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What to expect from new Bournemouth manager Andoni Iraola

Bournemouth’s decision to relieve Gary O’Neil of his duties after steering the club to safety in the Premier League last season was met with widespread shock and criticism, with his replacement Andoni Iraola an unfamiliar name amongst English football fans.

The 40-year-old former Athletic Bilbao captain arrives on England’s south coast following three years in charge of Spanish side Rayo Vallecano, who he guided to an 11th-placed finish in La Liga last season.

We analyse the profile and credentials of Iraola and what to expect from Bournemouth’s new manager in the Premier League.

History of overachieving

Iraola has a long history of punching above his weight in his career as both a professional player and manager, dating back to his days as a trusty right-back for Athletic Bilbao.

Graduating from Athletic’s academy setup after playing alongside the likes of Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Bayer Leverkusen boss Xabi Alonso at San Sebastian-based youth side Antiguoko, Iraola went on to represent the famous Basque club for 12 seasons between 2003 and 2015.

Iraola’s distinguished Athletic career saw him finish runner-up in the Copa del Rey three times, as well as being part of an outstanding side under Marcelo Bielsa that lost the Europa League final to compatriots Atletico Madrid in 2011-12.

Granted his first managerial role with AEK Larnaca in 2018, Iraola helped steer the Greek outfit to the Europa League group stages for only the second time in the club’s history before returning to Spanish shores to take the reins at second tier Mirandes.

Iraola was able to impressively guide his new club to safety in the Segunda Division, as well as leading them to the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey after knocking out La Liga sides Celta Vigo, Sevilla and Villarreal.

His exploits with Mirandes saw him land an opportunity to manage in La Liga with Madrid-based Rayo Vallecano, where Iraola was able to truly emerge as one of the most promising Spanish coaches in the game.

Backed by minimal resources and operating within a chaotic infrastructure, Iraola has been able to establish Rayo in La Liga after achieving promotion from the second tier via the play-offs in 2021.

The past two seasons have seen Iraola inspire Rayo to victories over both Barcelona and Real Madrid in La Liga, as well as a Copa del Rey semi-final, to crystallise his reputation as a coach with a big future ahead of him. 

Bielsa disciple

A key cog in an Athletic side which reached the Europa League final under Marcelo Bielsa in 2012, alongside the likes of Javi Martinez, Ander Herrera and Fernando Llorente, it’s clear the esteemed Argentine manager had a profound effect on Iraola’s own coaching philosophy.

Iraola’s Rayo side can be acknowledged to have closely resembled a Bielsa team with regards to their intense pressing game, front foot defending and emphasis on counter-attacks.

Rayo’s style of play under Iraola is illustrated by a remarkable statistic which shows the Madrid side won possession in the final third more than any other team in Europe’s top five leagues last season.

Iraola therefore demands his team to be full of energy and ultra-aggressive with their pressing, looking to pounce on opposition mistakes in their defensive third and be clinical in front of goal.

Wide players are key attacking weapons in Iraola’s preferred 4-2-3-1 set up, similar to the way Bielsa utilised Jack Harrison and Raphinha at Leeds in the Premier League, with Rayo wingers Isi Palazon and Alvaro Garcia enjoying registering 24 goal contributions between them in La Liga last season,

This could see the likes of Dango Ouattara, Ryan Christie and Marcus Tavernier emerge as key figures under Iraola, with the Cherries also reported to be keen on signing Justin Kluivert from Roma this summer.

Having spent a considerable £50m in the January transfer window on players including Burkina Faso international Ouattara, Ukrainian centre-back Ilya Zabarnyi and former Bristol City striker Antoine Semenyo, Bournemouth’s purse strings may just be tighter this summer.

This is unlikely to faze Iraola, however, who oversaw a net spend of just €12 million over three years at Rayo Vallecano, and continued to compete well with Spain's biggest clubs.

Bournemouth finished 15th in the Premier League under Gary O'Neil last season, five points above the relegation zone.

Basque Country breakout

Iraola’s arrival in the Premier League means there will be four managers hailing from the Basque province of Gipuzkoa next season – alongside Arteta, Unai Emery and Julen Lopetegui – remarkably just one fewer than the sum of English managers.

This signals the extent of the Premier League’s pulling power, with Iraola opting to take the plunge to England having been linked with some of the biggest jobs in Spain such as at Sevilla and Villarreal.

This follows the decision of Aston Villa boss Emery to swap Villarreal for Birmingham last October, with the former Arsenal and PSG boss working wonders at the Villans as he steered his charges to a seventh-placed finish and Europa Conference League qualification.

Iraola has been strongly linked with a move to the Premier League before, with his name touted for the Leeds United job following the sacking of Jesse Marsch in February, and reports have suggested Iraola has already impressed the Spanish FA enough to see him earmarked as a potential future national team manager. 

The former Spain international is known to have exchanged tactical ideas with some of his fellow Basque Country exports, such as Arteta and Alonso as part of a network of some of the most promising young coaches in Europe.

More understated in his approach and manner than his soon-to-be adversary Arteta, Iraola is a rather low profile and softly-spoken figure who lets his coaching do the talking, and it will be fascinating to see how his methodical way of working transfers to the Premier League.

One thing is for sure, Iraola has a glowing track record of success in Spain.

The prospect of leading a club of the relatively modest size of Bournemouth in an ultra-competitive Premier League may appear daunting to some, but not for Iraola.

Having twice led Spanish underdogs to the last four of the Copa del Rey, and taken the scalp of both halves of the El Clasico  rivalry in La Liga, Iraola will no doubt be backing himself as the man to lead Bournemouth to new heights in the Premier League.

Bournemouth Premier League 2023/24 odds:

To Finish Bottom8/1
To be Relegated7/4
Not to be Relegated2/5
To Finish in Bottom Half1/14
To Finish in Top Half8/1

Odds correct at time of publishing and subject to change.

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