CHERRIES boss Eddie Howe admitted Jefferson Lerma would have to earn his place in the starting line-up and insisted: “You can’t pick a team based on a transfer fee.”

The Dorset club shattered their club-record outlay when midfielder Lerma last week arrived from Levante for £25million.

He did not feature in the matchday squad for the season-opening win over Cardiff City, with Howe keen to build up the 23-year-old’s training time before involving him in the Premier League.

Howe refused to be drawn on whether Lerma would play against West Ham United tomorrow (3pm) and said the Colombian international’s price tag would not sway his thinking.

Boss Howe told the Daily Echo: “You can’t pick a team based on a transfer fee. That’s something I would never do.

“I pick a team based on what I see and on what I consider will give us the best chance to win.

“That’s not dependent on the transfer fee. I think you have seen a lot of players who have come here on free transfers and nominal fees who are still playing ahead of players who we have paid bigger money for.

“That’s the competition the squad needs. The players need to know I am picking a team on merit, not on what price has been paid for a player.

“You have to remember that the majority of the players have done a full pre-season and I’ve seen everything they have delivered.

“They know what I want and that’s very important. Jefferson will undoubtedly get there. He will understand everything very quickly because he’s a very good player.

“But like any player, he has got to earn his place in the team.”

Andrew Surman and Dan Gosling played all 90 minutes of Cherries’ victory over Cardiff, forcing England international Lewis Cook to remain on the bench.

And with Lerma waiting in the wings, Howe is pleased with the options at his disposal.

“It’s a nice problem to have,” he said.

“When you look at those four players, it’s great to have that strength in depth and competition for places.

“You would love to think that would drive the performance level higher, knowing that, potentially, a drop in form could see you lose your place to a quality player.”

Lerma featured four times for Colombia at the World Cup in Russia, helping them reach the last 16 where they were eliminated on penalties by England.

This came on the back of Lerma’s 28 outings for Levante during the 2017-18 campaign.

Howe said: “Jefferson needed a rest after the World Cup. He had a long season and the World Cup itself is emotionally very draining.

“If you don’t do anything for three to four weeks, that fitness level you had is gone.

“We’ll build him up. He’s improved with every session and has shown what he is going to bring to the group.

“I’ve been really pleased with his attitude and how committed he has been to his training. It’s been a good start for him.”