Tuesday 24 October 2017

Keane must be wary of Curbs Syndrome

Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

THERE'S an affliction which affects many men over the age of 40 who are involved in football and, much like the one for which Pele endorses an antidote, it usually starts with being unable to get up for a challenge.

The early symptoms of 'Curbs Syndrome' are often difficult to spot because it usually presents as being a relief to the suffering party. They will speak of looking forward to a break from football, of wanting to recharge their batteries and then moving on to bigger and better things.

For the lucky few, that is as acute as the symptoms become as their past failure fails to mitigate against them getting another job and returning to the bosom of the dugout.

For others, however, the effects can be much more serious. The next phase is to turn up constantly on television as an expert to analyse games without noticing the irony that if you were that good at spotting tactical mistakes, you would be involved in the game itself rather than talking about it.

From that point, sufferers will constantly refer to being ready for a "new challenge", being "open to offers" and "being willing to talk" to any club that shows an interest. But, as every job passes, their previous achievements fade further and further into the past.

Milliner

The syndrome is named after Alan Curbishley, its chief sufferer, who must have a well-paid milliner such is the number of times his hats have been in the ring for jobs since he left West Ham in 2008.

Last week, after sacking Paul Jewell, Ipswich were believed to have drawn up a list of 31 names, many of whom could star in a football manager's version of 'The Usual Suspects'.

Curbishley, taking up his usual role, was right up there at the head of the betting alongside Mick McCarthy, Billy Davies and the same list of names who were in the running for the Bolton job. And the Blackburn one. And probably Burnley's. And just about any other club they haven't already managed.

Like life outside football, it is far easier to get a new job when you are already in employment, which is why Dougie Freeman was such an attractive proposition for Bolton because of the fine job he was doing at Crystal Palace. Curbishley's case, however, serves as a warning to other young managers about just how difficult it can be to rebuild a career that had once looked so promising.

At Charlton, as some supporters got a little drunk on the relative success of mid-table Premier League finishes, the belief began to grow that Curbishley had taken the club as far as he could. They were right, but the trouble with that notion is that it presumes the club is capable of going higher. Within three years of Curbishley leaving Charlton in the Premier League, they found themselves in League One.

The problem for Curbishley, like so many after him, was that his next job -- like a tricky second album -- proved to be a disaster. At West Ham, he fell out with the board over selling George McCartney. It seems a futile issue over which to go to war -- and he later won a case for constructive dismissal -- but that was just over four years ago. And he hasn't worked since.

After initial success at Leeds, David O'Leary went through a similarly bitter break-up to end his second job at Aston Villa where his relationship with supporters was characterised by the memorable banner which read: "We're not fickle, we just don't like you."

Neither Curbishley nor O'Leary have particularly bad Premier League records yet, at 54, both find themselves on the periphery having not worked in England's top division for a combined total of 10 years. Rafael Benitez is two years younger and has had a far more successful managerial career than either Curbishley or O'Leary, but a poorly judged move to Inter Milan, as well as a largely undeserved reputation as a contrarian, means that a man with two La Liga titles, a UEFA Cup and a Champions League to his name has been unemployed for almost two years.

Yet Curbs Syndrome is not confined to those in their fifties who find themselves suddenly on the scrapheap.

Having just turned 40, Paul Ince's managerial career was on an upward curve following success at MK Dons, which earned him a job in the Premier League with Blackburn Rovers in 2008. Less than three years later, he was leaving Notts County by mutual consent after losing a club record nine games in a row and has been out of the dugout for 18 months.

Like his former Manchester United team-mate and now regular TV colleague, Roy Keane's managerial career started superbly with promotion at Sunderland, but the strained relationship with the board that saw him leave the Stadium of Light then continued into his subsequent job at Ipswich. In January, it will be two years since he worked as a manager.

Keane turned only 41 last August, which is still young in managerial terms but, by that age, O'Leary had already helped Leeds finish fourth in the Premier League and would play in the UEFA Cup and Champions League semi-finals within two years. On his 42nd birthday, Benitez was just days away from lifting Valencia's first La Liga title in 31 years.

Keane, like Ince, Aidy Boothroyd or Owen Coyle, was once among the bright new stars of management but needs to get back in the dugout before Curbs Syndrome becomes terminal. There are more successful managers than him who have never found a cure.

Irish Independent

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