STAND-in skipper Simon Francis believes Cherries could be in a position to sign "borderline world-class" players in the next few years.

The Vitality Stadium side spent more than £16million combined on club-record signing Benik Afobe and fellow striker Lewis Grabban in the January transfer window.

Roma winger Juan Iturbe and Atlantas goalkeeper Marius Adamonis were recruited on loan while full-back Rhoys Wiggins penned a permanent deal.

Cherries suffered defeat to mid-table Stoke in the Premier League on Saturday, a side who shattered their transfer record when they paid Porto a reported £18.3million for midfielder Giannelli Imbula on deadline day.

Previously, the Potters' club-record buy had been former Inter Milan and Bayern Munich playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri, who cost a reported £12million last summer.

Imbula and Shaqiri starred in Stoke's win in Dorset with the former bagging a stunning opener and the latter an assist, and defender Francis hopes that Cherries will be able to recruit players of similar stature in upcoming seasons.

He told the Daily Echo: "At the moment we can't go out and pay £18million for an international and it's similar with Xherdan Shaqiri. Those two are probably borderline world-class players and for a team like Stoke to have them in their squad is a real achievement.

"But that's the stage we want to get to in the next few years. We want to be able to attract those kind of players. We feel like we're getting there with bringing Benik Afobe in and also Juan Iturbe and Lewis Grabban.

"I don't necessarily think it's all about the money but sometimes you are going to have to pay big money for the players you need.

"We're under no illusions that it's going to cost millions to build a top squad to compete. But everyone knows about the backing we have with the owner and investors and I don't think we're a million miles away.

"But of course we know it's going to take time."

The defeat to Stoke left Cherries just four points clear of the drop zone with 12 games remaining.

And Francis, who turned 31 on Tuesday, admits that as the season reaches a crucial stage, the pre-season doubters are still providing him and his team-mates with plenty of motivation to avoid an immediate return to the Championship.

He continued: "I think before the season started a lot of people were writing us off, tipping us to be relegated and saying we were too small a club to be in the Premier League and we welcome that.

"That's what we're all about as a club. We've always faced up to people outside who said we weren't good enough or big enough and now we want to prove people wrong again and stay in this division.

"We always said from the start of the season, especially when our key players suffered injuries, that survival was the main thing for us and that hasn't changed.

"We want to finish as high as possible but, ultimately, we want to stay in the Premier League. If we can do that and build from there, that would be a huge achievement."