Andoni Iraola has received considerable praise since his appointment as Bournemouth manager, having guided the club to their highest ever Premier League points tally. Despite a questionable start with nine winless matches, including a 6-1 mauling at Manchester City, Iraola orchestrated a turnaround, securing six wins out of the next seven matches.

Reporters have praised Iraola for his achievements at Bournemouth thus far, emphasising the significance of his three-year tenure at Rayo Vallecano in shaping his coaching philosophy. However, Bournemouth isn’t the only coastal club where he has left his mark. Unsurprisingly overlooked by most journalists is Iraola’s initial coaching stint at AEK Larnaca in 2018. Setting aside any bias towards Spanish football, it’s worth noting that Iraola managed AEK during their Europa League group stage campaign, where they faced Bayer Leverkusen, Ludogorets, and FC Zurich.

Former AEK Larnaca striker Florian Taulemesse shared his thoughts with the NC-Network on Iraola’s time at the club.

“At AEK it was his first year as head coach at a professional team so it was new for him. We had a lot of Spanish players which helped. We had a good team and he did a fantastic job because we got to the Europa League group stages through the qualifiers. He did very well but it became difficult mixing domestic football with European competition because we were a Cypriot club with a small budget. We also got a few injuries to key players and didn’t have much depth.”

“In Cyprus, three bad results gets a manager sacked. He didn’t have the stability that he has at Bournemouth. This season was a bit difficult for him and it didn’t start well – but the owners kept calm and let him do his job. Now you can see the results.

Taulemesse attributes some of Iraola’s achievements to an often overlooked figure: Strength and Conditioning coach Pable de la Torre.

“Iraola has a very good Strength and Conditioning coach with him, Pablo de la Torre. He controls everything about the physical training. He is a fantastic physical coach. You can see this from the statistics on distance covered and speed, Bournemouth are close to the top of the standings.

The way Iraola wanted us to play, we had to be in peak condition; at a high level of fitness. I remember how much running and pressing we did during pre season. Pablo de la Torre really pushed us hard. Iraola values him a lot which is why de la Torre went with him to Rayo and Bournemouth. De la Torre was in charge of physical fitness at Valencia’s academy and then the B team.

Iraola took him to Rayo Vallecano and from then they got promoted to the first division. It’s no surprise they did well in La Liga because, despite being very young, de la Torre understands the physical demands of top level football. He always wants to improve every day, He wants to be the best every day. He has a huge passion for his job.”

On the 4th May, Twitter user @KavKnowsBall wrote:

“Iraola is very well known for his fluid pressing structure, his OOP shape rotates between a 4-4-2 and 4-1-3-2 depending on opposition or scenarios. Their hybrid Man-Man and Zonal pressing means Bournemouth have to play a high line which is a great risk in transition.”

Taulemesse echoed the sentiment, explaining his experiences of Iraola’s pressing philosophy.

“At AEK Iraola was all about the high press. How to press opponents, forcing them into making mistakes. Every time we recovered the ball, he wanted to see vertical passes. He didn’t want to see backward passes and encouraged us to cross the ball from wide areas and shoot at the first opportunity. High press, recover the ball, create openings, shoot – do this again and again; attack, attack! At Rayo Vallecano it was the same.

He came from Bilbao – a very physical side, they press, recover the ball, press, attempt to win first and second balls.

We didn’t know much about him but when he arrived his aim was to win games. There was one system of playing. It would never change. He would identify small details, like if a defender was right footed, we would be encouraged to force him on to his left foot. Building from the back and attacking the spaces was never his preference. It was direct football with minimal risks. I haven’t seen Bournemouth play much this season but I can see their results have been very good.

During training he put a lot of emphasis on our mentality towards running, ball recovery, pressing, high pressure, be closer to the opponents goal and chance creation. Just by the way he was in training, we could tell he had played at a very high level. He never lost the ball. He was a right back but during small sided games he was scoring more than the strikers.

