Two Fairy Tales

Bournemouth AFC

Eddie Howe. This man is destined to do great things!

Next Monday is going to be yet another big day for the city of Bournemouth. This nearly 200.000 big town located on a southern coast of England, shall have the most glorious time in it’s history since J.R.R Tolkien’s post-retirement move to a bungalow at Branksome Park in the 1960’s. However, in 2015, The Cherries, have just recently outplayed Bolton 3-0 and they’ve announced that the open-bus celebration has been scheduled for the next week. It is true. Three points ahead of Middlesbrough and nineteen goals ahead on goal difference, BAFC could only lose their immediate Premier League promotion only if they get wrecked 0-10 by Charlton in the last round of 2014-15 Championship – and, coincidentally, Boro also wrecks Brighton 10-0. We know it’s not going to happen. With the net worth of £22 million (20 times less than Chelsea, two times less than bottom-of-the-EPL-table Burnley) and a stadium for 12000 people (five times smaller than Arsenal’s ground, 7000-chairs smaller than currently tiniest EPL site, Loftus Road), Bournemouth are through to face England’s top sides and it’s already clear who’s going to be the underdog in the year 2016. “We didn’t think it will be ever possible. (…) Our start years were bleak. It took the hard work of many people to get us where we are now.” – said the manager, Eddie Howe.

Bournemouth’s boss is one of the most interesting names in British management circuit today. The club’s homegrown centre-back, who spent 15 years of his footballing career at Dean Court, was so respected by the fans, they’ve actually raised money for him to be brought back to BAFC from Portsmouth on a permanent deal. Later, in 2008, at the age of 31, Howe broke the record of being the youngest manager to be ever appointed by the Football League club. It was the bleakest time in Bournemouth’s history. So much in debt that their chairman was on a brink of it’s liquidation, faced with a massive 17-point deduction in League Two that would nearly relegate them into the oblivion of Conference Premier competitions, Howe was taking control over something that looked more like ruins than a regular football club. As a caretaker, he started by saving the club from drowning: Bournemouth salvaged the League Two status with one game to spare by taking out Grimsby Town 2-1. Despite the problems, despite changes of the ownership and a 18-month long transfer embargo enforced by the League’s authorities, the club finished 2009-10 season at second place, earning first big success in a string of promotions. But obviously, nobody knew what was hiding just around the corner…

Howe’s fairy tale just couldn’t stop happening before our eyes. Immediately after moving up to League One, he had his share at securing his club’s place in the Championship playoffs before he was snapped by Burnley in January 2011. Those were the underwhelming, yet valuable months for the young boss. At the time, The Clarets underperformed and instead of fighting for EPL promotion, they placed mid-table for two seasons in a row. Upon registering 3 wins, 2 draws and 5 defeats in 2012-13 season, Howe left Burnley for his former club. And it was insane. Bournemouth, who, prior to that day, won 1, drew 5 and lost 5 League One games, suddenly went unbeaten for full three months, earned total number of 23 wins out of 35 games under Howe’s guidance and finished second with 83 points and a whooping tally of 76 goals scored in 46 games. Players like the right-back Simon Francis, winger Marc Pugh or centre forward Brett Pittman have all proven to be not only the winning elements in a League One team, but also it’s driving force later, in a competition of a higher caliber. With them in charge of the proceedings, Bournemouth had no problem staying up during their freshmen year in the Championship finishing 10th, which was the highest position they’ve ever managed to get in the Football League.

Just like it was two years later, the critical 2014-15 campaign started quite poorly for The Cherries, who only won 3, drew 3 and lost 4 out of their ten initial league games. Howe then worked his magic yet again: 11 wins and 3 draws in the next fourteen matches put his lads in the driver’s seat. Callum Wilson, yet another in the long line of good strikers in the club, scored almost in every single game, gaining the call-up from England’s U-21 team in the process, while the Irish playmaker, Harry Arter, turned out to be the second best passer in the entire league and rightfully claimed the flurry of awards from his fans. Another great move for BAFC was bringing Polish goalkeeper Artur Boruc on loan from Southampton. With him in play, the team has won 76 points out of 108 possible. Howe, who insist on fielding a classical 4-4-2 system, created the side that preferred to boss the possession (#1 in league, 58.5% on average) and dominate the passing (again #1, with 79.4% pass accuracy). “We always felt that, by implementing a football philosophy that could be transferable from League One to the Championship, and the Championship to the Premier League, it would give us more of a chance”, says the boss “In the Premier League the best way to win is to dominate the ball. That’s what we seek to do.” – he adds.

What are their chances? On the one side, we remember what happened to the brave sides of Blackpool, Wigan and Wolverhampton after they had their time on top. The financial gap between ludicrously rich EPL and Championship turned out too hard for them to bear once they were cut off from the big-TV-deal money. On another, there’s Howe: the man hailed as “English Special One” by Gary Lineker; the man tipped for a knighthood one day by BAFC’s captain, skipper Tommy Elphick. His first task will be to sign Boruc on a permanent deal and bringing another striker to replace the 34-years old Frenchman, Yann Kermogant. Most recent gossip involves Birmingham City youngster, 18-years old winger Demarai Gray, who’s been already watched by Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool and Newcastle scouts. The team in red and black stripes is going to need four or five players like Boruc or Junior Stanislas, whom they brought from Burnley – players with at least some Premier League experience. Other than that, Howe will probably rely on creating starlets by himself: just like he did with Danny Ings or Sam Vokes. And if he somehow manages to keep Bournemouth in the elite? Few experts already went as far as tipping him to move for Emirates Stadium once Arsène Wenger decides to ditch Gunners after years of faithful service…

Carpi FC 1909

Wet, pantless and buoyant. That’s how you’re supposed to celebrate!

