Opinion: Eddie Howe can make Bournemouth the next small club in Europe

From surviving on collecting money in buckets to reaching the Premier League, AFC Bournemouth wrote an incredible tale over the past two decades but the journey can go further.

January 1997, just 21 years ago, and the Cherries were so close to the shutters coming down on Dean Court that fans were asked to dig into their pockets and donate whatever they could so the club would stay afloat.

Again in 2008, the end was near as liquidation loomed but Bournemouth fought back to keep fighting once more, even at the expense of starting the 2008-09 League Two season with minus 17 points and looking down the barrel at life in non-league.

AFC Bournemouth fans during a Coca-Cola Football League One match with Carlisle United in May 2008

The Cherries would not die and climbed the football ladder, smashing into the Premier League for the first time as champions of the Championship in 2015. The plucky ‘small club’ with an even smaller stadium would be mixing it in the billionaire’s playground.

Premier League life would not see Eddie Howe change his approach and the club, who sings about their hero’s return from Burnley and sticking it out when there was no cash to splash, took it to Liverpool at Anfield in just their second match – narrowly losing in a game they could astonishingly have won.

Big scalps would fall to the seaside club later in the season, as Chelsea and Manchester United found during a great festive period for the Boscombe boys.

Dan Gosling (L) and Matt Ritchie celebrate after Junior Stanislas (not pictured) scores the first goal for Bournemouth direct from a corner kick v Man U 2015

Three seasons have now come and gone in the Premier League for Bournemouth, who found themselves established in the mid-table each term.

A brilliant start to the current campaign has the Cherries eyeing their next great success, too – qualifying for Europe.

After 11 games, Howe’s side has secured 20 points through the fifth-highest scoring offence. The defensive line is doing their bit, too, and just a win blocks the Boscombe-based club from sitting in the Europa League spot while goal difference keeps England’s most decorated club behind.

Even in defeat to Manchester United last weekend, Bournemouth showed they now have a group of players capable of achieving the club’s next great accomplishment. Going toe-to-toe with the 20-time top-flight champions across the pitch and picking away at holes that were not punished enough.

Bournemouth beat Burnley, but the hosts qualified for Europa 2018

Only last season Burnley proved one of the expected lesser sides can still qualify for Europe with a good campaign and now must be the turn of the Cherries.

Take inspiration from Ipswich Town, Bolton Wanderers and Fulham who have all broke free of the ‘small club’ shackles to enter the European stage.

The Cottagers burst into the Europa League in stunning fashion during the 2009-10 season, going all the way to the final where Atletico Madrid met the London side in Hamburg.

They must, however, avoid an Ipswich scenario when the East Anglia club were relegated from the Premier League in 2002 having taken part in the UEFA Cup earlier that season.

Bournemouth's David Brooks celebrates scoring their second goal v Fulham

With a new stadium in planning, qualifying for Europe will be the next step that puts Boscombe on the map more than ever for the town’s footballing fairy tale.

Since making the move up to the Premier League, Howe has dabbled in the transfer market but always relied on the players who got the club to where it is, as the passion for the badge forever burns brightest amongst those who fought their way to reward it.

The 40-year-old manager’s dealings have always looked to strengthen his side, too, most recently with David Brooks and Jefferson Lerma who, unlike some of the names that came before, have instantly made a difference.

Having a central defender like Nathan Ake, a goal-getter like Callum Wilson and wide men like Ryan Fraser and Junior Stanislas gives Howe a platform to build his tactics around, and they are proving to work so far this season.

If Bournemouth are to make the next step up and cement their early season form into European qualification, they will need to tidy up the small mishaps that are allowing points to get away.

Against Burnley for example, Howe’s men had a total of 19 shots on Joe Hart’s goal but only five found their way on target, none hitting the back of the net. The hosts, meanwhile, struck home four times from the same amount of efforts on target.

The United affair last Saturday showed the same aspects were letting points ease to the opponents, as Jose Mourinho masterminded another comeback that saw his side win 2-1 thanks to a single extra effort on target.

Bournemouth's Benik Afobe in action with Brighton’s Jose Izquierdo

To avoid repeating Ipswich’s demise back into England’s lower divisions, Howe will have to further strengthen his roster at least in the summer if not in January and make sure those transfers work out like Lerma and Brooks and unlike Benik Afobe.

Playing mid-week football on a more regular basis and travelling across Europe will take its toll on the Cherries if there are not alternatives to call on.

Strong options to rotate the team will be needed far more than just getting more efforts on target and in the net, as tired legs will see results take a hit, which in turn will demoralise the players called on to drag Bournemouth through the bread and butter that is the Premier League.

Hapoel Be'er-Sheva's Maor Buzaglo celebrates scoring their first goal v Southampton in Europa League 2016

The writing has been on the wall for some time an hour down the road at fellow south coast side Southampton, as the Saints look ever more likely to march back down to the Championship.

Not too long ago the St Mary’s side were also fighting to establish the club in the Europa League themselves as they were handed a chance when Manchester City won the 2015-16 League Cup.

It was not long after though that the strong side Southampton had put together began to be torn apart and manager Ronald Koeman had already headed for the exit door, too.

Bournemouth have an incredible opportunity to do something special with the group of players and coaching staff assembled at the moment, but that could all too easily pale into insignificance if their key figures eye futures elsewhere.

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