We set up in a 4-3-3 or a 4-1-4-1 system but Iraola was very good at adapting his style to the players he had available. Our wingers were fast so the midfield was more compact, making us dangerous in transition. Our squad was very experienced with technically gifted players but the way Iraola changed the mentality made us pressure opponents more, playing vertically, moving into spaces.”

Taulemesse elaborated on the importance of upholding tactical consistency despite Iraola’s lack of experience, emphasising the necessity for players to understand their roles. Additionally, he discussed Iraola’s approach to managing the team.

“He prepared the same way for every game. It didn’t matter who we played. He didn’t put extra pressure on us to work harder against bigger sides but reminded us that one small mistake would be costlier against them rather than those lower down in the table.  I think this was mostly because it was his first job in management and didn’t want to add more pressure on us.

He analysed our opponents very well and understood what it took to make it difficult for them. While it was his first experience as a head coach, he was very comfortable. He wasn’t anxious. Usually first time coaches are under a lot of pressure, especially in Cyprus. One mistake and they end up losing their job. This hurts their reputation and makes it difficult to find another job.

He was a calm coach. Not one of those passionate coaches. He gave us a lot of confidence approaching games, the way we had to press and work as a team. He wasn’t pushing us hard and his one to one briefs were very good. I think injuries took its toll on the squad. We were playing 3 games a week because of Europe and our recovery time wasn’t good. It’s all about results in Cyprus and draws sometimes look like losses. It isn’t easy when you have these problems going into games against teams who play with a low block and are dangerous in transition. We dropped a lot of points against teams like these.

We didn’t change our playing style in Europa League games. Yes, the way we pressed was a bit different because of the quality of opponent but, I’m telling you, he knew a system and it was up to us to defend, press and attack at the right time.”

Throughout Iraola’s seven month tenure at AEK, Taulemesse noticed a clear confidence in the abilities of both the Spanish coach and de la Torre.

“I know Iraola was confident he could do a good job at Bournemouth because of how patient the club’s owners are. In Cyprus he would have been sacked after the fourth loss. Iraola and de la Torre are positive they can get good results and performances. You can see at full time how they celebrate wins, the camaraderie – they know how to cope with anything that comes their way. They saw the fixtures and probably thought “we’re playing Liverpool, Chelsea, Man City, Tottenham, Arsenal. We are Bournemouth, people don’t expect us to get anything out of these games”, so they could only be confident and positive knowing they had nothing to lose. They also knew that the club would get points against other teams.”

Iraola’s time in Larnaca may have been short lived but Taulemesse noted many positives.

“While he was only with us at AEK for 7 months, we did well in the Europa League and had some good results; 5-0 against Sturm Graz, 2-1 at FC Zurich and a draw away at Ludogorets. Our resources weren’t as good as the big clubs in the league. We beat APOEL in the Super Cup and got victories over APOEL, Anorthosis, Pafos and Omonoia in the league.”

Taulemesse recognises Iraola’s potential and has recommended to Bournemouth that they support the head coach in the transfer market if they aim to reach higher goals.

“When the targets change then the budget should change. If you want to change the target then they have to back the manager financially in the transfer market. I’m sure Iraola wants to challenge for a European spot but he can’t do it without being backed by the club.”

Iraola’s success at Bournemouth hasn’t come as a surprise to Taulemesse, who believes he will eventually return to his previous club, Athletic Bilbao.

“I know that one day he’ll return to Athletic Bilbao. He is from there and maybe, at the moment, he’s the best coach to take charge when the current one leaves. He hasn’t worked with the big names, which could be difficult because some have egos, whereas the lesser names have a better mentality. Making the next step and coaching a bigger club is the true test whether or not he can deal with these personalities. This is the next step; to manage a big team and the bigger players. Bilbao is a family club. The culture is different. There’s a lot of respect for him from the club and vice versa.”