The population of their city would comfortably fit inside the San Siro. The estimated value of their entire, 28-people, squad is lower than the market value of Álvaro Morata from Juventus or Xherdan Shaqiri from Inter. They are playing on a 87-years old Stadio Sandro Cabassi – a creaky, ugly-looking ground that can handle no more than 4144 spectators. To put it into perspective: it’s less than the number of fans Juventus, Milan or Inter are usually taking with them whenever they’re leaving their city to play an away game. They don’t know the term ‘debt’ because they can’t afford to be in any: in 2013, they’ve registered the negative balance of £374; at the same time, Inter, taken over by Indonesian investors, had liabilities of over £130 million. Their star player, Jerry Mbakogu, earns around £55.000 per year – which means he would need about ten years to make the amount of money Daniele De Rossi from Roma is making in 12 months. Until recently, their greatest success in the entire, 107-years long history of the club was a participation in a 1997 playoff for a promotion to Serie B, in which they lost to Monza 2-3. Three years after that, the club went bankrupt and kept shuffling between Serie C and amateur leagues for several years, until it was rebranded in 2002 and started to steadily climb up the ranks. Until now.

Meet Carpi FC 1909 – new Serie A team.

Their 2014-15 campaign started in Livorno, where they’ve earned a hard-fought 1-1 draw. At that time, nobody really expected the team to perform on a promotion-worthy level: after all, they’ve placed only 12th in the 2013-14 season. Besides, there were teams with a top-class experience and bigger money – Bologna, Catania and Bari – that had seemingly more rights to dream about winning the whole thing. After scoring reasonably decent results in August and September, Rossobianci’s dream really took off on October 18th, 2014, when two Mbakogu’s penalties preserved their 2-1 win over another Serie B newbies, Latina. It was a start of a 13-games unbeaten streak with 9 victories and 4 draws, effectively leaving rest of the competition in the dust. A particular standout was an away 3-3 draw to Brescia. Down to only nine men after an hour, trailing 1-3 after conceding three penalties – of which at least two were made up by the referee – Carpi scored two goals thanks to their back-up striker, Roberto Inglese. As somebody commented on YouTube “the arbiter of that game was either drunk or got bribed”. But regardless of this anomaly, by the end of the previous year, the club has already secured a 9-point gap over all remaining contenders, and they hardly eased up on the gas pedal in 2015, losing only 3 out of their 17 games so far.

If there weren’t too many bells ringing, too many headlines screaming about the sensation, too many TV coverages – it was because of the teams’ playstyle. Defending with eight or nine players constantly behind the ball and playing long passes to their lone striker, Carpi stood out as a tediously defensive outfit even in Serie B – the league known for a basic, route-one football. Partly due to this approach, their goalkeeper Gabriel (loaned out from AC Milan and already capped once for Brazilian national team) had a spell of 665 minutes without conceding a goal – and his team has managed to rise few eyebrows by scraping four consecutive 0-0 draws in February. The final defensive outcome of this is pretty impressive – just 25 balls in their net in 38 matches so far; exactly the same number Torino and Palermo registered three and one years ago, before they were promoted and subsequently turned into the decent Serie A sides. Unlike those two, quite famous and ambitious teams, Carpi will have nothing to lose – and with the expected £19.3 million budget boost from the top division TV deal, they might actually stand a slim chance of survival once thrown into the tank full of sharks. The heart-warming example of Sassuolo (40.000 inhabitants, two consecutive years in Serie A already with third coming soon) should be an inspiration.

How Sassuolo lads beat Milan

Of course the key factor here is going to be the transfer activity – particularly, the number of decent loan deals the club can get. Fabrizio Castori, their 60-years old manager, previously responsible for the promotions of Cesena, Tolentino and Lanciano from lower leagues, should have little problems finding the players willing to join his team temporarily: after all, there are way too many of them not fitting into the starting elevens of top Italian clubs already. Carpi is going to be attractive also because their head coach, who’s admitting Zdenek Zeman and Arrigo Sacchi inspirations, loves youngsters and domestic players. Castori had only 4 foreigners in his Serie B squad this season and the average age of his lads was below 24. Lucky to have this approach splendidly, Rossobianchi were even more luckier to sign their current manager before the 2014-15 season. It basically took… the Ukraine-Russia conflict to break out to bring him back to Italy, as he was already negotiating a lucrative management deal with the Ukrainian side, Metalurg Donetsk. Can this, unbelievable spell of good fortune extend into the future? According to the bookmakers, the team located 8 miles north of Modena, will literally need a miracle to stay up. But regardless of that, at least for the next season, the Football Manager reality will come true…

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