Nothing Left But A Battered Hat...

Alan Curbishley could be manager of Napoli now, having won the Champions League with Liverpool. Instead, he's still waiting, wondering, indicating his availability...

Last Updated: 14/11/13 at 09:31 Post Comment

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Another day goes by, another managerial vacancy is filled. Aitor Karanka's decision to add Middlesbrough to his CV - which previously read Athletic Bilbao, Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, Colorado Rapids, Real Madrid - might well look a bit peculiar if this wasn't football, which does weird employment histories the same way it does misplaced sanctimony and Sloop John B. Apparently, Jose Mourinho recommended he come to England. Let's hope Karanka has a bit more fun than the Mardy One is managing this time around.

But as important as the identity of the new Middlesbrough manager undoubtedly is, it provides us with an opportunity to address an even more important question. One that has persisted for five years, two months and 26 days. For that is how long it has been since Alan Curbishley stood at the side of an actual proper professional football match and pleaded with his defenders to push up, or get tight, or tuck in, or whatever it is that footballers consistently fail to sufficiently do. Since that time the global economy has collapsed and Michael Owen has become a television personality, though it would be harsh to blame that on Curbishley. More relevantly, approximately 345,005,325 managerial vacancies have come and gone, and despite his having been available at approximately third- or fourth-favourite for them all, not a one has gone to Curbishley.

His departure from West Ham stretched out into an 18-month court case, which saw the club try to argue - and fail, to the tune of £2.2m - that selling Curbishley's players without Curbishley's say-so was an entirely acceptable thing for them to have done. Since then, nothing. Well, not nothing: a Daily Mail column here, a Sky Sports News segment there, some punditry, some co-commentary. Always cheerful, always smiling, always ending on the same note. Well, of course I'm looking to get back into management. Yes, I'd be a fool not to consider that position. Absolutely, I'm available. I'm interested. Call me. Please.

Curbishley has admitted that that he has been "picky"; that he's looking for a job either in the Premier League or at a Championship club that's going somewhere, presumably in a metaphorical sense. He's caught in something of a bind: not possessed of enough appeal to be offered any of the jobs he might want, yet not willing to compromise his own sense of professional self-worth and to accept any of those that might want him. This attitude is, depending on taste, either admirably confident or snottily entitled. But the real question is: why haven't any of those clubs, the clubs that he's waiting for, gone in for him?

After all, unlike plenty of thoroughly employed managers, there's no big throbbing cock-up staining his record. There's no Charlton Catastrophe or West Ham Whimper to cast a shadow. Consistent competence at the former, rudely abbreviated competence at the latter; is that not, Shirley, precisely the kind of record that football club owners should be leaping at the chance to extend?

Maybe the problem is that he has a fairly admirable record, but not one that comes with much in the way of triumph, or even just plain oomph. Curbishley's teams weren't remarkable for their attacking brio, or for consistently landing punches on the bigger teams, or really for anything much bar decent results. Indeed, perhaps the only truly memorable features of his Charlton reign (for non-Charlton fans, that is) was the strange torpor that seemed to overcome the side every April-time, as the season coasted to a close, and that time that Scott Parker got all annoyed and jumped and stamped his feet like a small child. (That last one may just be a personal favourite.) Competence isn't sexy. Competence isn't exciting. Competence doesn't flutter the heart and stir the loins.

The recently re-employed Roy Keane gave his first press conference as assistant manager of Republic of Ireland yesterday. In between cheerful reassurances that he wasn't any kind of savage monster, and threats to disembowel any player who turned up for training wearing odd socks, he said almost in passing that he felt it was harder for managers to get jobs if they weren't already in work. And he may well have been right. Five years is a relatively short time in human terms, but a terribly long time in football. Fall off the managerial merry-go-round and you'd best hop back on quick, otherwise you'll be left on the outside, gazing at the younger, more thrilling managers as they fall off their painted horses, and clamber back onto others.

It all seems something of a shame. Curbishley's stock was once high and rising: fans of alternate history might like to consider the outcome had he either got the England job for which he interviewed, and which eventually went to Steve McClaren, or more tantalisingly had Steven Gerrard and Danny Murphy got their (reported) way and Curbishley been preferred at Anfield to Rafael Benitez. He'd almost certainly have won the European Cup, irritated everybody at Chelsea, and be managing Napoli. Instead, he's getting overlooked in favour of somebody else. Anybody else. Everybody else.

With every job that goes elsewhere, the feeling grows that he's doomed to spend the rest of his life as an ex-manager, as a manager-in-waiting, watching and punditing from the sidelines. That eventually he'll fade away, an amiable Echo pining for his self-absorbed Narcissus, and there'll be nothing left but a hat, battered from all the times its been thrown into the ring, and a faint voice on the breeze, expressing interest, indicating availability, and sighing, as it waits for the fax machine to beep.

Andi Thomas - you can follow him on Twitter, you know, and you can read more of his work at SBNation

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