THERE could be a general election any minute, with the current incumbent of No 10 Downing Street well aware of the January deadline they must adhere to.

At Cherries the race for number 10 has been settled for some time, with summer signing Justin Kluivert making the position his own through Andoni Iraola’s meritocratic regime.

Although his head coach made no secret his belief that the Dutchman could play in any of the front four positions at the time of his arrival, there seemed little to indicate that Kluivert would play such a central figure this season in a, well, central position.

Saturday’s game against Manchester United served to illustrate this point.

Bournemouth have been struck with a very specific injury crisis this season, with different positions throughout the season seemingly targeted by the footballing gods.

At the moment Cherries are lacking wide options, and when Luis Sinisterra went down clutching his hamstring in the first half, Iraola’s choices were limited.

Signed as a winger, and having played the majority of his recent football there, it seemed simple enough to drift Kluivert back out to the flank and bring on another attacking midfielder.

But so valuable is Kluivert in the hole that Iraola would rather play a left-back out of position.

First coming to the fore

It took a while for Cherries to stumble upon Kluivert’s suitability to the role in Premier League games.

During pre-season the Ajax academy product featured up top, a position he played in a handful of time for Valencia last campaign.  

Let’s not pretend it is a position completely foreign to the 24-year-old. He played centrally in midfield for both AS Roma and RB Leipzig, but only as a sub for a handful of minutes.

It is the first time where Kluivert has found himself as the number one choice, in front of experienced options.

The first proper run with Kluivert at the 10 coincided with a surge in form, Cherries putting to bed any suggestions of a relegation battle arguably as early as December.

One of Kluivert’s greatest strengths in a central position is his understanding of the roles his teammates are tasked with.

He can naturally drift wide when his winger cuts inside, step up to spearhead attacks on the counter when the striker has dropped off to get on the ball.

Not only does Kluivert have the right ideas, he also has the skillset to execute.

He is comfortable dribbling with the ball, can quickly switch play and has a decent shot on him – as evidenced by his eight goals in all competitions this term.

On top of all of that, he fulfills a vital role in Cherries’ press. Kluivert can often be seen instructing teammates on who to target with pressure.

Handle with care

Bournemouth Echo:

All that pressing takes its toll, however.

Cherries have had to be very careful with Kluivert.

Not only have they had to work with the former Valencia loanee on the training ground, but they have had to be cautious with his game time.

Arriving on the south coast with a history of hamstring issues, Bournemouth have clearly limited Kluivert’s minutes in a bid to manage the situation.

So far, it has worked - Kluivert has been involved in all 38 matchday squads this campaign across all competitions.

But the policy is strictly enforced. The attacker has not completed a single full 90 minutes.

In fact, the most minutes he has played in a game was last weekend, where he reached the 76th minute mark – and was declared “dead” by his head coach post-match, having run himself into the ground.

Whilst a politician that works 85 per cent of the time would be an improvement in No 10, it is clear that Cherries lose something with Kluivert off the pitch for 15 per cent of games.

Away at Luton Cherries’ attacking shape crumbled when Kluivert came off, Bournemouth’s reliance on Kluivert apparent with how reluctant Iraola was to take him off when chasing a winner against Manchester United.

The other candidates

Bournemouth Echo: Philip Billing (left) won Cherries the gameSo who is the deputy to Kluivert?

Although Kluivert is currently the first choice for Iraola, the Basque boss insists that his charge must constantly work to improve in order to keep his starting status.

“He has gained confidence from more match minutes, now he knows that he has to continue competing,” said Iraola.

“Otherwise, someone else will come and take his minutes. This internal competition that we have, especially in these kind of positions up front, it is difficult for me, because I have to leave very good players out.

“But for the team overall, I think it is a very good thing.”

But who are the ‘very good players’ being left out at Kluivert’s expense?

Whilst Dominic Solanke has been Cherries talisman since their relegation from the Premier League in 2020, their top goalscorer in their first season back in the top-flight was actually Philip Billing.

The Dane scored seven times last season as Cherries secured survival, but this year Billing has found his role diminished.

His piece of genius earnt Iraola a first Premier League win, a long-range strike catching James Trafford out against Burnley, but Billing is clearly playing second-fiddle to Kluivert at this point.

Billing is clearly above others in the pecking order – his 26 appearances out of a possible 32 in the Premier League highlighting this fact.

The former Huddersfield man seems well suited for the back-up role, at least at the moment.

Whilst it may be easy to conflate his languid style of play with his laid-back approach off the pitch, the Danish international also boasts quality and presses quite well.

Billing has also accepted that if the team is playing well with Kluivert starting, it makes sense for it to be left untouched.

If anything, the Dane has appreciated the break, but it remains to be seen how long he enjoys being a bit-part player.

Alex Scott’s arrival from Bristol City was hampered by injury, and despite impressing in his first appearances in red and black, the youngster is currently biding his time for another run in the team.

Iraola has also attempted to repeat the experiment of converting a winger into a number 10 with Luis Sinisterra on occasion, but appears to have shelved that idea.

Ryan Christie, who actually wears the number 10 shirt, has been ruled out of contention. Just like Kluivert has proven, the Scot if far too useful deeper in midfield to be regularly deployed further up.

Romain Faivre is another option, but what little we have seen of the Frenchman has clearly not been enough to justify further minutes in the eyes of Iraola.

A new home found

Bournemouth Echo: Upon arrival, and in interviews since, Kluivert has spoken about how he wants to find a home at a football club, a place to settle after a turbulent career to date.

Since leaving the Netherlands to join Roma in 2018, Kluivert enjoyed – or perhaps endured – loan spells in Germany, France, and Spain, playing European football for some big clubs in beautiful cities.

Bournemouth, both as a club and a town, are in stark contrast to Nice and Valencia, but the change of pace has clearly suited Kluivert.

He is on track for his most productive season in terms of goals since departing Ajax, whilst he appears to be enjoying himself in Dorset.

How fitting that in his search for a place to settle, he also found a new home on the pitch.