Bill Foley’s grand plan for Bournemouth should be no surprise


Gary O’Neil was sat at home on Sunday musing over Bournemouth‘s plans for pre-season. Come Monday morning he had been sacked over the phone and his successor, Andoni Iraola, appointed within two hours.

The move was a major shock and was, largely, met with condemnation after O’Neil had kept Bournemouth in the Premier League against the odds, given the Cherries’ more modest budget. 

But, truthfully, it should not have been such a surprise, not with new owner Bill Foley calling the shots.

You see, Foley absolutely detests mediocrity. Hates it. Staying up, which many may view as a success year on year for Bournemouth, is not going to cut it for the Austin-born billionaire.

‘I believe if you tolerate mediocrity, your business is going to be mediocre,’ Foley once told the Las Vegas Review Journal. ‘I don’t tolerate it.’ 

And so with that O’Neil was gone and Iraola was in. 

Ambitious owner Foley admitted the decision to dismiss O'Neil had been 'difficult'

Bournemouth have sacked O'Neil despite the rookie boss leading them to safety

Ambitious owner Bill Foley (left) admitted decision to dismiss Gary O’Neil had been ‘difficult’

The club dismissed their manager just weeks after he successfully staved off the drop

The club dismissed their manager just weeks after he successfully staved off the drop

Foley, who had four children to his wife Carol, is a curious character, one that was once described as a ‘frank man with an almost goofy charm’.

He has likened himself to a ‘dictator’ that has to be ‘captain of the ship’. Back in 1996 he described himself as his own ‘worst enemy’.

Born in 1944 in Texas as the only child to a father in the US air force, Foley quickly learned not to get to attached – to things or places.

He bounced around homes, spending time in Canada when his dad was posted there, and he would routinely find himself back in Texas in the summertime at a ranch owned by his mum’s family.

Foley’s dream was to be a fighter pilot but his deteriorating eyesight put paid to that and he was assigned a desk role after graduating from the US Military Academy in 1967.

While a cadet he showed his business acumen by earning $40,000 in profits from trading stocks. It would be the start of a fascination for acquisition and for profit.

And an analysis of Foley – who went on to gain degrees from Seattle University and University of Washington School of Law – shows an almost military-like efficiency when it comes to business. High standards, acquire lots of assets and cut losses without much sentiment if it doesn’t work out. 

‘I always want things better than they were. I can be a little anal about it,’ he told Forbes in 2017.

‘When I’m in a conference room, if the chairs are not all behind the table properly, I rearrange them.’

Foley’s business empire, which has his estimated net worth at $1.6bn by Forbes, has seem him invest in wineries, golf courses, hotels, ski resorts, and restaurants. It has been in the last decade where, even in later life, his ambition in sport is burning hot.

In 2016, Foley paid $500m to purchase the Vegas Golden Knights hockey team, the first NHL expansion team since 2000.

The immediate message was clear: we are going to spend and we are going to win. 

‘I know I can create a winning culture,’ he told Worth in 2016. ‘I believe hockey is going to be easier than some of my businesses.’ 

Foley paid $500m in a franchise fee to establish the Vegas Golden Knights back in 2017

Foley paid $500m in a franchise fee to establish the Vegas Golden Knights back in 2017

He oversaw a first Stanley Cup win this season - but immediately he was demanding two more

He oversaw a first Stanley Cup win this season – but immediately he was demanding two more

Foley has an insatiable appetite for winning and that will translate itself to AFC Bournemouth

Foley has an insatiable appetite for winning and that will translate itself to AFC Bournemouth

That is exactly what he achieved, with the Knights winning their first ever Stanley Cup this year, defeating Florida.

But in typical Foley fashion, winning one wasn’t going to quench the thirst for success.

‘We’re not done,’ Foley said. ‘I told William Karlsson (star player) when he signed an eight-year deal [in 2019] that I expect three Stanley Cups during the length of his contract. 

‘When we were on the ice and getting our [championship] picture taken, I looked over at him and told him, “OK, you got one.”‘ 

There is something that Foley said back in 2002 that resonates to this day – and is a nod to why Bournemouth have shaken things up when staying pat seemed the safest option.

‘We’re always looking over our shoulder,’ Foley said in the Santa Barbara News-Press in August 2002. ‘So when things are good, that’s the time to prepare.’ 

And so to Bournemouth, a club he is refusing to let wallow in its image of the smallest fish in English football’s biggest pond.

‘Gary will go on to have a long career as a head coach or manager, but we feel that, at this moment in time, a change is in the best interests of this football club. I would like to place on record my thanks to Gary and wish him all the best for the future,’ Foley said to round out Monday’s statement. 

You’re good but not good enough, basically. 

Michael B Jordan is on board as a minority owner, Foley is willing to spend and he is looking at Aston Villa and Brighton and those pushing English football’s elite and asking, why not us? 

‘We’re not afraid of change,’ Foley told the Athletic. ‘We want to make things better. I want this team to play in Europe. 

‘Our ultimate goal is not to worry about avoiding relegation but to move way up the table.’

Foley did not waste much time in deciding that O’Neil wasn’t taking them there.

Working with Foley isn’t easy. He makes the decisions and he takes the blame, that’s how it goes. 

‘I have looked at several teams over the last two or three years and they all involved minority investment and someone else is already in charge. I don’t like that. I’m a dictator,’ he told BBC Radio Solent upon buying the team.

‘When I’m involved, I need to be the captain of the ship. I had to wait for a situation where I could buy the team myself, with my partners of course, and control the destiny of the team.’

Michael B Jordan is mobbed by fans as he arrived to watch Bournemouth at home last season

Michael B Jordan is mobbed by fans as he arrived to watch Bournemouth at home last season

The Hollywood actor is on board as a minority owner and will help raise the profile of the club

The Hollywood actor is on board as a minority owner and will help raise the profile of the club 

Foley and his consortium, which includes actor Jordan, took over at the Vitality Stadium on December 13, and has since assumed a stake in French side Lorient for a multi-club model

Foley and his consortium, which includes actor Jordan, took over at the Vitality Stadium on December 13, and has since assumed a stake in French side Lorient for a multi-club model

But Jordan can offer something that Foley, for all his billions, cannot: A-List appeal. 

‘He’s going to help with international marketing,’ Foley said of Jordan’s undefined role. 

‘He’s going to help with our brand marketing. In five years, this will be a different club.’

What happens next given his minority stake in FC Lorient, in France’s top division, is one to watch. Multi-club models have delivered great success elsewhere in Europe and Foley is ambitious enough to create a web of talent all directing back to the south coast. 

But if there is one message to send to new boss Iraola: hit the ground running. Foley is not a man to sell mediocrity too.



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