The Curious Case of Alan Curbishley: Football's Forgotten Man

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The Curious Case of Alan Curbishley: Football's Forgotten Man
Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
Curbishley stands alone at West Ham

Universally praised for his work with Charlton, and always figuring in discussion of future England bosses, Alan Curbishley was one of the most promising managerial talents of the new millennium. Fast forward to the current day and, excepting occasional TV appearances, he’s nowhere to be seen.

So what exactly happened to the career of the man who showed mid-level clubs how to punch decisively above their weight in the Premiership era?

It’s now over four years since Curbishley’s last managerial role came to an abrupt end. Resigning from West Ham in protest at the then Icelandic owners’ failure to consult him over the sale of defenders Anton Ferdinand and George McCartney, he eventually won his case for constructive dismissal but has failed to find his way back to the dugout.

Out of work since September 2008 and most recently expressing interest in Ipswich, firmly entrenched in the Championship relegation zone following Paul Jewell’s departure, it’s remarkable how far Curbishley’s reputation has fallen.

With his Charlton side promoted as title winners in 2000, he proceeded to turn them into a top flight fixture and model of stability.

A ninth-place finish in their first season back was followed by consistent mid-table appearances throughout Curbishley’s time at the club. They peaked at seventh in the 2003-04 campaign where their traditional end of season slump, exacerbated by the sale of midfield dynamo and star man Scott Parker in the January transfer window, saw them fall just short of the European places.

Overall they prospered as a well-run family club which never lived outside of its means. Although this occasionally necessitated something of a functional approach to football, Charlton were hardly the most adventurous of sides, it reaped handsome rewards. The ever rising income from sponsorship deals and TV made survival in the Premiership imperative.

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Charlton supporters' response to his departure

While Curbishley always achieved this aim comfortably, always steering the Addicks well clear of the relegation scrap, there were calls for a more ambitious approach.

In his last season the addition of expert goal snaffler Darren Bent gave Charlton this greater cutting edge.

However, despite the future England man netting eighteen times in the league, Curbishley left on something of a low, losing 4-0 to Manchester United to finish 13th come curtain call. Eventually, after sixteen years at Charlton in a coaching capacity, eleven of which were spent in sole charge of the team, he left in search of a more high profile post and to satisfy those supporters who felt his reign had gone stale.

The expected offer from the England national never arrived following Sven-Göran Eriksson’s departure, Middlesbrough boss Steve McClaren infamously taking on the post instead, so Curbishley was forced to settle for West Ham partway through the following season.

The heroics of a controversial Carlos Tevez kept them up in trying circumstances as Charlton, stripped of the certainties of Curbishley’s reign and overpaying for big name underperformers, fell through the trap door having changed manager twice.

In his absence the South London club suffered further, well-documented struggles, dropping another division under Chris Parkinson as their financial state worsened. The ship has been steadied since then but the experience has served as a cautionary tale that change is not necessarily always for the best.

Furthermore, in light of these events, Curbishley’s achievements on limited means are made to seem all the more impressive.

However, a second season at West Ham was to be his last. The East End native led his hometown team to the top half but outside events proved his undoing. A spell outside the game bringing a lawsuit against his former employers had a damaging effect on his career, as Curbishley, never the most fashionable of options, has concerned clubs with an act of such defiance.

Ultimately, however unfair it may be, it seems that the longer you spend off the managerial merry-go-round, waiting for the right opportunity, the harder it is to get back on. 

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