Filed: Friday, 27th July 2007
By: Gary Jones and Colin Wells
Alan Curbishley took time out during the recent pre-season tour of Austria to talk to Gary Jones and Colin Wells. In the first of a three-part interview, Curbs talks about the 'Great Escape', Raymond Domenech and a certain job offer in 2001 ...
KUMB.com: Alan – thanks for agreeing to talk to us. We're going to ask you some questions about the circumstances of you becoming manager, pre-season, the run-in last season and expectations for next year.
Alan Curbishley: Yeah, fine.
KUMB: The first question we’ve got came from one of the supporters - when the West Ham job came up, did you apply personally for it or did the chairman come calling?
AC: I was actually doing a Bolton v West Ham game live for Sky, and obviously West Ham got beat 4-0. That was a Saturday night. I went out to dinner that night with my elder brother, who was over in London, and got back late in the early hours of Sunday morning.
As we left the restaurant, “God”, he said, “West Ham are having a bit of a hard time - if anything happens there you might get a phone call!” We just laughed about it, you know, didn’t think too much of it. Then, about half past ten on Monday morning, I had a phone call - and it was Scott Duxbury.
I knew Paul Aldridge and I knew Terry Brown, but I didn’t know Scott Duxbury. I never returned the call and he phoned again and said “I’m Scott Duxbury, Chief Executive for West Ham and I want to talk to you.” And then the news broke; I think it was about 11 o’clock, Monday morning.
So I phoned him back and he said “we’re looking for a manager, Alan Pardew has left the club, would you be interested?” And it went from there. So it was about Monday morning when I first heard about it, after the Bolton game. We got together Monday night and it proceeded from there.
There had been previous contact [with West Ham] when Harry [Redknapp] left, which was a big surprise to everybody - least of all me, because I knew he was on the verge of signing a new four year contract. I was at Charlton at the time and also on the verge of signing a new contract; in the end I decided to stay at Charlton.
There was a bit of talk that perhaps West Ham would be interested but I think Steve McLaren came into the picture a little bit and I felt that, you know, I had a bit more to do at Charlton really and decided that I was going to honour the contract that I had agreed. I hadn’t signed it, by the way, but I agreed it in the end and stayed at Charlton.
I met Scott and Eggert on that Monday evening and it was like going on a blind date - I had never met Scott before and obviously I had never met Eggert before.
KUMB: So what were your initial thoughts after you got the phone call? When did you think ‘yep, this is it?’
AC: Well, my initial thought was that I’d let it go once - and I wasn’t going to let it go again. That was the first thing. I had resigned myself to the fact that I was another year off, you know, I’d done six months and in all fairness I couldn’t see anything coming up that would have been attractive.
I know West Ham were going through a bad time but I didn’t think anything would happen there, bearing in mind what had happened in previous seasons. I didn’t think that there’d be a change so it was a surprise when it happened. But when they contacted me and said that there was a vacancy, that’s when I decided to talk to them.
KUMB: Did you receive any other job offers?
AC: Yes I did, yeah. I had opportunities to talk to two Premiership clubs.
KUMB: Can you name them?
AC: Not really! But obviously there were vacancies in the summer. That summer it was quite strange, there were four vacancies I think - Charlton, Newcastle, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough. There were four clubs that didn’t have a manager which was a big percentage of the Premiership, if you like. It doesn’t normally happen like that but I wanted to take the break, I wanted to have at least six months off so I felt …
KUMB: Well, it was the best part of 15 years with Charlton wasn’t it, more than that …
AC: 16 years - one as a player/coach and the other fifteen as a manager. I just felt I’d reached a situation where I needed to leave and they needed to move on. It was amicable when I left . But as I say, I didn’t see anything happening - even though West Ham were having a bad time, I still didn’t see anything happening there. I looked at other clubs that might be attractive but thought I’d be going into Christmas having my first Christmas at home.
KUMB: I think that was the general consensus from all of us. Although we were on a bad run we didn’t feel there was going to be a change - we didn’t see it coming.
AC: No. You know, when you find yourself in the bottom three, you have to get out round about Christmas because if you don’t then it’s a struggle. Once you’re in for that half a season then it’s difficult to get out. You know, you can win a couple of games and then lose a couple and you go straight back in it again. It’s very difficult to get out of it.
I never really asked the reasons why there was a vacancy. I signed Alan Pardew as a player; he was one of my first ever signings at Charlton and he was with me for four years. Over the years he had done a bit of scouting for us and we’d been together on Charlton vet football matches etc. - and we were close. So I didn’t think anything was going to happen there - but these things do happen.
