When Callum Wilson suffered a potentially season-ending injury against Stoke City last September, every single Bournemouth supporter feared the worst. Wilson’s importance during the club’s historic Championship-winning season could not be overstated. It was not only his goals, abundant though they were, but his tireless work-rate that ran defenders ragged. All those attributes made him a deadly weapon for Eddie Howe and fundamental to the manager’s game-plan. In short, Wilson seemed irreplaceable and without him the prospect of an immediate return to the second tier suddenly became frighteningly real.
With their talismanic striker sidelined for at least six months, it was no surprise that the Cherries struggled to adapt and tumbled down the table at an alarming rate. Joshua King, a £1 million summer purchase from Blackburn, filled the void in a makeshift capacity and grew into the role, most notably by scoring the winner at home to Manchester United. But the delicate nature of his hamstrings suggested that making the lone striker position his own would not be a long-term solution. The same could also be said of Glenn Murray, another summer signing from Crystal Palace, who spearheaded the attack unsuccessfully in the defeats to Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur. With money to spend and the January transfer window open for business, Howe wasted no time in splashing out an eye-watering £9m on his primary target, Benik Afobe of Wolverhampton Wanderers.
To many observers it seemed an expensive gamble. Afobe had been off-loaded by Arsenal after failing to make a single appearance, moving permanently to Wolves in 2015 following several loan spells. He took the Championship by storm, bagging 22 goals in 46 appearances for the Midlands club before Howe snapped him up for a club-record fee, amid reported interest from several other top-flight outfits. Afobe’s debut came in the 3-1 defeat to West Ham United, where he missed a couple of gilt-edged chances to break his duck. But frustration didn’t get the better of him and he netted the third goal in the Cherries’ 3-0 victory over Norwich courtesy of a predatory close-range volley. Afobe’s jubilant celebration in front of the home supporters underlined just how much his first Premier League goal meant to him.
While the £9m outlay was a substantial sum for someone untried and untested at the top level, there was sound logic behind it. Afobe fits perfectly the profile of a Howe signing. His technical ability on the ball and athleticism are immediately apparent, while off the pitch he comes across as humble, hard-working and eager to learn. At just 22, Afobe has scope to further improve and scoring regularly in the Premier League will only increase his sell-on value. The signing mirrors Bournemouth’s previous record buy, Tyrone Mings, who reputedly cost the club £8 million from Ipswich. Like Afobe, Mings, whose season was cruelly cut short by a cruciate knee ligament injury sustained on debut, was bought with his potential future worth in mind.
Afobe may have been recruited in part to fill Wilson’s boots, but he will be desperate not to be typecast as a clone. Both are goalscorers in their own right and Howe will no doubt be excited by the potential for a lethal strike partnership when Wilson eventually returns to fitness. In the meantime though, Afobe has the chance he craved to make a name for himself. Alongside the likes of Murray and Lewis Grabban, who rejoined the club from Norwich for £7 million, Afobe is tasked with scoring the goals that ensure Bournemouth remain a Premier League club. His strike against the Canaries was an encouraging start and began to repay his sizeable fee. A few more like that and £9 million will be considered a bargain.
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