Sunday, 18 November 2007

Curbs Turns His Back On England

West Ham manager backs call to stem foreign influence.
By Duncan Castles

It has been a week of soul-searching for the national game. 'Horrendous', 'impossible', 'a job no one will want to take' were just three of the negative depictions of the England manager's position. The nation's European Championship future at the mercy of Macedonia, Israel, Russia and Croatia; its long-term future darkened by the ever burgeoning horde of foreign footballers employed on these shores.

Eighteen months ago the country's most lauded home-grown coaches had submitted themselves to the Football Association's horribly drawn-out appointment process. Today, Steve McClaren is being hounded out by the media, Sam Allardyce is battling for survival at Newcastle and Alan Curbishley is emphatically not interested in serving the FA were they to come double-interviewing again.

When I was at Charlton I had all sorts of clauses in the contract - for other clubs, for the national side - and that's why I was given permission to talk in the first place but I didn't seek any of those sort of things in this contract,' says Curbishley, the West Ham United manager. 'I'm ruling myself out entirely. This is where I want to be and this is where I want to be successful, so I've got no intention of leaving the club.'

If that sounds like another victory for Premier League over patriotism it is deceptive. A consistent champion of Englishness from the grass-roots to his profession's senior appointment, Curbishley's passion for the national team remains undiminished - as concerned with the quality of player feeding through from youth levels as he is that England's manager should remain a compatriot.

Six of his 13 permanent transfers into West Ham, and the majority of his recruitment budget, have involved Englishmen. Curbishley's interview with The Observer came on an afternoon spent handing over FA certificates to a class of community coaches, one of several personal contributions to the Premier League's Creating Chances programme. 'The problems are obvious,' says Curbishley. 'At the start of the Premier League season, I think 40 per cent of the players playing were English. The second week it went down because of injuries or change of selection. That is very difficult for Steve McClaren. Secondly, [the under-21 manager] Stuart Pearce has got to scrutinise where he wants to go because he has to ensure that there are a few English players playing to make it worthwhile.

'It reminds me a little bit of Scotland a couple of years ago when you were going to a Scottish game and there were hardly any Scottish players on the pitch. It has become very, very difficult and I think one of the reasons is the global market. The Premier League is very attractive to a lot of players and it's going to become more attractive.'

Other statistics bear out Curbishley's concern. In the first week of the Premiership in 1992, a mere 11 non-British players started matches. Currently, it employs senior professionals from 62 different nations while its youth ranks become less English by the season. That is another worry for the West Ham manager.

'I think the clubs have invested so much money in the coaching and the facilities - at most clubs now they are second to none and totally different to what we had growing up - but I don't know if there is the enthusiasm coming from the raw material,' says Curbishley. 'That's one of the biggest problems. The standard and the number of coaches and the infrastructure is far greater than 10, 20, 30 years ago but we don't seem to have the same players coming through.

'I keep going back to the raw material. I think the raw material has got to want to be a footballer, or love the game, or want to improve. I think they see what can be achieved but I don't know if they want to go out and get it. I can't help thinking we're bringing up a softer generation, where there's other things in life, as opposed to football.'

Regulating squads through a quota system is a solution that Curbishley can see merit in. Be it the Uefa method of reserving a proportion of squad slots for home-grown players, the Scottish Premier League's mandate that a team lists at least two under-21s, or Sepp Blatter's proposal at Fifa that no more than five of the starting XI be foreigners.

'I think it's happened in other countries and sports and been accepted,' says Curbishley. 'It wasn't too long ago that cricket had to do that, stop the influx of the foreign cricket player. I'm quite into rugby union and haven't they got a similar problem, that half their squad is foreign? If there is going to be a development that is going to help the home nations bring more people through, then we're got to do it.

'It's no coincidence that Mark Noble's is the biggest-selling West Ham shirt. Because he's one of two home-grown players at the moment, because the fans can identify and see that he's one of them. It's so much better for a club and a team if that can be done.'

Artificially or not, increasing the number of Englishmen on Premier League teamsheets should diminish another problem handicapping the national team. 'No sooner does an English player break into his Premier League team than he's being touted for England,' says Curbishley. 'He's played a handful of games and people are talking about him that he's going to come through - because there's not a lot about.'

Their talents often exaggerated by observers, when such youngsters do make the national team the pressures increase again. 'They turn up, the focus of attention is on them and everything that they do. They can't even walk along the street. We all know it's a difficult situation the national side. Everyone is under pressure to perform, but it seems to me that they don't perform with perhaps the same feel and the same freedom as when they play for their clubs. Perhaps that's something we should look at.'

Curbishley still feels the current England team are 'better than what they're producing'. Though he no longer wants the job, he also refutes the suggestion that managing the team is mission impossible. What has not changed is his belief that the mission should be undertaken by an English coach, which he says should continue to be McClaren regardless of his Euro qualifying campaign.


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