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The exodus of quality players from Saint-Etienne this summer has been relentless.

It’s been sad to see the club who remarkably finished fifth in Ligue 1 last term have their team decimated by the lure of greater riches elsewhere.

Could Max Gradel's reunion with Bournemouth be match made in heaven?Unfortunately that’s the sad reality for clubs like AS St Etienne, but in fairness to Les Verts, they’ve made some really smart signings to replace the slew of departures.

Bringing in the likes of Nolan Roux from Lille, Kevin Theophile-Catherine, who has moved permanently from Cardiff City following his spell on loan with ASSE last season, Vincent Pajot from Rennes and the enigmatic Benoit Assou-Ekotto has softened the blow of losing plentiful key players.

Those departing the club included many of their most important players from a campaign that saw them notably qualify for the Europa League. Franck Tabanou (to Swansea), Mevlut Erdinc (to Hannover) and Allan-Saint Maximin (also to Hannover) have all decided against plying their trade for Cristophe Galtier’s side for 2015/16 season, while Ricky van Wolfswinkel has returned to Norwich City following his loan stint. But arguably the loss that will be hardest felt will be that of Max Gradel.

The Ivorian was absolutely brilliant last campaign, particularly in the second half of the season, as he terrorised defences across the country on his way to amassing 17 league goals and six man of the match performances, as per WhoScored.

Eddie Howe’s intriguing Bournemouth outfit cleverly snapped him up for a fee of £7 million, and the capture of the dynamic 27-year-old should really help animate the Cherries’ work in the final third. The move also signals a Bournemouth reunion for Gradel, who, seven years ago, spent two separate loan spells at the club while at Leicester, prior to signing for Leeds. Interestingly, Eddie Howe, as a member of Kevin Bond’s coaching staff back then, actually worked with Gradel during his time at the club.

It might well be a match made in heaven. Gradel noted upon signing that their relationship was a key reason behind him making the switch. “Eddie Howe is a great person. I’ve known him for a long time and this club gave me the opportunity. I was at Leicester but I never played for the first team. This club gave me the chance to play first-team football”, he explained. “This is where things started for me. I have something to give back to this club and my story with this club hasn’t finished yet.”

Gradel’s skill set should prove a real weapon for Bournemouth, who will inherently expect to cede possession in some of their games, which will mean the pocket rocket will be given a plethora of opportunities to wreak havoc on the counter. Blessed with searing pace, expect the direct attacker to cause plenty of headaches for his opponents, not just on the counter, but also in general play. Gradel’s clever runs in behind the defence and into the channels should also prove a wonderful attacking option. Moreover, his trickery, especially in 1v1 scenarios, makes him a real handful for even the finest of defenders to negate.

Assuming Gradel will heavily feature out in the wide areas, particularly on the left, his ability to cut inside and skin opponents, which will then create space for his fullback to utilise, should form another key element of the Bournemouth attack.

In addition, the man who starred for the Ivory Coast throughout their triumphant AFCON 2015 campaign brings some nice variety to the table by way of his ability to switch flanks and play up front. By doing so at Saint Etienne, he made himself an even greater threat, who never allowed his opponents to settle into a routine and successfully implement a plan through which to nullify his impact.

Unpredictable, dynamic, powerful and multifaceted are all suitable ways to describe the Abidjan born hotshot. Gradel’s set-piece taking expertise will surely be of great use to the newly promoted side as well. He strikes a delightful free kick, takes sublime corners and even hits a mean penalty.

Acquiring this gifted attacker in his prime is unmistakably a magical coup for the Cherries. Jose Mourinho even remarked recently that he believed Gradel was good enough to play for Chelsea.

While some have questioned Gradel’s decision to join Bournemouth when he had offers from Watford, CSKA Moscow and Lille, his desire to play first-team football within a familiar environment was clearly a pivotal factor in his decision. “A lot of people don’t understand my decision. They are probably thinking I should be playing for the top teams now,” he noted. “I agree with them, but for me it’s important you go where you’ll be happy. When you’re happy in the club or the town, it’s easier to give your best every game.”

The man who has a penchant for wonder goals also insisted he can use Bournemouth as a stepping stone to greater things going forward. He then went on to note that while Mourinho’s comments have spurred him on to show just how good he is, he believes having such praise lavished on him, as well as the pressure that comes with it, is undeniably a good thing.

“It’s a positive pressure. You work hard to get to this level. I have to be happy and enjoy it, because I know how far I’ve come. It’s a big test for me to show people what I can do at this level. “In England you go where you deserve to go. When you’re good enough to go to Chelsea, you go to Chelsea. In England they give you opportunities. If I’m doing well and the club here are happy with what they gain, if everybody’s happy, we move on.”

If Gradel can replicate his impressive 3.3 shots per game, 1.5 key passes/game and 1.5 successful dribbles/game from last season, there’s every chance he’ll be a success with his new team and achieve his dream of obtaining an even bigger move. For now though, Gradel will look to repay the faith the Cherries have shown in him and try to have a tremendous impact from the get-go.

There’s no reason to suggest the man who finished an eye-catching equal fifth, alongside Claudio Beauvue, in Ligue 1’s goalscoring charts last term can’t get the job done. The fact only Alexandre Lacazette, Andre-Pierre Gignac, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani finished ahead of him evidences his quality aptly.

Bournemouth and their supporters will be eagerly awaiting the prospect of seeing how their new pint-sized dynamo will fare back in familiar surroundings. On the surface, it looks like a match made in heaven.

Only time will tell if it, in fact, is.

Originally published at licencetoroam.net

Post written by Edward Stratmann
for Licence to Roam, Blog: licencetoroam.net, Twitter: @licencetoroam

Note: The views expressed within this blog post are those of the contributing author, and may not necessarily reflect those of MatchDayApp Limited, its representatives or associated partners.

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