Curbs: 'I don't want to be in the Championship'

West Ham's new manager grasps short-term priorities - keeping a sense of perspective and preserving the club's Premiership status
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The Independent Football

It is a couple of hours after Alan Curbishley has addressed the West Ham United players collectively for the very first time. So what did he say? "I said to them: 'I expect you to train the way you play. I expect certain things on and off the pitch. I'll accept that and take what comes along.

"Give me a chance of winning, give me a chance of winning because you have prepared properly and your attitude is right, and I will take anything that comes along. But if you don't give that and don't get the result then you are in trouble'," Curbishley recalls. "I think they know."

He didn't ask for any feedback. He didn't have to explain why. There has been, the new manager clearly believes, a bit too much talk around the club he grew up loving, played for and has watched from afar with a mix of horror and surprise as they set about tearing themselves apart this season for a variety of bizarre reasons.

Indeed Curbishley, whose first match in charge is at home to Manchester United today, frowns at the prospect of Nigel Reo-Coker doing an interview. The young captain - a deadline- day target for Sir Alex Ferguson last August - has also been the target of much criticism this season for his form and his disintegrating relationship with Alan Pardew. "He feels he wants to put the record straight," Curbishley says of the midfielder. "But sometimes you just have to go out on the pitch to put the record straight." The inference is clear. Reo-Coker, like the rest of West Ham's young squad, has to prove himself.

That youthfulness - Curbishley estimates he has inherited the second youngest team in the Premiership - is partly to blame for the present predicament. Now West Ham, in the bottom three, have a man in charge who has been here before. "I've had that experience," he says of his seasons at Charlton Athletic staving off relegation before turning them into a stable top-flight force. "These players haven't."

And neither has the chairman. The Icelander Eggert Magnusson may be 59, may be a vastly experienced "football man", as he calls himself, but he is barely a month into his Premiership career. His hair-trigger reaction to West Ham's admittedly appalling form under Pardew suggests a man in a hurry. Curbishley agrees. "The one thing I find from Eggert, and it was like going on a blind date as I had not met him before, is that he's very pushy and quick and wants to do things. Perhaps I may have to curb his enthusiasm a little bit." Or Curbs it.

If that sounds defeatist, it certainly isn't. The message is clear: Curbishley will be Upton Park's plain dealer. It is a right he has earned after 15 successful years in management followed by six months spent recharging his energies. In fairness to Magnusson, it was Curbishley's ready availability - he was the club's No 1 target - that meant Pardew was permitted less time to improve things, especially when £85 million was at stake.

Still, the new man did not rush headlong into accepting the job. "I had to ask certain things," Curbishley, who signed a three-and-a-half year deal, says. "I wanted assurances that we were in it for the long haul." Such planning has always been his philosophy. "Managers, I suppose because of the precariousness of the profession, think short term, but I always, at Charlton, looked the other way, the long term. But I've got a short-term view at the moment."

The circumstances, the dem-ands and expectations, are very different. "When I was at Charlton I perhaps had a cosy relationship. Now I'm in with the rest of them [Premiership managers]. I appreciate that. It's a results business. But I did say to him [Magnusson], 'We are in for the long haul here but the short term is what I have to achieve'."

That short term means staying in the Premiership. It is the only target Curbishley has been set this season. "First things first," he says. "I don't want to get ahead of myself. Last summer this club were talking about Champions' League. Because of the great season last year I kept hearing that coming out. The [FA] Cup final and a minute away from winning it and whatever and, 'We're going to do this'. I thought, 'Hold on'. I thought, 'Ipswich'. They came fifth, got into Europe - and suddenly changed. And little old Charlton came ninth, then they came 10th - and no one said a word.

"Do you understand what I'm saying? I think perhaps people were getting carried away. Perhaps I've been classed as cautious and unadventurous and 'bread and butter'. The reason I said that was to dampen expectations. But the only expectations I've got at the moment, and I've told Eggert, is to stay in this League. Then, I do feel, with the young players they have, the club have the potential to push on."

Money is available. And plenty of it. The Icelanders have committed up to £25m to the January transfer window, but, in truth, not too much is expected to be spent. West Ham's bid to sign Chelsea's Shaun Wright-Phillips for £10m, for example, appears doomed. The player no longer wants to come and is apparently holding out for a bigger club. "As you lose another game, lose another game and there's the possibility that you are in trouble, attracting players becomes more difficult," Curbishley says.

The players he is expected to sign - and his assistant, Keith Peacock, is working full-time on identifying potential targets - will be seasoned pros. West Ham need more of those. There will be few, if any, departures. Reo-Coker, for example, will probably stay until the summer, while the club are also saddled with the two Argentinians, Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, until then. Curbishley does not believe he has to do the wholesale rebuilding that Harry Redknapp undertook at Portsmouth last season. "I think he was in a worse position," he says. And with a weaker squad.

It is a challenge Curbishley is relishing, partly because, he knows, the spotlight will be brighter. And that is different from life at Charlton. "I think it could be very exciting," he says. "The thing that attracted me is that the future is very different. Eggert has said he's prepared to back it in a way that perhaps Charlton couldn't. But the summer is the time to think about the bigger picture."

But, as Curbishley states, first things first. "The one thing that is big for me," he says, "is that I don't want to be in the Championship. Whoever you talk to, once you've been in the Premiership it's where you want to be, because of the atmosphere, the crowds.

"The money's great, but it's the football. I will do everything I can to make sure that next summer I'm a Premiership manager."