For a club so big on the West Ham family and understanding what makes the club tick, Alan Curbishley, West Ham born and bred, would seem to be an obvious choice – and finally, in 2006, they got him.
West Ham had first wanted Curbishley to succeed Harry Redknapp in 2001 but he had just signed a new contract at Charlton, but fortunately when Alan Pardew was axed, Curbishley was a free man, and one with a point to prove having left the club early in his playing career – and lived to regret it.
But like Pardew, his time at the club was not as long as many people would have liked it to be, and his tenure ended with an air of ‘what if…?’ which was only magnified by what was to come next.
Having taken charge of a ship that was sinking under Pardew, against all odds, Curbishley managed to turn things around, pulling off what will forever be known as the Great Escape to avoid relegation on the final day of the season with an unlikely win at Manchester United – thanks to a goal from, of all players, Carlos Tevez.
It was also on Curbishley’s watch that Mark Noble got his first extended run in the first team, and having managed to keep the team in the top flight, the manager took steps in summer 2007 to ensure that the team would never find themselves in that position again, signing players like Julien Faubert, Scott Parker, Craig Bellamy and Kieron Dyer – players with talent, experience and ability.
Having spent 15 years at Charlton, all the signs were Curbishley was looking forward to another long stay at West Ham United.
Despite serious injuries to Dyer and Faubert almost as soon as they joined the club, Curbishley’s first – and as it turned out, only – full season in charge was one of consolidation, but a change in transfer policy in summer 2008 and an end to big spending was a portent of what was to come.
When Anton Ferdinand and George McCartney were sold against Curbishley’s wishes, he was not prepared to stand for it and resigned – ultimately winning a court case for constructive dismissal against the club.
Often harshly characterised as Mr Safe Pair of Hands, Curbishley has been harshly treated by West Ham history. He arrived in the middle of a storm, pulled off a miracle, put down the foundations for a promising-looking future but was denied the chance to build on it.
Just like his playing career at West Ham, it ended too early – although this time, it was not entirely his choice as he fell out with the board.
He deserved better treatment, and if people had any idea what was to follow, he would surely have got it. It is a great shame that West Ham was his last managerial role.