West Ham United remain confident that they can persuade Slaven Bilic to become their new manager even though the Croatian coach appears to have ruled himself out of the running to succeed Alan Curbishley, who walked out on the club yesterday with a scathing attack on the board.
Curbishley quit after just four games of the season – three of which were won – although there had been growing pressure on him within the club over a variety of issues. The 50-year-old claimed there had been a "breach of trust and confidence"and that the board had sold players behind his back. His attack was fiercely contested by West Ham who have drawn up a shortlist of replacements headed by Bilic.
However last night the 39-year-old appeared to indicate that he intended to see through his country's 2010 World Cup qualification campaign which starts this weekend – with Croatia due to play England on Wednesday. The timing could not be more sensitive, while Bilic is believed to have been alarmed at events at the club and the strength of the squad he would inherit.
West Ham sources also denied last night that Icelandic owner Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson was in the process of selling the club less than two years after he took over. They claimed the banker remained fully committed, which is why he had overseen a radical overhaul of how the club is run.
Reserve team coach Kevin Keen has been put in temporary charge following Curbishley's departure but West Ham hope to make an appointment before their next League match, away to West Bromwich Albion on 13 September. That is just three days after Croatia play England.
The club's board met yesterday afternoon, soon after accepting Curbishley's resignation, to draw up a shortlist. They have been contacted by the representatives of the former Liverpool manager Gérard Houllier and former Juventus coach Didier Deschamps and while they have ruled out moves for Harry Redknapp, Avram Grant or Sven-Goran Eriksson, an approach to former Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard cannot be discounted.
Curbishley becomes the first Premier League manager to lose his job this season and his complaints are similar to those which have taken Newcastle United's Kevin Keegan so close to the brink of leaving St James' Park. Both men feel undermined and let down.
Last night the League Managers' Association issued a statement on Curbishley's behalf which accused West Ham on making "unilateral" decisions on transfers, in breach of the guarantees they had given him that he would have the final say. The complaint is likely to have formed the basis of Curbishley's demand for compensation. He has one season after this campaign left on his contract and is entitled to a £1m pay-off.
The LMA said there had been "irreparable damage" caused to Curbishley's "working relationship with the directors". Curbishley said he had met with chief executive Scott Duxbury to discuss transfer dealings on Sunday and demanded that no-one was sold before the window closed on Monday night. The following day George McCartney joined Sunderland for £6m. West Ham claim they had no choice after he pleaded to go.
But the problems at the club have been ongoing. The Independent revealed last week that Curbishley was under severe pressure and was facing the sack, while we also reported yesterday that he had clashed with club captain Lucas Neill after Saturday's win over Blackburn Rovers. There were also discussions at board level – after the recent 3-0 defeat away to Manchester City, for example – as to whether Curbishley was getting the best out of the squad.
Curbishley said his decision to quit had been a "very tough" one but added: "The selection of players is critical to the job of the manager and I had an agreement with the club that I alone would determine the composition of the squad. However, the club continued to make significant player decisions without involving me. In the end such a breach of trust and confidence meant that I had no option but to leave. Nevertheless, I wish the club and the players every success in the future."
Curbishley made similar complaints about the sale of Anton Ferdinand to Sunderland - with the club again claiming he fully agreed with the £8m move after the defender refused to sign a new contract. In a statement West Ham, who it is claimed are in financial difficulties – something the club denies – said both sales were "right for the club" and "based on our best long-term interests". West Ham added: "Agreement could not be reached with Ferdinand on a new contract to replace his original deal that had just two years left to run. McCartney handed in a formal written transfer request after failing to resolve his personal reasons for wanting a move away."
Hammers in waiting: Hot seat contenders
Slaven Bilic (Odds 3-1)
The favourite. The Croat's candidacy has already been discussed by the West Ham board. Would be a popular choice.
Didier Deschamps (14-1)
Is desperate to return to club management. Linked to Manchester City and Newcastle United. A chippy character, however.
Gerard Houllier (16-1)
Doesn't quite fit the bill of the young, charismatic coach West Ham are looking for but wants to return to England.
Frank Rijkaard (20-1)
Would like a break after the buffeting he had at Barcelona but would certainly be an imaginative choice.Reuse content