Thursday, 7 August 2008

Bullish Curbishley Aims For Top Seven

The following is Rob Pritchard's interview with Alan Curbishley taken from the Basildon Echo...

THE 2007/08 season was not one of West Ham United’s most memorable. But, despite seeing his squad decimated by injury after injury, manager Alan Curbishley still managed to steer the Irons to the safe waters of 10th place in the Premier League table. With a host of his best players finally returning to fitness, Curbishley is taking aim at a European place. We sat down with the Hammers boss to discuss his hopes for 2008/09.

Last summer, you said you would be happy if West Ham had a “solid” season. Having done so, what are your hopes this time around?

AC: I was criticised for saying we needed solid season last year, but what I was trying to say that the last few years had been so hectic for the club – play-off final loss, play-off final won, FA Cup final loss, relegation battle won and we were on the back pages for all the wrong reasons for most of the time.

It wasn’t about football, it was for other reasons, so I just wanted to have a season where we got through it, with the people we brought in playing some decent football, have a decent season and give us something we could build on.

Obviously last year it didn’t quite work out that way, although we finished in a decent position, but I think the next step for us is to attack the European spots and that sometimes can go down to seventh.

That is going to be tough enough anyway with the top six clubs investing heavily and even those outside the top six investing heavily, so I think, given a fair wind, that is where I would like to see ourselves.

So, would another “solid” season constitute a failure?

AC: I wouldn’t think so, because I think the competitiveness of the Premier League is there for all to see now.

When you have got Sunderland going again, you’ve got Fulham spending £60million in two years, Spurs, Manchester City, Portsmouth, and take the top four out of that too and you are talking 10 clubs at least who have invested very heavily.

I said last year that I thought the Premier League was the most competitive and it might well be again this year.

I wouldn’t be happy with a top 10 finish, I want to be chasing a European spot.

That is the natural progression with the squad we’ve got and the players available to us, we are well capable of attacking that just as Portsmouth did last year, and Everton and Blackburn have done in the last couple of years.

Talking of investment, you have only made one major signing this summer in Valon Behrami. Can the supporters expect more new arrivals?

AC: We have still got just over a month left and things could still change.

We are still actively looking to improve the squad and the most difficult thing is to get a club to say “Yes”.

But I think the club is in the position where if we need to go out and do something we can do it.

There has been some speculation over your own future. What is your relationship like with new chairman Bjorgolfur “BG” Gudmundsson?

AC: (Former chairman) Eggert Magnusson was more bullish and up front, but BG is the opposite. He is quite laid back on those sorts of things.

What he wants to see is the team playing well, decent performances and we will take it from there.

Obviously everyone wants to be successful, but he doesn’t show it in the same way as Eggert.

We speak every week, obviously he is in a different position to Eggert who was able to base himself here and was very hands on, but Scott Duxbury and BG are in regular contact.

He came out to Canada and spent three or four days with us.

He is different from Eggert but no less passionate.

I understand that when he and Eggert came into the club, he was the major force, not just with the money, but wanting to do the job as well.

Last season’s injury crisis has led to some sweeping changes in the club’s medical department. Do you now feel confident that the problems are a thing of the past?

AC: We had a change round last summer when the season settled down, but it was clear once we started training that here wasn't enough bodies about.

We were saturated with injuries but we couldn’t cope anyway.

What happened is that they were just so overworked, but what you will find now is that there are enough light blue shirts (medical staff) around this building, so if there is a player who needs specialist treatment or do a certain bit of work, there is someone here to do it with them.

It was very frustrating last year. I think our ratio was one fitness specialist to eight or nine or 10 players.

We have greatly reduced that so there shouldn’t be a situation where any of them are hanging around waiting for this bit of treatment or this bit of work.

We were overworked and understaffed, which is no disrespect to the people we had, but we knew we had to beef it up, so we took that decision and we have beefed it up.

People have come in. The head of the sports department has been in this position at numerous clubs in Europe and with Olympic squads.

Throughout his career he has mixed with athletes.

We’ve brought in an osteopath, a fitness coach and other people.

The players are high maintenance. They demand people around them so that they have everything there to improve as a player and stay fit as a player so we have gone along with that.

Sticking with the off-the-pitch issues, what is the latest with regard to the proposed move away from Upton Park to a new stadium?

AC: I’m not too sure where we’re at. We’re concentrating on the training ground.

I look at Upton Park and just wonder that improving it – making it a wrap-around stadium – is possible. That would be one hell of a stadium.

There’s a couple of opportunities, although I can’t really put a screw and bolt on that.

I’ve been pressing for the training ground since the first day I’ve came here.

I hadn’t been to Chadwell Heath for some time and when I came in 18 months ago, not much had changed, except it’s a lot smaller because we’ve had to adhere to the Academy status.

It’s very difficult on these small areas to rotate and give the groundsman a chance.

So it’s imperative we move, or get a bigger training ground.

Finally, you have been here for 18 months now and, with players returning to fitness, can really stamp your own style of play on the team. Everyone associates Arsenal with Arsene Wenger’s brand of football, while Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur also have a reputation for slick, passing football. What constitutes “Curbishley’s brand” of play?

AC: I want to be quick. Quick in terms of our passing.

I want to try and get to the half-way line and pen teams in, so the passing becomes shorter.

That puts the onus on the centre half to get there, which some of them don’t like because they’ve got quick players who can turn them around.

I think if we can get on top of teams, especially at Upton Park, then the pace we’ve got in the squad we’ll unlock the doors.

I want to have that facility. I look at some of them, and if I can get them out there, we have got all them attributes – quick, can play, can run with or without the ball.

We also find ourselves, like we did on two or three occasions last year – which was disappointing – at Birmingham and Reading away, we know that as the away team, we've got the qualities to do some damage.

You’ve got to have that pace in the side and that's what I’ve tried to bring in – players who can play in tight areas, have got explosive pace and can make a difference when it comes to the finishing.

I got a glimpse of that against Ipswich, but it’s a long season so we’ll see what materialises.

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