Candid Curbishley is left agonising at the crossroads

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The Independent Football

The sky was clear blue, but the question hung like an angry cloud above Charlton Athletic's training ground on Friday afternoon. Alan Curbishley, ever candid, wasn't seeking shelter. "I suppose you want to know about my friends who say I want the Spurs job," he says by way of a greeting and in reference to the classic "friends of" quote that appeared during the week, claiming he was keen to succeed Glenn Hoddle as manager at White Hart Lane.

Curbishley has been here before. Such as when West Ham United came calling two years ago. The answers are well-rehearsed and patiently delivered - "I'm going nowhere. It is ridiculous to ask those sorts of questions, because how can I say I want to go somewhere when I've not been offered a job?" - except this time it felt different. A little less emphatic, perhaps.

"It's flattering, I suppose," Curbishley says when pressed about the continued speculation. "But I don't know if there is any substance to it. As Richard [Murray, the Charlton chairman] pointed out, it is a little bit boring, and I did say to a few people that I've been linked to a lot of jobs but I'm still here."

Still here and now into his 13th season. It has been an unlucky start, with just five points from six games and a home fixture against Liverpool today with his defence and defensive record in pieces.

"I've been around too long to get too upset about it. But we have let them [the players] know our feelings, and things have to improve," Curbishley says.

Maybe not upset, then, but clearly frustrated. He has been here before as well - last season the points tally was the same after the same number of games, and then his side embarked on a run which had them, briefly, tilting at a place in Europe. "To be fair, I didn't realise it was my 13th season," Curbishley, now 45, says. "I didn't realise it until I read it in a programme for one of the away games. And I'm still that up-and-coming manager, as has been said on quite a few occasions over those 13 years."

There it is again. That sign that, maybe, Curbishley, ever honest, is a little unsettled by all the speculation. "Their [Spurs'] training ground is two miles from my home, apparently," he adds, again ruefully picking up on media talk as to why he may be interested in a move. "It's about two-and-a-half. I just think, what can I do? If I answer it [questions about his future] I get castigated, but if I don't answer things... All I'm saying is that I'm comfortable here at Charlton and I don't have a problem. The only time a problem will arise is if I do get offered something."

A price has been put on his head - £5m. That's what Murray says he will demand as compensation for his manager and, still, his prime asset, who has rebuilt the club. "I have two-and-a-half years left on my contract, I'm happy here and I've not got a problem," Curbishley reiterates. "I think Richard came out, gave a few quotes, got a bit aggressive. And mentioned a figure which, if that's the compensation, then I'd better go and see him." To get a pay rise, no doubt.

Curbishley adds: "I've not spoken to the chairman since we played Luton on Tuesday night. He didn't come into the dressing room after the game so I've not spoken to him since. He lets me just get on with everything. I did get a few calls from people asking me to lend them a fiver when he put the compensation figure in there, but I think he's just a bit fed up with it all. Whenever a job comes up, the same names get linked."

Indeed, Murray revealed his frustration by saying: "He's going nowhere. I doubt if Spurs can afford him... But why should he want to go to Spurs? He knows that if he had one bad year he'd be out."

Has the speculation touched his squad? "I don't think they get unsettled," Curbishley says. "That is a fact of life. Over the summer there were a few clubs who fancied some of our players because they had done themselves justice in the Premiership, but I don't think many will be looking at them at the moment."

Curbishley is not the only one at Charlton whose future is a cause for debate. The contracts of several players run out at the end of this season. It feels like a pivotal year. The players and the manager need to push on, to achieve more than the hugely respectable target of staying in the Premiership for a fourth successive season. "Most clubs have players out of contract," says Curbishley. "It is no different from others. At a club like ours, if you are not successful, you won't have contracts wrapped up. That's not an unhealthy thing, that is the way it should be sometimes."

As for his own contract, he sees no reason to seek an extension right now. His future as Charlton manager is simple, he says, and there are only two ways that will change. "Firstly, you have to be offered something," he says (and then decide whether to accept it). Or "secondly, the fans or the chairman may have had enough of you".

Everyone knows, however, that the former is far more likely to happen to Curbishley than the latter.

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