KUMB: Following on from that, as a lifelong Hammer, you must have been delighted about the job?
AC: Yeah. I mean, I did look at it coldly and just on a pure football thing - forget anything else …
KUMB: Was it hard to do a job like that?
AC: No - I divorced myself from it because I know how difficult it is when you are in the bottom three.
West Ham had played 17 games and had 14 points, so they needed to get to 40 points - 26 points from 21 games, which sounds easy enough but it’s not. I looked at the fixtures and I looked at the squad. I hadn’t seen West Ham play live that year but I’d seen games on TV and knew that there was enough there to stay up. That was my first thought, that there was enough there to stay up. The one thing I didn’t take into consideration was the responsibility of the job …
KUMB: Yeah, I can remember you saying that …
AC: As a player, and as an opposing player, and as an opposing manager I know what West Ham’s all about. But I didn’t realise until I actually got inside how much it means, and the responsibility of being the manager. It wasn’t a shock, but I quickly realised that this was a different set of rules I was working under.
KUMB: Did you ever think ‘what have I done?’ at any point after you arrived? Did you ever consider quitting?
AC: No. I think the Charlton game was my lowest point on that run. Not because it was Charlton - that was secondary - but because of the performance against a team that was in trouble with us. It was a massive game - when you are in the bottom three or four the games against teams around you are massive. We lost to Watford and Charlton on the spin - and that was my lowest point …
KUMB: I think it was for us as well …
AC: But I never, ever thought anything other than that we were going to get out of it. It was tough, I must admit - but I never thought that there was any other way to go about it.
My biggest problem was that I was learning about the players in the first team. Nothing we tried seemed to work; we brought players in and they got injured straight away. The whole thing was never settled.
If you look at it, the only time it was settled was from the Tottenham game onwards. There were only two changes to the team thereafter -Yossi Benayoun and Matthew Etherington. The rest stayed the same for the [last] ten games which made a big difference.
From the first game it was constantly changing and we were getting inconsistent team performances, inconsistent team selections and inconsistent results. But the one thing that was consistent - and I’m not saying this to butter anyone up - was the fans. It was quite easy to turn off but they still turned up in numbers home and away.
So for me the lowest point, for sure, was the Charlton game. But funnily enough the turning point was the Tottenham game, the next game up.
KUMB: So not the result at Blackburn?
AC: No - I saw more in the Tottenham game than I had seen before.
I was really pleased with the Man United and Fulham performances as I thought we had lift off. We had two home games coming up, Portsmouth and Man City and I thought ‘we’ve got a chance here, if we can just nick a win it will get us out of the bottom three’. But we lost both of them, then we went to Reading …
But no, it was the Tottenham game where Tevez got his first goal. There were lots of good performances; Noble coming into the team, Lucas Neill coming back, Upson played - and went out again. We had a bit about us, you know, and didn’t deserve to lose.
It was the first time I could go to the next game without making loads of changes. I think if you look at the side that played in the run-in, it’s seven changes. No disrespect to those who played but it was seven changes to the Charlton team, and it was the first time in that run in that I could keep a settled side.
Along with that came better performances. But it was the Tottenham game. I know we got done in the last five minutes, and I think a lot of people thought that was it; you know, a lot of people around me …
KUMB: A point wasn’t good enough - is that why you went for it?
AC: The players went for it, I didn’t go for it. But if you look at it, in the last minute we had a corner and everyone went up for it - and we got done on the break. But you know, that was the turning point because I was driving home from that game thinking they’ve shown me some of the things that everyone’s been saying about them.
We had had no luck up until the Blackburn game - no luck whatsoever. We had beaten Fulham with ten men in the 95th minute, we were beating Newcastle 2-0 then had the Scotty Parker offside decision - everything what could go wrong was going wrong. But that’s the first time I came out of a game with some positives.
KUMB: I would like to say a big sincere thanks from at least one supporter for saving our skins last season. I think you said that you know players didn’t get enough credit because of the media etc and therefore we’d like to thank you …
AC: Well, I don’t look back on it as a triumph. I mean, I’ve got two really good friends who are mad West Ham fans and I was sort of left alone when I was the Charlton manager - but we go out regular and I could see what it meant to everybody. But I couldn’t take too much out of it because my finger was on a lot of it - do you understand what I’m saying?
I had 21 games to get those points so I couldn’t take pleasure from it. I wouldn’t say it was a miracle, but to win seven out of nine was just incredible …
KUMB: Champion League’s form?
