Why Andoni Iraola is a solid shout for manager of the season
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Why Andoni Iraola is a solid shout for manager of the season

11/05/24 19:25

With the season drawing to a close, the Premier League has recently announced the nominees for the Manager of the Season award. Most of the managers nominated seem pretty obvious; Mikel Arteta, Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, and Unai Emery are all currently inside the top four with their clubs. However the final nominee appears to have come a little bit out of the blue. Andoni Iraola’s Bournemouth sit in 10th in the Premier League table but could easily finish outside the top half. So why has the Premier League decided to nominate him for the Manager of the Season award?

A Historic Season

This season was Iraola’s first in English football and yet the Spaniard was able to produce Bournemouth’s best year in the club’s history. After beating Brighton 3-0 at the end of last month, the Cherries had accumulated 48 points in a Premier League season for the first time, beating Eddie Howe’s record of 46 in the 2016/17 season. Most of their points came against teams towards the bottom of the table however they did manage a few surprise results along the way. Perhaps the most memorable was the 3-0 against Manchester United at Old Trafford, which was the first time the south coast club had ever left the stadium without losing. Since the start of November, only the current top four have gained more points than Iraola’s men, which shows that something is brewing on the Dorset coast.

Style of Play

Iraola’s style of play has been a breath of fresh air for Bournemouth fans, who haven’t seen exciting football at the Vitality Stadium since Eddie Howe left in 2020. Instead of a traditional low block and fast counterattack style that many managers in the bottom half of the Premier League like to adopt, Iraola’s style was once described as “rock’n’roll football”. This chaotic brand of football incorporates a high-press, attacking full-backs, a tireless midfield, and a versatile defensive midfielder who can drop into both full-back and centre-back. Perhaps the stat that best illustrates the style shift would be the number of shots that they have had this season compared to last. This season, Bournemouth sit in seventh in terms of shots taken with 507, just one behind Manchester United with two games to play. Last season, they only managed 358, which put them last in the shots table. To put that into perspective, Sheffield United, one of the worst sides in Premier League history, have managed just 12 fewer this season than the Cherries did under Gary O’Neil. Talk about a transformation!

Player Management

One reason Bournemouth have performed so well this season is down to a number of key players who are performing in positions that are quite alien to them. The best example would be midfielder Ryan Christie, who before this season, was often used as a winger or occasionally as a number 10 by previous Bournemouth and Celtic managers. He struggled in these positions last season and some Bournemouth fans were looking for him to be replaced before the 2023/24 campaign kicked off. However when Iraola came in, he must have seen something different in the Scotsman, deploying him as a box-to-box midfielder, a role in which he has flourished ever since. Similarly, Dango Ouattara has transitioned from a right-winger to a left-back and Lewis Cook has even moved from a more familiar defensive midfield role to cover at right-back and centre-back when needed.

Challenges

I think it is also important to highlight how difficult it has been for Andoni Iraola this season as he has faced multiple issues throughout the campaign. Moving to a new league is always hard, but often managers bring their backroom staff or at least an assistant with them. However, Iraola's situation is different. He intended to bring along his assistant coach from Rayo Vallecano, Inigo Perez, but the Spaniard was unable to get a work permit. The Home Office and an FA panel declared that he was incapable of contributing to English football (although I suspect that it would have been very different had he been joining the backroom staff of a team like, let’s say, Unai Emery’s Aston Villa).

Some Premier League fans may point to the amount of money that Bournemouth spent in the summer and argue that 10th position should be expected if you spend that much. While the club did spend over £130million across the two transfer windows, it should be noted that a lot of these players have spent a long time out injured meaning that Iraola has had to work with essentially the same squad that Gary O’Neil had to work with last season. The Cherries’ marquee signing in the summer was Tyler Adams from Leeds, however he has only been available for two games all season. Similarly, Alex Scott, Luis Sinisterra, Max Aarons, and Milos Kerkez have all had their fair share of injuries this season. This means that the only player that Iraola signed in the summer that has been available to him for the majority of the season is Justin Kluivert, and he cost the club just £9.5million.

Is It Deserved?

Ultimately, based on his club’s performances alone, does Andoni Iraola deserve to be nominated for manager of the season? As a Bournemouth fan, I’m going to say yes, and no. He has done an incredible job and considering the start of the season and the other challenges that he has faced along the way, 10th place is an astonishing achievement. However I think that he has only been nominated because of how much the ‘expert’ pundits and wider Premier League fan base underestimate Bournemouth. At the beginning of the season the majority of people had the Cherries to be relegated and it was the same the year before. Perhaps because of the size of their stadium, people seem to think that Bournemouth are destined to be in a relegation dogfight every season, however Andoni Iraola has well and truly crushed those suggestions as he looks to make his mark on the Premier League.

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