Manchester United handed Alan Curbishley a 4-0 drubbing and two tickets to visit his sister in New Zealand the last time he appeared in the Premiership as manager of Charlton Athletic. Tomorrow, reinvigorated by a seven-month sabbatical and reinvented as the manager of West Ham United, he confronts the same opponents under a threat of relegation from which there is no immediate escape.
While a trip to Upton Park rarely instils Sir Alex Ferguson with joy, as he effectively squandered two League titles there in 1992 and 1995, his appearance could not have been worse timed for Curbishley as he attempts to capitalise on the galvanising effect of a new manager and lift the despondency that hangs over Eggert Magnusson's £85m investment and cost Alan Pardew his job only five eventful days ago.
The 49-year-old did not triumph over Ferguson once in 14 attempts as Charlton manager and has never beaten United in his career - "I can't believe it," confessed Curbishley yesterday - and yet it is to the current Premiership leaders he has turned for inspiration as West Ham commence the process of preserving their place in the top flight.
"I saw Wayne Rooney playing at Wigan while he was going through his bad patch earlier in the season," Curbishley said. "I saw how hard he was working and knew Rooney would get back into form with that attitude. That's the situation that West Ham have at the moment. They need to show that kind of attitude.
"Last year they had a freshness and a hunger as a newly promoted side and that's what I've asked them to get back. They were on the crest of a wave and now they find themselves in a situation they haven't been in before. Perhaps they need someone like myself who has. I don't know what will come first - results or confidence - but either way we've got to get both of them back."
The new West Ham manager has received a good luck message from the Charlton chairman, Richard Murray, despite their rivalry in the bottom three, and is content to continue with Nigel Reo-Coker as captain even though the midfielder has been blamed for a part in Pardew's downfall and linked with a January move to Everton, a deal his agent has since discounted.
Curbishley added: "I'm under no illusion. We've got to get out of the bottom three and stay out. There is no way I want to be a Championship manager and there is no way the players want to be Championship players. I don't want to go from being interviewed for the England job to being in the Championship in a short space of time."
Curbishley called Ferguson as he pondered Magnusson's offer to return to his boyhood club and the United manager offered an insight into their conversation yesterday. "I had a chat with Alan and I told him it was a good job for him. West Ham have the potential to be a big club," he said.
"The job he did at Charlton was phenomenal. I reminded him that he had started at Charlton working out of a Portakabin and took the club to where it is now, with a fantastic stadium, a great community spirit about the place and a team that was always in the middle of the League. He showed his qualities when he remained patient and loyal to the Charlton team that got relegated a few years ago and brought them straight back up. But we know that Alan's appointment is going to make it harder for us at West Ham. You know the effect a new manager has on the dressing room. The players will be determined to impress and convince him they can be part of his plans. Our record is fairly good there but we have lost two Leagues there, so we know it is a hard place to go."
United arrive in the East End having secured the services of 36-year-old goalkeeper Edwin Van der Sar until the end of the 2007-08 season - "he is the best since [Peter] Schmeichel," said Ferguson who was also dismissive of John Terry's suggestion that, while the leaders have peaked, Chelsea are on the rise. He said: "Chelsea say they have got another level and it's true - they could get worse."Reuse content