AC: Yeah. Obviously we had some tough games where we tactically deserved to win, but I thought we started making our own luck a little bit - and that is what happens when you start playing regular and results start going for you. You seem to get a bit of luck; when it’s going poorly for you, you get no luck.
In that run-in we got a bit of luck but we got the consistency in team selection and once we had found something … I mean, I don’t think any of us could forget Wigan - the players will never forget Wigan …
KUMB: I don’t think Eggert will either, we saw him afterwards …
AC: Yeah, I heard about that! But for me it started with the Alan Ball thing. I don’t think the Wigan fans knew what was happening - there were 6 or 7,000 West Ham fans and they started singing ‘Alan Ball’.
But you can call it whatever you want - the great escape, a miracle … all I think is that it happened and it’s resigned to history. We came fifth from bottom or whatever it was, we’re a Premiership club and whatever went on before is gone.
The interesting thing for me is that apart from Lucas Neill it was the same players in most of those games in the run-in. It just showed you perhaps not all West Ham fans were thinking, you know, how are we in this mess when we’ve got these players?
KUMB: Yeah, the same ones that got us to a Cup Final …
AC: The same ones.
In the play-off years I came and watched a few games. In the Championship they were pressurised games, especially playing at Upton Park where you are expected to win every week. It wasn’t going so well, but they got to the play-off final and lost it - then won it the following year. Then they had a great season and got to an FA Cup Final. So big games weren’t a problem for these players.
What was a problem was those in for a spin - because we’d never lost four on a spin. In the last four years, two seasons in the old first division, if you like, and two years in the Premiership, they never went four games on the spin without a win - because you don’t do that in the first division.
But in the Premiership you do, and it’s hard to get out of it. I don’t think the players had the know-how to get out of it. Before I came I think they went eight games on the spin and didn’t score a goal. When I look at the players now I think they’ve been through it a bit, and I’m hoping it’s going to hold them in good stead.
I don’t expect seven [wins] out of nine to start with next year but the players have been through the mill and they’re still young. If you look at Lucas he‘s one of the oldest in the squad; the rest of them are young and that’s what I’ve been saying all along - that I wanted players in between the young talent just to bring them through – players like Collinson.
KUMB: Collinson played the other day?
AC: Yeah, and we’ve got some good kids coming through.
I was on holiday when West Ham got beat in the Cup Final. But I knew the next year was going to be different.
KUMB: Second year syndrome …
AC: Well, Wigan had it; when I was with Charlton we went up with Ipswich, Charlton finished ninth and Ipswich finished fifth - the next season Charlton finished ninth and Ipswich went down …
KUMB: That’s right …
AC: That second year is difficult - you’re not an unknown quantity. In the first year you know the players who you are playing against but they don’t know who they’re playing against. It’s a little bit different in the second year.
When Keith Peacock came over to join Pards I had a brief conversation with him and I said ‘ you have got to realise that last year was last year’. I think a lot of people left their thoughts at the Millennium, and when they came to pre-season they were still thinking of Cup Finals when they should have been thinking about Charlton first game.
It was a learning curve for everybody and I think that we’ve got some ardent players now. The Ferdinands of this world have been through the mill in the last three or four years - hopefully it will hold them in good stead.
KUMB: Whose idea was it to come to Austria?
AC: I always go away for a week somewhere pre-season. I’m big on pre-season, I like to train hard and over the years I’ve not lost too many players in pre-season. If I have lost a player it’s been in circumstances that you can't control. If we had lost someone with a groin, thigh or hamstring I could probably say we pushed them too hard - but Faubert’s Achilles …
KUMB: Do you know how long he’ll be out for?
AC: Christmas. Someone did text me saying ‘well what else can go wrong?’ You sign a player to then lose him for six months. Quashie is still out after he got injured against Spurs, Davenport had five weeks out … it happens, you know, but you’ve just got to get on with it. [Faubert] made a big impression on everybody in the two weeks [before his injury] because of his aggression and his fitness levels.
KUMB: We saw him at Dagenham, he looked quick and strong.
AC: I’d say he was a cross between Trevor Sinclair and Steve Stone.
He’s an attacking midfield player, and he’s played a lot at right-back so he understands the game. It’s a big hit for us but we’ve just got to move on and hopefully he will recover.
KUMB: What did you make of the comment by the French national manager about Faubert being stupid to sign?
AC: He had a couple of clubs he could have gone to – Rangers, and Roma I think. But he chose West Ham. We were delighted with that - but these things happen, don’t they …