Thursday 4 September ~
Bookmakers cleaned up yesterday as Alan Curbishley beat Kevin Keegan to be the first manager to leave a Premier League club, only four games into the new season. While Keegan, officially at least, remains in whatever control he had previously at Newcastle, Curbishley resigned his position at West Ham. What these managers had in common was a lack of control at their clubs, particularly with key players being sold against their wishes. But while the Sun launched an investigation into Keegan’s Soccer Circus debts and financial worries, Curbishley was in a position to resign on his own terms and explain himself as he left.
Curbishley stated: “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.” The sale of George McCartney, after his manager had been promised that there would be no more departures, was the tipping point. It was also reported that Dean Ashton and Craig Bellamy were made available over Curbishley’s head on Monday and it seems that there were a lot of players on offer on deadline day. Similarly it is claimed that Mike Ashley and his entourage had been hawking around most, if not all, of the Newcastle squad. The situation at St James’ is still fairly cloudy with today’s reports claiming that Keegan will stay if Dennis Wise leaves. There have also been suggestions of a player revolt and the unlikely image of Michael Owen leading an angry delegation.
There has been some media criticism of West Ham fans’ treatment of Curbishley. Yet this is only proof of how high ambitions have been raised by the current climate. Supporters’ patience has never been so short in general, not just at West Ham. At Newcastle, where expectations have been inflated beyond reason over the past 15 years, there have been large demonstrations in support of Keegan. Supporters in general are concerned about the way that is football is heading but sympathy for Newcastle has been fairly muted. Especially, of course, in Sunderland where in a message board debate on what Ashley should do with his “King Kev” replica shirt, one wag suggested that Ashley just needed to add an apostrophe to the first K.
While a handful of clubs have benefited from corporate largesse, there are far more trying to economise, with West Ham and Newcastle – big spenders in recent years – being prominent examples. Unfortunately for the billionaire investors and fans with ridiculously overinflated hopes there is only so much success to go around. This is something that other clubs may want to bear in mind when hoping for a billionaire intervention. Completely undermined, Keegan is expected to leave Newcastle soon. But the lack of control that managers seem to wield over the composition of their squads is only a symptom of the ultimate cause. Even in the cash-rich Premier League, the financial excesses of the last few years are catching up, resources have been overstretched, money is short and the relationship between manager and chairman/owner has fundamentally changed.