Making it as a manager

By: League Managers Association

The League Managers Association speaks to Alan Curbishley about management, advice he would give to up-and-coming managers, as well as highlighting his future ambitions within football.

What was your proudest moment in management?

I think possibly taking Charlton Athletic into the Barclays Premier League and keeping them there for eight years. When I first took over the club we were playing our home games at Upton Park and we had no ground, so we started off there in front of 3,000 fans. When I left, we’d gone back to the Valley, built a stadium, and we were playing in front of 27,000 every week. So that’s really got to be my greatest achievement.

Was it always a plan to do that or did it just evolve?

Well when we first took over, I was a joint manager with Steve Gritt and I think we had 13 players at the time. In that first season, because we were successful as we finished seventh in the equivalent of League One, we attracted the people to the club who ended up buying the club, funding us to get us back to the Valley, which is what we desperately had to do. It was great credit to the board, the chairman and for the people really putting the money in. They were holding their end up and we were holding our end up on the pitch.

What has been your most important decision as a manager?

When I took over at Charlton I agreed with the chairman and the board the way forward; we actually had a plan. We had to sell players to raise the money to get back to the Valley, so we sold Robert Lee who was obviously one of our best players and a couple of the youngsters to raise around £1million.

Add that to what the board were putting in to get us back to the Valley – essentially the site was condemned. But the plan was obvious: we needed to get back to having our own stadium, having been away for seven years.

If you can imagine, the seven-year-olds who used to support us when we were originally there were now 14 and supporting other clubs. So we had to work to regain the fan base that we’d lost over those seven years.

Most importantly of all is that the chairman and I were singing from the same hymn sheet. We had the plan that in the first couple of years any money that we raised really went back in to the club to develop the new stands. And then once we’d got the stadium up to scratch, then any money that was available went into the team, and that’s when we really started to take off.

What about your biggest change in management, and what advice would you give to young managers?

Well obviously the finances have been the biggest change. When the Barclays Premier League was formed the influx of money that came in to the game through Sky and other sponsors was just fantastic, and I think that a little bit of regret is that a lot of the money has gone out of the game.

Perhaps we should have kept more in; I know we’ve built great stadiums but there should have been something else specifically with grassroots; but I’m sure that’s going to come.

I just think that the whole evolution of the Barclays Premier League has been a fantastic success. I think a lot of managers talk about change and you have to go along with that. I mean, when I started off with the Bosman ruling coming in, there was always something coming along that perhaps changed the way we had to manage. But I think now the most difficult thing is the players and the agents. Maybe the power that they’ve got at the minute is too strong. It’s too much in their favour and you have to deal with that as a manager.

But for any young managers coming through, I think the biggest relationship has got to be with his chairman, making sure that everyone is going in the same direction; trying and ascertain the expectation level. Managers need to sit down and say, ‘What do you expect in the first year… next year?’ because I think the expectations are the reason that so many managers leave their job, because they’ve not met them or they’ve pushed them too far. Possibly it may also be because people expect a bit more. So I think the relationship with the chairman has got to be the strongest one.

Who were your mentors?

Well I do remember that I phoned up the ‘big four’ as they were then and said ‘can you offer me any advice?’ and they all said some nice things. But one manager in particular said to me ‘the only bit of advice I can give you is to win matches.’ He said ‘if you win more than you lose then you’ll be okay’ and basically that was right.

I’ve looked at what Sir Alex [Ferguson] has done over the 25 years he’s been at Manchester United, and Arsène Wenger too, and for a long while I was perched in between them because I’d been at Charlton for so long. I’m amazed at how long they’ve lasted at one club and I don’t think we’re going to see it again.

At the moment football is focused on the short-term; you’ve got to be instantly successful. Those two managers, Arsène Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson, have earned the right to perhaps think longer term in all the things they’re doing, especially when they’re buying players.

Another good example is David Moyes because he’s coming up on their tails, having now done 10 years at Everton. When you’ve been at the club for so long your planning can be for the long-term. I’ve seen managers going in to football clubs now and I know they’re thinking ‘well I’ve probably got 18 months to be successful because if I’m not there’s going to be a change’ and if I could change anything it would be that. It would be that when people employ managers they give them a three- or four-year contract that they have to stick to.

How satisfying is it being the fifth longest serving Barclays Premier League manager?

Well, considering I haven’t worked for three years, I’ve had Sam Allardyce on my tail (and perhaps next year he might overtake me) but I’m so pleased that when I got in to management it was in the Premier League era. It was the big one and my chairman at the time, Richard Murray, always said that the club hit the Premier League at the right moment and we were able to go along with it. So I am proud of the fact that that for a long while I was up there with Alex [Ferguson], Arsène [Wenger] and Harry Redknapp who have obviously been around for a considerable amount of time. Obviously to be in that company is a great achievement.

In terms of management style what has been key to your success?

I think the relationship you have with the players has obviously got to be the most important thing. They’ve got to respect you and you’ve got to be honest with them. You may have 30 or 40 conversations during a day with different people but the one you had with that player is the one he will remember. So you’ve just got to make sure you are honest with them and that they understand where you’re at.

But when you’re at a football club, the next thing is obviously the player recruitment side, and that is so important in today’s game. Too many bad signings are going to go against you. Everyone at the football club has got to know where they stand and where the parameters are as discipline is a major factor now. Certainly in the Premier League, a major part of the task now is effective man-management.

Do you miss management and would you like to make a return?

Yes I do miss it and I would like to come back, and perhaps I’ve pitched too high. I’ve had opportunities in the npower Championship which I’ve declined. I’ve had opportunities too in the Barclays Premier League where clubs were perhaps already on their way out of the division, and I was maybe waiting for bigger and better things. But if the right Premier League opportunity comes up then I would look at that very, very seriously.