English Premiership

Bournemouth on a stunning rise

Eddie Howe (AFP)
Eddie Howe (AFP)

London - There's an aspect to Bournemouth's Premier League debut that provides a perfect snapshot of this unpredictable season.

No pundit predicted Bournemouth would beat title-holder Chelsea and record 20-time champion Manchester United in succession - let alone be sitting above Jose Mourinho's side approaching the midway point of the season.

Had anyone forecast that back in August, Bournemouth might have expected to be where Leicester is now as a shock title contender. Though the Cherries are still in the lower reaches of the league - ahead of a startlingly struggling Chelsea - sitting two points above the relegation zone is exceeding expectations.

And shockwaves have been sent through the Premier League and beyond when the south coast side edged Chelsea 1-0 and stunned United 2-1 on Saturday.

"Just checking the results again to make certain the last week has actually happened," chairman Jeff Mostyn tweeted on Sunday.

It was no illusion.

From its tiny home in a southern English seaside town, Bournemouth is providing inspiration and hope to other teams across the land.

However inadequate a team might now seem. Whatever financial hardships they might be encountering. However far from the elite they are. Anything is possible. Even if it takes 125 years - as was the case in Bournemouth's case.

With its rise to the world's richest soccer league for the first time, Bournemouth has epitomized the fighting spirit required in a country that hosts 92 professional clubs across four divisions.

While Man United plays in 76 000-capacity Old Trafford, Bournemouth's stadium is now the smallest in the Premier League with around 11 500 seats.

Seven years ago, while United was still basking in the glory of its third European title, Bournemouth was in the fourth tier contending with a 17-point deduction. And victory over United came six years to the day since Howe's Bournemouth lost 5-0 to Morecambe in the lowest professional league.

"That was a terrible game. It does show how far the club has come," said the 38-year-old Eddie Howe, who has managed Bournemouth since 2008 apart from a spell away in 2011 and 2012. "It really does prove what can happen in football."

In a story impossible to reproduce in the closed American sporting structure without promotion-relegation, there are two sides to Bournemouth's recovery and rise through the leagues.

A gritty never-say-die attitude was required just to keep the club alive, which saw players - including current manager Howe - pounding the streets with buckets collecting cash in the late 1990's.

Further anguish came with renewed fights against closure in the last decade as Bournemouth twice entered bankruptcy protection.

Then came the saviors from 2009, with the injection of cash that set Bournemouth on the path to the Premier League.

Bournemouth does not claim to be a fairytale story and the importance of Russian cash to the team's ascent is not disguised. Maxim Demin, the secretive Russian investor, started providing funding in 2011 to not only keep Bournemouth in existence but to lift it into the Premier League for the first time. Demin last month sold a quarter of the club to Chicago-based PEAK6 Investments.

The last published accounts showed that in the 2013-14 season - Bournemouth's penultimate season in the second tier - the club was spending £17.3m on staff costs on the turnover of £10m.

There may have been investment in the summer transfer window ahead of Bournemouth's topflight debut, but it wasn't lavish. Breaking the transfer record meant buying Tyrone Mings from Ipswich for £8m but the defender was injured eight minutes into his first league game and ruled out for the season. The injury curse continued, with winger Max Gradel out since September and striker Callum Wilson ruled out for six months in October.

So though United manager Louis van Gaal had spent the week lamenting his lengthy injury list - full backs Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Guillermo Varela both made their full league debuts on the south coast - Bournemouth's nine injury absentees seems far more debilitating.

"The focus for me has always been the players we do have available to us and we still believe that we are strong enough," Howe said. "Hopefully the last two games are further proof if we needed it that these players can compete."

Victory over United was no plucky tale of fortune over aptitude.

Unlike at Chelsea, where Bournemouth valiantly thwarted a dominating home attacking display, Howe's side seemed superior to United at times on Saturday. The match-winner was delivered by former United striker Josh King, completing a pre-planned corner move that befuddled the visiting defense.

It was Bournemouth's biggest home result since also conquering United in 1984. That came in the FA Cup in a vastly different era in English soccer.

The December double came against some of the world's wealthiest teams. Now the Cherries will be hoping beating the most successful teams in English football in the 21st century helps to ensure this season in the topflight is not a one-off.

"I don't think we'll have many better weeks than this," Howe said.