In Focus: Three Bournemouth stars who may be Cherry-picked this summer
It has not exactly been plain sailing on the South Coast this season — but Bournemouth may still end up riding high come May.
Despite former boss Jason Tindall being axed in February, the Cherries are still in the race for a Championship play-off spot and have an FA Cup quarter-final with Southampton to look forward to today.
As new boss Jonathan Woodgate bids to lead his troops to an unlikely Wembley appearance, we take a closer look at three of the club's prized assets who could attract a few suitors when the campaign is over.
Snapped up from Club Brugge last season, enigmatic winger Arnaut Danjuma has taken a little time to find his feet in England — but for Cherries fans, he is proving to be worth the wait.
A product of PSV Eindhoven's academy, he cut his teeth at NEC Nijmegen in the Dutch second tier before moving to Belgium, where dazzling performances alerted several of the continent’s biggest clubs.
Tottenham, Liverpool and AC Milan were all linked with the 24-year-old ace but it was Bournemouth who swooped, sealing a £13.7million deal for the one-cap Netherlands international in August 2019.
Yet things did not exactly start with a bang as Danjuma made only 14 appearances and failed to register a single goal or assist as the Cherries were relegated from the Premier League.
But it has been a completely different story in the Championship, with the Dutchman frequently looking a cut above the level this term thanks to a mixture of marvellous goals, intricate passing and an uncanny knack for beating opposition defenders.
Despite dropping down a level, the winger believes playing in England's second tier has posed more of a challenge.
Speaking to The Athletic this month, Danjuma said: "I honestly think the Championship is a harder league than the Premier League. I played both so I can speak out of experience.
"People underestimate how tough it is. The opposition play more of a man-marking game than in the Premier League, so it’s more difficult for me.
"It’s good for me to play in this league, though, it’s a very good stepping stone. I’m eager to prove myself."
One way or the other, do not expect Danjuma to be in the Championship next season.
With more than 150 senior appearances already under his belt, Danish midfielder Philip Billing is another first-teamer not short of admirers.
Picked up by Huddersfield from the youth ranks of Esbjerg back in 2013, the imposing starlet — who stands at a daunting 6ft 6in — quickly worked his way into the Terriers’ first-team set-up, becoming a regular during their 2016-17 promotion-winning campaign.
An impressive 43 appearances across two Premier League seasons in West Yorkshire convinced Bournemouth to cough up £15m for his services in July 2019.
Despite relegation in his first season on the South Coast, 24-year-old Billing has shown maturity beyond his years this term — rolling his sleeves up in the second tier and emerging as a key figure in the Cherries’ quest for an immediate return to the top flight.
And Woodgate is all too aware of the struggle the club may have to keep him should their promotion bid fall short.
The Cherries boss said: "The ability of Phil is scary really. He’s got some ability for someone so tall.
"He can improve, he can get better and he can move to another level. If he does it consistently, he will go higher."
Given destructive midfielders of Billing's age and skill set are a rare commodity, many sides will be willing to give him that opportunity.
Perhaps the most recognisable name of Bournemouth’s current crop, 23-year-old forward Dominic Solanke is finally starting to produce the goods on a regular basis in senior football.
Heralded as one of the country’s brightest prospects when rising through the ranks at Chelsea, Solanke’s eye for goal saw him break youth scoring records at both club and international level.
As a result, expectations were sky-high and ex-Blues boss Jose Mourinho memorably went public on his hopes for Solanke and fellow youth star Lewis Baker in July 2014.
Mourinho said: "My conscience tells me that if Baker and Solanke are not national team players in a few years, I should blame myself."
Yet aside from a loan spell at Dutch side Vitesse, Solanke entered 2020-21 having managed only five goals in 74 senior career appearances for Chelsea, Liverpool and Bournemouth.
After paying £19m for his services in January 2019, the Cherries may have been starting to sweat over their investment — but Solanke has stepped up to the plate this season.
Alongside 11 goals and eight assists, impressive all-round performances have led to widespread praise from onlookers, including his current manager.
Woodgate, 41, said: "He holds it well. He’s got good movement, he’s quick, he’s decent in the air.
"I am convinced that Dom is one of the best strikers in the league."
With his best years still ahead of him, Solanke has plenty of time to show the world what he can really do.