Despite enduring an injury hit start to the season and struggles with his form, Bournemouth forward Benik Afobe credits a chat with his manager, Eddie Howe, back in November as the turning point of his campaign. “I lost my head and was acting like a little boy,” Afobe explained.
“He reassured me that he believed in me and that I was part of his plans. Sometimes that’s all you need. We get paid a lot of money but we are humans too so when you hear your manager say stuff like that you want to prove him right.
“The chat could have arguably changed my season. I clicked my finger and thought ‘the penny is dropping here, you’re living your boyhood dream playing in the Premier League’. Since then it has just changed for me and I have I started to train better.”
2017 has unquestionably been a lot better for the former Arsenal prodigy, and he’s especially hit his stride since forming a regular strike partnership with Joshua King, which began in the Cherries’ spirited draw with Manchester United away at Old Trafford in March.
The dynamic duo’s success is well documented by the fact they’ve scored 11 goals between them in the 11 games they’ve been paired together (Afobe with three and King eight). “The team has its little partnerships. Me and Josh want to set ourselves targets, then continue to raise them,” Adobe said.
He then went onto speak of his delight at recapturing his form, stating: “I scored 47 goals in two seasons before this year so I know can finish and I think I’m getting back to my best now.”
Although Afobe’s unfortunate injury in his team’s 1-0 win over Sunderland at the weekend looks set to end his season, he once again continued his high level of performance, in a match where he showed why he’s such an asset to Howe’s superbly coached outfit.
Afobe’s fine relationship with King was on display throughout, as they pair never occupied the same areas, despite them regularly undertaking orchestrated and situational switches of positions. This ensured they were never isolated from one another or their teammates, which in combination with the wingers, Ryan Fraser and Marc Pugh, often being located in their respective half space, gave Bournemouth great connectivity and presence in the attacking third.
The former Wolves sensation then used his crafty movement to unsettle the Black Cats’ defensive structure in a variety of ways. Firstly, by drifting laterally across the frontline, he successfully widened the gap between Sunderland’s two central defenders, leaving a vast central lane to be exploited. In addition, he’d also drop deep into midfield to help knit together his team’s passing moves, which crucially drew his man out of slot. And lastly, his pacy, well timed runs in behind worked effectively in expanding the space between the opposition’s defensive and midfield line, thus giving his fellow attackers extra space to operate within advanced areas.
Once in possession, the 24-year-old’s imposing frame, combined with his ability to make concise decisions under pressure, saw him comfortably hold off his markers to execute his passes or keep the ball comfortably.
Other positives arose from his strength in aerial battles and his capacity to venture into fantastic scoring positions inside the box. Although he couldn’t grasp any of his opportunities, this was nonetheless a prominent feature of his game. Indeed, the fact he ranks inside the top 20 in Europe’s top five leagues in terms of expected goals serves as a testament to his aptitude in this regard. Looking ahead, he just needs to keep improving his, at times, wasteful finishing, and then he’ll really elevate himself to the next level.
Having had three shots, made two key passes, embarked on one successful dribble and completed his passes at a 92.9% success rate, Afobe’s 56 minutes afield, before coming off through injury, had an immense impact on proceedings.
Even though the man who arrived for a whopping, by Bournemouth’s standards, £10 million transfer fee last year has had his difficulties and fair share of setbacks, his past experiences have armed him with the mental fortitude required to get through adversity.
He credits having to fight so hard during his Arsenal career, where he was sent out on loan on five separate occasions, as a key learning experience that has ultimately benefitted him immensely in the long run.
“Looking back, I am so glad the way my career has gone,” he insisted. “I am much stronger mentally now.
“If I had gone into Arsenal’s first team straight away, the things that have come at me in the last couple of years I would have struggled with because I wouldn’t have known what to do.”
Relishing working under the meticulous teachings of Howe, Afobe has found the perfect place to call home in Bournemouth, as both he and the club continue to demonstrate precisely why they belong at the highest level.
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