There was a time; not too long ago in fact, when Junior Stanislas appeared to be heading through the exit door at AFC Bournemouth. The 26-year-old winger had joined the Cherries from Burnley the previous summer; dropping down a division in the process, to be reunited with Eddie Howe. The move did not pan out as he expected. Stanislas found first-team opportunities difficult to come by during the club’s historic Championship-winning season, as he was forced to play second fiddle to Marc Pugh. With the capture of Max Gradel from Saint-Etienne for £7 million, it seemed Stanislas would be surplus to requirements. However, a cruciate knee ligament injury to Gradel on just his fourth appearance ensured Stanislas earned a place in the Cherries’ 25-man Premier League squad. With Pugh also struggling for fitness, the former West Ham starlet was handed his chance to shine. Quite simply, he hasn’t looked back since.
Junior Stanislas is a man reborn. He has gone from a peripheral figure to one of the first names on Howe’s team sheet and his eye-catching performances have coincided with an upturn in results. By his own, admission Stanislas felt like an outsider last term, watching on from the sidelines as his team-mates achieved unprecedented success. While he was obviously delighted for them, the celebrations felt hollow as he personally had contributed little. For much of the time he hadn’t even made the 18-man match-day squad, while his rare appearances were characterised by a lack of belief and conviction. However, a run of games in the side has given him a sense of belonging and underlined why Howe had been so keen to draft him in from Burnley in 2014.
With pace to burn and an abundance of tricks up his sleeve, Stanislas has always had the ingredients to become a top footballer. What often infuriated supporters was his tendency to drift in and out of matches. This season though, he has applied himself and better appreciates his role within the team. The evidence is there for all to see. An assist in the 2-2 draw with Swansea was followed by two goals against Everton, the second of which arrived in the 98th minute to steal a crucial point. Better was to come against Chelsea and then Manchester United, where his goal direct from a corner paved the way for a famous 2-1 victory on an unforgettable evening on the south coast. Mirroring the team, Stanislas’s performances have maintained a consistently high level ever since.
The development of his relationship with left-back Charlie Daniels has been particularly vital. A feature of the Cherries’ remarkable title triumph was the rapport between both sets of full-backs and wingers. This is absolutely fundamental to the way Howe sets up his team, with the focus on attacking down the flanks and stretching the play as wide as possible. Daniels and Pugh had an almost telepathic understanding last term, as did the right-side pair of Simon Francis and Matt Ritchie. After a bedding-in period, Stanislas and Daniels have learned each other’s games and are now combining to great effect.
Whether Stanislas can maintain his rich vein of form remains to be seen, but currently he is indispensable. Huge credit must be given to Howe for sticking with him when most supporters had written him off. The Cherries boss has a unique ability to get the best out of his players and the case of Stanislas only reinforces that view. Fate has also played its part. Had Gradel not suffered a long-term knee injury back in August, which ruled him out of action for at least six months, there is every possibility that Stanislas would no longer be a Bournemouth player. But one man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity and there is no doubt that Stanislas has grabbed his with both hands. Every Bournemouth fan is thankful that he has.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by NewcastleUnited