AFC Bournemouth: Are the minnows ready for the top flight?
In around three months time, any Bournemouth fan making an away trip will be forgiven for pinching themselves each and every time, as their beloved Cherries look forward to their first season in the Barclays Premier League.
Gone are the days of travelling to Bloomfield Road, The Valley and Pride Park: supporters can now expect highly-entertaining, very expensive days out watching their team take of some of the world’s greatest teams in the some of the finest stadia in Europe. Yes, they still have to make the trip to Vicarage Road, but you can’t have everything, can you?
Whilst their promotion to the top flight is undoubtedly one of the surprise, ‘feel-good’ stories of the 2014/15 season, it raises the question – are they ready to take their place amongst the elite, or are the club set for a harsh reality check for the next twelve months?
A lot has been made in recent weeks about the club’s stadium capacity, which currently stands at 11,700, making it smaller than the capacity of the East Stand at Old Trafford, which accommodates both away supporters and some of the home crowd. Entering the Premier League with Dean Court at its present size is undoubtedly due to cause problems. Firstly, home ticket sales are set to be limited, with the club already announcing only 7,000 seats will be made available for season ticket holders. Providing the club have to allocate the remaining 4,700 seats to away supporters, that still falls short of the bigger clubs in the Premier League.
For Bournemouth, their stadium size is effectively limiting the amount of money they can make from at least a single season in the top flight. Of course, it’s unfair to expect clubs to expand their stadiums on the off-chance they secure promotion, but the club’s recent announcement that they will not be developing their home turf until at least next season means that the club have already limited the amount of income they can make from ticket sales, as well as inevitably meaning several supporters will be unable to make the match, for both sides. This raises the question; should there be a higher minimum ground capacity for Premier League grounds, as is the case with clubs moving from semi-pro to professional further down the footballing pyramid?
Looking at the playing squad, it is clear Bournemouth will need to strengthen their ranks. Whilst it could be argued that any team that wins the Championship has earned the right to play top-flight football, the attacking prowess of Millwall and Manchester City are two entirely different ball games. The squad does feature several ex-Premier League players in the likes of Junior Stanislas, Dan Gosling, Andrew Surman and Lee Camp, but will undoubtedly need bolstering if they are to prevent an immediate return to the second tier. But then that raises another question; how much to Bournemouth spent developing their squad? It would be all too easy to spend the increased TV revenue and title winnings on a better playing squad with higher wage demands, only to be relegated and struggle to sustain those players. Do Bournemouth take the money to build further down the line, or make hay whilst the sun shines and hope the team gets the results to match the funding?
Manager Eddie Howe is one aspect that needs no developing, in my opinion. Time and again he has proven his credentials match any other young manager in the game. To have guided the club from the lower levels of the football pyramid to the Premier League entitles him, in my opinion, to a season at the helm plying his trade against the very best of his profession in the country. Already a club legend of sorts, Howe also enjoys the trust and favour of his dressing room, something that may prove invaluable in a spell of bad results with the drop zone looming.
If you look at it practically, perhaps you could argue that, no, Bournemouth don’t have the squad or the infrastructure in place to do anything but make up the numbers in the Premier League. But, having scaled the Football League under the ever-enthusiastic Howe, they’ve earned their place in the division more than most, some would say. So it effectively comes down to whether you judge them as deserving in a moral or practical sense. Personally, I think they’ll go straight back down, but they’ve definitely earnt a chance to prove me wrong.