Bournemouth’s summer of spending has made them more ruthless, more bullish


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There’s a scene in Netflix series Money Heist when the team of criminals realise they have completed their successful robbery of the Bank of Spain. The plan had seemed doomed, the team seemingly unable to outwit the larger institutions against them, before the gold they were stealing began to flow into their underground bunker, and jubilant scenes followed.

The celebrations at Bournemouth weren’t as vociferous on Wednesday evening, but there was certainly a feeling of accomplishment at having pulled off a heist of their own.

On Tuesday, Max Aarons was all but a Leeds United player. Southampton were keen on him too but he agreed terms with the Yorkshire club and a fee had been finalised with Norwich City.

He had travelled up to Leeds and, on Wednesday, had started his medical, according to sources — who, like all used in this article — have remained anonymous to protect relationships.

Bournemouth’s pursuit of the right-back seemed to be over. Leeds were preparing promotional material to announce the deal and had hoped to parade Aarons on the Elland Road pitch ahead of their Carabao Cup game against Shrewsbury Town that evening.

But Bournemouth are more bullish these days and, unwilling to admit defeat, embarked on 11th-hour negotiations with Norwich and Aarons’ representatives. The need was great, with the club without a recognised right-back after the injuries sustained by Adam Smith and Ryan Fredericks. Bournemouth blew Leeds out of the water with a better deal and the chance to play Premier League football again. There were brief conversations about whether Leeds could up their offer and there were also concerns from Aarons’ family about his late change of heart, but ultimately Leeds were not going to be able to match Bournemouth’s wage offer and Aarons travelled down to the south coast at around 4pm that afternoon.

After announcing his signing on Thursday, on a long-term deal which could rise to £12million ($15.2m), Bournemouth released a tweet (or a post, now its official name) poking fun at Leeds for what they deemed to be a scalp in the transfer market. But it was swiftly deleted, reflecting a feeling that the club wanted to be respectful to the Yorkshire outfit having swiped the player from under their noses. For Aarons, although excited to play at the top level, there was an element of guilt — perhaps feeling he’d let down Leeds and Daniel Farke, a man who’d managed him at Norwich and overseen his development in the professional game.

The 23-year-old did a light session on Thursday and trained for the first time with his new team-mates on Friday before being thrust into the starting XI for the 1-1 draw against West ham on Saturday. Although he’d been training with Norwich, he hadn’t featured all pre-season. His last game, in fact, came in the final of the Under-21 European Championship against Spain, which England won 1-0.

A big part of why Aarons joined was the vision outlined by new manager Andoni Iraola and technical director Richard Hughes. The same can be said for Alex Scott, who opted to join Bournemouth over Wolves. The midfielder — who was at the club as a schoolboy — was a player they had wanted as early as December. The deal was held up as the clubs wrangled over a fee and Bournemouth began to look at other options, notably Gaetano Castrovilli, who was on the verge of signing last week until a medical disclosed a knee problem (he has since had surgery on his ACL).

Wolves were also in the running to sign Scott this summer (and Tottenham had been credited with an interest in the past), so it was seen as a real coup by Bournemouth to persuade the 19-year-old to join them over a side who were Europa League quarter-finalists only three years ago. Scott was impressed by Bournemouth’s ambitions and — as with all of their signings — they have secured a player with good resale value, which safeguards them against Financial Fair Play regulations. He joined for a fee in the region of £20m ($25.4m) and in doing so became the third player to move to the Vitality Stadium from Bristol City in recent years, following in the footsteps of Lloyd Kelly and Antoine Semenyo.

Alex Scott joined Bournemouth from Bristol City last week (Photo: Getty)

Bournemouth have ambitious plans as they aim to consolidate themselves in the Premier League and Bill Foley’s acquisition of the club is integral in providing the finances to help achieve those aims. The hiring of Iraola is a further implementation of that vision and while the manner of his appointment may have seemed ruthless — the club sacking Gary O’Neil in June, just after he had guided the club to safety, before announcing Iraola’s arrival the same day — the Basque native is someone they’ve wanted since November and they were keen to get him in through the door as soon as the opportunity arose.

In November, he was at Rayo Vallecano and unwilling to leave the club mid-season. Bournemouth then flirted with Marcelo Bielsa — another coach wedded to high-pressing ideals — but the Argentine eventually took the Uruguay job. Although experienced, there were concerns he may have taken a while to get his ideas across and, by that time, the club may have been in a deeper mire. O’Neil was seen as a safe bet — already in a caretaker role following the sacking of Scott Parker in August — after being promoted from the role of assistant and a man who already knew the players well. He’s now head coach at Wolves, his stock fairly high after his rescue act towards the end of last season.

Iraola was also courted by Leeds, in February, when Jesse Marsch was sacked, so Bournemouth felt they had to act quickly at the end of the season in case Leeds came in again, following Sam Allardyce’s departure after relegation.

Iraola, 41, already has a track record of improving players and helping clubs punch above their weight in his fledgling managerial career. He guided Rayo Vallecano to a mid-table finish in La Liga last season, having beaten both Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Within a week of him joining Bournemouth, the club bought Justin Kluivert from Valencia (the forward was close to joining Fulham last season and in fact scored against Iraola’s side last term) and Hungarian left-back Milos Kerkez. There was an assumption that Iraola would bring a large Spanish backroom contingent to the club, similar to Unai Emery at Aston Villa, but he’s opted for continuity and has only brought in fitness coach Pablo de la Torre so far.

The aim is to play on the front foot and press relentlessly and there were elements of that against West Ham on Saturday, although still a work in progress. A possession-based game is key for Iraola but he’s also not afraid of being more direct when he needs to.

“There’s been a lot to take on board,” winger Jaidon Anthony said when asked about Iraola’s methods. “The aim is to play with high intensity. There won’t be many boring games with us. He wants us to get it up the pitch and create organised chaos; to get balls from the centre-backs and get in behind and be a threat in attacking areas.”

“It’s a new manager and new things (to take on board),” Illia Zabarnyi, the defender who joined in January from Dynamo Kyiv, said. “We need to listen well, we need to improve as a team and create more opportunities.”

It was long balls from him and centre-back partner Marcos Senesi that caused West Ham problems on Saturday, especially after going behind to Jarrod Bowen’s wonder strike. There were elements of the high press — and in time he would like his centre-backs to defend higher up the pitch too — but Iraola explained after the game that they couldn’t commit as much as they usually would, as they knew West Ham would be more direct and he “needed bodies there to defend the second balls in the middle”.

“We were better when we were more direct,” he said. “We weren’t finding spaces in the middle and weren’t creating advantages on the outside. One-v-one their full-backs were defending against our wingers very well, so we had to go more direct.”

Bournemouth finished the game with four players “all capable of playing at No 9” on the pitch: Kieffer Moore and Dominic Solanke up front, Kluivert and Semenyo out wide — in a 4-2-4 formation — and it was Solanke who equalised after latching onto a Semenyo effort from range. It was a sign of intent from Iraola that he wasn’t afraid to take risks to save the game.

But this is a new Bournemouth. More ruthless, more bullish and more intentional. The philosophy and ideas are there — and the heist of Aarons shows just how much they’re willing to do to put that plan in action.

(Photo: Robin Jones – AFC Bournemouth/AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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