Keegan & Curbishley: Managers without voices or sympathy

Du du du…. another one bites the dust!

Alan Curbishley has fallen on his sword and walked out on West Ham claiming that a lack of trust and confidence in his relationship with the board forced him into an impossible corner. At the same time, Kevin Keegan (as of the time of writing) remains in charge at Newcastle by a thread, with rumours flying that the Messiah is feeling undermined by the club’s management failing to respect his wishes in the transfer market.

For Curbishley, “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.”

In short, Curbs is irate that Anton Ferdinand and George McCartney were both sold in the transfer window without his knowledge. After getting West Ham to an almost unbelievable 10th placed finish last season, to then open the campaign with 2 wins in the opening 3 matches, whilst at the same time constantly beating off criticism that the team plays shocking football, managing an injury lists longer than a fit-and-able list, and then dealing with two of his most gifted defenders leaving the club to balance the books – it all just got too much for Eastender Alan.

Keegan on the hand is upset over things that didn’t happen. Having ended last season on a whinge-fest, crying about his fears that “this league is in danger of becoming one of the most boring but great leagues in the world,” Keegan bounced back to make an impressive start to the new year. Knowing that the Toon’s momentum needed fresh blood to continue, King Kev made it clear that he wanted a new left-back and more attacking options to be bought in the transfer window. But at 12pm on Monday night Keggy had not got his wish of a left-back, and by all accounts he was less then impressed with new signings Xisco and Nacho. But the final straw appears to have been claims that the Ashley-Wise-Jiminez triumvirate had been privately plotting the (unsuccessful) sales of Michael Owen and Joey Barton.

Like most kids on Christmas, neither Curbishely nor Keegan got what they wanted in the transfer window. So how did they respond? Like most kids, by throwing their toys out their prams.

For a long time now it has been understood that modern day managers are not hands-on when it comes to transfer dealings. At Newcastle this point was made clear by the appointment of Dennis Wise, and West Ham acted in toe by appointing Gianluca Nani.

This trend continues throughout the league. At Liverpool, Rick Parry leads the negotiations. Spurs rely on the services of Damien Comolli. Peter Kenyon heads the team at Chelsea. And Rafa Benitez, Juande Ramos and Felipe Scolari – who all also noticeably lost out on most of their major transfer targets – have learned to deal with the situations.

The flip-side for the managers is that they are left to do what they are paid for, to concentrate on managing. The job description is simple, get the best out the players who are in your squad. Responsibility for the squad relies on the management. After all, it is the club, not the manager who pays the wages and who have to be directly responsible to the shareholders.

For too long now there has been the rich-spoiled-brat attitude in the Premier League, which manifests itself by people constantly thinking that the solution to all footballing problems is to open the cheque-book. What happened to working hard on the training field? And far more importantly, what should the clubs do when they simple can’t afford to bring in the fresh faces so desired?

Unfortunately, as happens so often in the real world, senior level management takes the tough decisions to make cut-backs and the workforce collectively need to work double as hard to pick up the pieces. Understandably there are degrees of acceptability, but management are made to make their management decisions. In turn, coaches are their to coach.

Curbishley and Keegan are entitled to be frustrated. They have tough jobs in a cut-throat world, with immense pressure on their shoulders. But that does not equate to sympathy for the positions facing them. Sadly, however cliched it may depressingly sound, football is a business. Sometimes business is booming and buying players is made easy. But in the main life is tough, club’s don’t usually get the players that they want, and sacrifies have to be made along the way.

The image of football managers trawling round Europe on cold windy nights tracking the next best thing who they have somehow unearthed is nowadays a pure fantasy. The manager’s primary job is to turn up everyday to manage the squad, and eventually pick the team and decide on the tactics which will be used to execute the game plan. The model of the manager having a duel role as the chief scout is now archaic.

Perhaps the role of today’s managers has moved on and left Keegan and Curbishley behind with their principles. But the surprising element in both these stories is that both managers had begun the season successfully, only for off the field activities to come and destabilise what appeared to be steadied ships. As always it is the fans who end up having to deal with the fallout, and to them our sympathises should be heartfelt.

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