The Nick Townsend Column: Curbishley the quiet achiever - but is he the man to handle a £25m booty?

Click to follow
The Independent Football

They appeared, from the start, unconvincing bedfellows. Alan Pardew only enjoyed a couple of one-night stands before Eggert Magnusson wielded his ice-pick as brutally as Sharon Stone's character dispatched her lover in Basic Instinct. As Pardew's successor at West Ham, Alan Curbishley, reflected, mostly with admiration but also with just a hint of apprehension, on his own installation, which came within 48 hours: "I found out how quickly Eggert likes to move."

For one of the country's "brightest young managers", as Pardew is habitually described, to be cast aside with such brutal haste not only confirms what a capricious industry this is but epitomises the sheer desperation of owners and chairmen, who fear their club's absence from the elite at a moment when the television genie is about to confer such riches as the forthcoming £1.7 billion deal over three years.

Pardew can count his payoff and bide his time before the offers materialise, reflecting that this may not be the end of the blood being splattered on the sheets of football to the east of the capital, or within the Premiership generally. Charlton have already lost their nerve once - though that has not prevented Les Reed being installed favourite to be the next managerial departure from what is a compacted League outside the top few clubs, one in which half the clubs are potentially in jeopardy.

The new West Ham owner, resembling at the Reebok last Saturday a turtle on the Galapagos Islands startled by a predator, knew he had to emerge from his shell and act. For whatever reason - second-season inertia, the distraction of a protracted takeover, the imposition of the two Argentinians Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, dressing- room unrest, or the curse of injuries, particularly to Dean Ashton (below) - Pardew was failing to extract the optimum from a decent squad.

Many a chairman would have hesitated, in the knowledge that Ashton is due to return in January and that once the crack squad of Manchester United have been negotiated today, the more modest ground forces of Fulham, Portsmouth, Manchester City and Reading offer the Hammers the possibility of being clear of relegation by New Year's Day, when the transfer window opens.

But the Icelander clearly has a keen sense of self-preservation. Several names were broached, including Sven Goran Eriksson, on whom there was some frantic betting, and an Upton Park old boy, the Croatia coach Slaven Bilic. Unmoved, Magnusson clutched for the kind of man you would want at the helm of the lifeboat in choppy seas.

A marriage made in heaven, or one of convenience? There will be an element of wariness on both sides. Already, some West Ham followers who do not perceive their club as requiring so much as a saviour as a man to lead them to a warmer, more inviting haven, have questioned both Pardew's disposal and Curbishley's summons. Friends of this observer, a family who are staunch, long-time West Ham followers, are sceptical. They do not trust an appointment that is just too convenient, too obvious. And they do not buy into all that guff about the local lad returning home.

At Charlton, Curbishley once achieved a finishing position of seventh, but he is not familiar with the higher reaches of the Premiership, nor associated with the purchase of highly vaunted players. The most Curbishley paid during his 729-game stewardship of Charlton was £4.75m for Jason Euell in July 2001. What will he make of the upwards of £25m transfer booty that it is mooted will be at his disposal?

Curbishley is a character who quietly gets on with the job. You won't find too many reflections on life or barbed remarks about the opposition in thoseGreat Football Quotes tomes. He is no ranter or rollicker, though one of his former players, Matt Holland, reveals he has been known to "lose it" in the dressing room.

His stock rose almost by default during a six-month hiatus in which he maintained a prominence by booking into that managerial rest home, Sky TV. Other approaches came, and went, including one from Aston Villa which was badly timed. Though he was interviewed for the England role before the World Cup, maybe the fact that he had not managed or coached the nation's elite performers impeded his chances.

Curbishley indicates that he didn't accept this role without some misgivings. He consulted Sir Alex Ferguson, who offered encouragement by stressing Manchester United's similarly lowly position 20 years ago when he succeeded Ron Atkinson. The East Londoner knows that this United's potential is considerably more limited, however, notwithstanding the Icelandic investment. Curbishley will have rightly wondered just how far he could take them.

Ferguson maintains: "I think it's a good job for him. Alan's taking over a potentially big club. They've always produced good young players."

Even a modicum of success here, though, could propel Curbishley closer to his ultimate ambitions if Steve McClaren fails to galvanise England's stars. First Curbishley must prove himself capable of flying close to the sun.

Gold reserves redden a great Scot's cheeks

Sir Alex Ferguson responded with typical waspishness to his fellow claret-appreciating chum Jose Mourinho's assertion that though Chelsea are five points behind his team, in reality it is two. The Portuguese's assumption that the three points on offer at Stamford Bridge in April, when United visit, are already accounted for was greeted with a reddening of the Scot's cheeks: "It's good because it means we can have a rest that weekend. I can put my reserve team out, and save our energy for the next game." No doubt things will get even more personal. In case Mourinho didn't get the message, Ferguson reminded him that Henrik Larsson will arrive soon, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Park Ji-Sung are due to return, and United are recalling seven players currently on loan. "I'm not leaving anything to chance," says the Manchester United chief - his response to comments that United's title bid will falter due to lack of resources. Mourinho has been warned.

Amazing, just amazing how Zara won this

So, an end to royal conspiracy theories. Well, not quite. Lord Stevens should surely be remunerated handsomely to investigate the curious affair of Zara Phillips claiming the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, which she received with a cringe-inducing "speech" worthy of Catherine Tate's "Am I bovvered?" character. Lord Stevens could also have a look at the voting patterns which accounted for St Helens winning the team prize ahead of Europe's Ryder Cup victors. But then does anyone really care? What is it for? The old Sports Review of the Year used to be like attending church. You did it out of duty. Now it's located in a cathedral, with disco lighting, and that overhaul has failed to enhance what has become an anachronism. "Amazing," said Phillips. Four times. Excruciating.