their second promotion in three seasons (this time from the Championship, England’s second division) and third in six.
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As Bournemouth prepare for their first-ever season in the Premier League they do so on a budget a fraction of the size of the rest of the team’s expected to finish in the bottom third of the league — let alone that of Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United et al. While reinforcements have been added this summer, the Cherries’ grander plan seems to be to continue operating within their current financial structure, in the event relegation back to the Championship is their inevitable fate.
While Bournemouth don’t have a clear-cut rival in the Premier League (how could they when they’ve been above England’s third tier for just two seasons all time?), fellow south coast side Southampton are just 31 miles away by car. It’s been more than a decade since two south coast clubs have competed in the Premier League in the same season.
Best possible XI:
— Boruc —
— Francis — Elphick — Cook — Daniels —
— Ritchie — Surman — Arter — Atsu —
— Kermorgant —- Wilson —
Transfers In: Tyrone Mings ($12.5 million, Ipswich Town), Christian Atsu (Loan, Chelsea), Filippo Costa (Loan, Chievo Verona), Sylvain Distin (Free, Everton), Adam Federici (Free, Reading), Artur Boruc (Free, Southampton), Joshua King (Free, Blackburn Rovers)
Transfers Out: Brett Pitman (Undisclosed, Ipswich Town), Ryan Fraser (Loan, Ipswich Town), Miles Addison (Free), Benjamin Buchel (Free), Ian Harte (Free), Darryl Flahavan (Free)
Last season: Winners of the Championship, Fourth Round in the FA Cup, Fifth Round in the League Cup — On a budget often times half the size of their Championship competitors, Bournemouth rode the biggest feel-good story in all of England to Premier League promotion. Following a rocky start to the season (15th place after 10 games), Bournemouth finished the season on a run that few would have ever imagined possible — 23 wins from their last 36 games. They reached the top-four on October 25, and from that point forward never fell back below fourth. Forwards Callum Wilson (20 league goals), Matt Ritchie (15), Yann Kermorgant (15) and Brett Pitmann (13) led the way for the Cherries, while midfielders Harry Arter and Marc Pugh (9) both came close to double digits themselves.
Star player: Matt Ritchie (in photo, on right) — After racking up 15 goals and 17 assists in the Championship last season, Ritchie, who was born in England and lived in the country his entire life, became a Scottish international through his Scottish father. After coming through the Portsmouth youth academy, one of Bournemouth’s local rivals, Ritchie made more than 120 appearances in four seasons with Swindon Town in League One and League Two before moving to Bournemouth for less than $1 million in January 2013. Since then, the 25-year-old has scored 27 goals (all in league play) in 100 games while playing on the right wing.
Coach’s corner: Eddie Howe is not only the now-legendary manager that got the Bournemouth promoted to the Premier League, he’s also a legendary player for the club as well. So much of this fairytale story is to do with the fact that Howe, one of their own youth academy products, is the man leading the club to the promised land after making more than 250 appearances for the club as a player. Still just 37 years old, Howe is in his second stint as Bournemouth manager after leaving for then-Championship side Burnley (Bournemouth were in League One at the time).
PST predicts: It’s always hard for newly promoted teams to survive in the Premier League — the 2014-15 season taught us that, when Burnley and Queens Park Rangers both went back down immediately. It’ll be doubly or triply hard for Bournemouth, a club club so small they play in a 12,000-seat stadium, to do so when competing against the likes of Aston Villa, Sunderland, Newcastle United and Leicester City. If you’re the eternal lover of underdogs punching way above their weigh, Bournemouth might just be the team for you this season.