As AFC Bournemouth’s record signing, much was expected of Jefferson Lerma in his first season at Vitality Stadium.
And the Colombian powerhouse certainly did not disappoint.
Manager Eddie Howe ended his lengthy pursuit of Lerma when the midfielder completed his move from La Liga outfit Levante just days before the start of 2018/19.
He arrived in England having helped his country reach the last 16 of the World Cup in Russia, with Colombia eventually bowing out to Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions.
Handed his debut in the Cherries’ Carabao Cup win against MK Dons at the end of August, Lerma quickly established himself as a firm favourite among the club’s fan base.
His all-action and wholehearted performances, coupled with his combative and enthusiastic style of play, ensured Lerma would soon become one of the first names on the team sheet.
Lerma made 30 appearances in the Premier League and capped his debut campaign by winning the club’s goal of the season for his wondrous strike at Crystal Palace on the final day.
“It was a beautiful goal,” Lerma told afcb.co.uk. “I had been trying for a while, but it didn’t happen. Everything comes at the right time eventually and I had the chance to score that goal which I will always remember.
“I think it ranks as my best. It is very difficult to score from that distance but, hopefully, I can score another one like it.”
Asked about his first season in Dorset, Lerma said: “It has gone very well. I have always been treated very well in the town and at the club and everybody has made me feel comfortable. The hardest part for me is the food. This is the main difference, but everything is going well.
“It’s very different to Colombia and Spain. English football is more direct. You always have the chance to come back even if you’re losing 3-0 and everything is very evenly matched. That’s one of the differences.
“Everything is very different, the town, the weather. In Valencia, I had more things to do but here I have the same routine most days.”
Lerma added physicality and athleticism to the Cherries midfield, his eye for a tackle earning him no fewer than 13 bookings and two separate suspensions this season.
Also technically astute, his disciplinary record improved markedly as the campaign progressed with Lerma yellow carded 10 times in his first 15 games and just three in his next 15.
Admired by home fans for his no-nonsense approach, Lerma also ruffled a few feathers among opposition supporters on occasion.
A section of Tottenham followers took to social media after taking exception to his involvement in confrontations with Heung-min Son and Dele Alli during the Cherries’ feisty 1-0 win at the end of the season.
Asked about his discipline, Lerma said: “I don’t think that’s an issue. It’s part of football and you can get a yellow card at any time.
“I got most of my bookings in very specific plays, tactical tackles to stop the other team’s game. That’s what I had to do and I take it with responsibility. I did not want to get the cards but that’s football.
“It was understandable that they (Spurs fans) were annoyed. After losing against us, their Champions’ League spot was at risk so their reaction was to insult me via social media but I do not pay any attention to it.”
Asked about his rapport with Cherries supporters and the language barrier, Lerma said: “I realise the supporters are fond of me. I have worked hard to get that. I am very happy to be welcomed like that in my first year. It is very encouraging and makes you feel like you are at home.
“English is something I must learn gradually, but football’s language is universal. Through hard work and following the coach’s instructions, I feel I have done a great job this season knowing very little English.”