Five Stars: AFC Bournemouth's best players in the 21st century
Under Eddie Howe, Bournemouth’s success over the last couple of years has drawn appreciative nods of approval from neutrals up and down the country. Now Howe is gone, it is the start of a new era for Cherries fans. Chris Lines, responsible for the superb Narrow The Angle blog, picks his five brightest Bournemouth stars.
Given that Bournemouth once had Rio Ferdinand on loan in the 1990s, you’ve got to go some to be considered the club’s greatest ever loan signing. Defoe managed this with something to spare when he arrived in the 2000/01 season and played as if the pitch were bereft of defenders.
Defoe has of course gone on to become a regular terroriser of Premier League defences, but largely because of his predatory, fox-in-the-box-style finishing skills and movement. At Bournemouth he was too good to simply tap them in. He scored some absolute howitzers, not to mention one or two that Matt Le Tissier would have been proud of — a lobbed goal from 20 yards after beating a couple of players against Swansea particularly sticks in my memory.
Sadly, there appears to be no internet footage of any of Defoe’s goals for Bournemouth. If you know of any, I’d love to see some of those goals again. But the memories will live long for Bournemouth fans. The only time I’ve ever known another player cause such a buzz among Cherries fans was when Ryan Giggs donned our stripes for Russell Beardsmore’s testimonial against Southampton and scored a cracking goal after two minutes.
Defoe bagged 18 goals in 29 league appearances and at one point scored in 10 consecutive games. For a while, we wondered if he might break Pele’s record of 14-in-a-row for Santos. Those were happy days.
Much has been said this season about Howe’s tremendous managerial promise, and he is certainly one of the brightest talents in the English game, but little mention is ever made of what a glorious footballer he was. A centre-back blessed with Bobby Moore-like grace and the determination of Steve Bruce, Howe almost always looked a cut above the other 21 players on the pitch at League One level.
It’s rare for a defender to be so popular with a club’s younger supporters — normally a goal-getting striker or a flying winger will be the apple of their eye, but even most of the kids down at Dean Court would lap up Howe’s performances.
One of my most enduring memories of Howe was the accuracy he could get on his defensive headers. A wayward cross might be flung into our box and Eddie would have our full-back away down the flank with a header glanced to perfection between two opponents. How often have you seen that from a centre back? Well I’ve seen Eddie Howe do it on numerous occasions — a real treat.
We somehow clung on to him for ages, allegedly turning down a large bid from Burnley (it’s always Burnley) before eventually losing him to Portsmouth for £400k, where he became Harry Redknapp’s first signing.
Perhaps the best winger in Bournemouth’s history, Elliott ripped up the right flank for 220 appearances after being plucked from non-league Bashley for an absolute snip at £5,000.
Blessed with sumptuous control, a few — but not a lot — of tricks, and the ability to go both sides of his man, there were few full-backs who could live with an in-form Wade Elliott. Goodness knows how many assists he must have racked up during his time at the club. His speciality was to show his man one way, go the other, beat him for pace, get to the byline and hammer in a low cross that any onrushing attacker merely had to collide with to have a great chance of hitting the net.
We lost him to Burnley (why is it always Burnley?) in 2005, where he has been an excellent servant ever since. Inexplicably they’ve sometimes tended to play him in central midfield — but if ever a man was born for the wing, it’s Wade Elliott. Ask a Burnley fan, they don’t know why he’s ever used in the middle either.
On the day Burnley won the play-off final and clinched promotion to the Premier League, I was backpacking and suffering from feverish shakes in the grotty surrounds of the misleadingly-named Mirador Mansions in Hong Kong. Thankfully I managed to find a bar with some pie-munching Burnley fans and cheered myself up considerably as Elliott’s long-range effort sent the Clarets up.
Cox only just qualifies, having played most of his football at Dean Court during the 1990s, but sneak in he does and this list is all the better for it.
Another graceful centre-back blessed with excellent pace and composure, a lot of Bournemouth fans were convinced that Cox was good enough for the Premier League. He had a slightly loping style that disguised how quick he was, and was always unflappable under pressure. The times when Cox and Eddie Howe played together were something to behold, as both central defenders stroked passes around under heavy pressure without breaking sweat.
A likeable guy, we were terribly sad to see him go (I sulked for a about a week, as I recall) when he left to join Burnley (seriously, Burnley, just stop it!) for £500k in February 2000. He played 115 times for the Clarets before spending the rest of his career at Gillingham.
His record of 16 goals in 173 appearances for Bournemouth shows you that he could be a menace from set pieces too. An underrated and very popular player.
The second loanee in the list, when Leicester let us have Max Gradel on a short-term deal in August 2007 we were initially a little suspicious. We’d had French-speaking wingers with a reputation for being unpredictable in the past (Willie Huck, Mohammed Berthe) and allowed ourselves to get carried away by their potential, only to end up disappointed. We wondered if Gradel might be another.
We needn’t have fretted. After an initial settling-in period, Gradel suddenly clicked into gear and started destroying full-backs with a similar amount of fizzes and bangs as Nani has done for Manchester United in recent seasons. A wriggly, strong, whippet-quick, skilful ball of energy with a penchant for tricks and making defenders look silly, Gradel was a maverick and a genuine crowd pleaser. We liked him so much that we had him back for a second spell; he played 37 times for us in total, scoring 10 goals.
The only disappointing thing is that he’s ended up at Leeds — something of a nemesis club for Bournemouth. The sooner he departs for a different team, the sooner I’ll be able to start enjoying his exciting and startling playing style once more.