Fine line between success and failure as Keith Curle marks ten years since first manager's job
THE fickle line between success and failure in football is all too evident in today's game.
Notts County boss Keith Curle has spoken about how grateful he is for a second chance in management.
Since he took the reins at Mansfield Town in his first appointment, ten years ago yesterday, he admits to adopting a more honest, less confrontational style.
Nearly five years out of the hotseat have seen him gain valuable experience as No.2 to Neil Warnock at Crystal Palace and QPR.
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But was he a success or failure during his tenure with the Stags, in that first job?
After taking over as player/manager with the club looking doomed, they were relegated into the fourth tier, the old Division Three.
Cue his first full season in management. The former Manchester City and England defender's attention to detail was plain to see as he plotted to put together a good footballing side that ultimately reached the play-off final in May 2004 in his first full campaign solely as the man in charge.
And there are two moments in that match that, when he looks back, where he must wonder what might have been?
Like on 90 minutes, when Colin Larkin found the back of the net only for Laurent D'Jaffo's ball adjudged to have been pulled back from beyond the byline. A dubious decision and the goal would have seen Mansfield win 1-0 against Huddersfield, promotion into what is now League One.
Instead penalties settled it and that audacious chip from Liam Lawrence when he tried to be flash but stuck it onto the top of the net as Mansfield crumbled 4-1 on spot kicks.
Curle saw his team broken up by chairman Keith Haslam and he lost his best players, like Lawrence, Lee Williamson and Bobby Hassell. The budget cut, the writing was on the wall and when Curle went that November, Carlton Palmer came in, but was a disastrous appointment.
For Mansfield, the rest is history as they went on a spiral and out of the Football League in 2008, from where they haven't returned.
Not just for Curle, but for Mansfield, the question is – what could have been now had they won promotion that Bank Holiday Monday?
For Curle there was a spell at Chester City where it started so well but then went belly up, the off-the-field problems coming to the fore as the club eventually went to the wall a few years later. And then a brief, ill-fated stint at Torquay.
By May 2007, he was out of management. Had Larkin's goal counted or he had the rub of the green with penalties, he could have had an instant promotion on his CV.
Instead, as Williamson and Lawrence hit the dizzy heights of the Premier League and Hassell forged out a career in the Championship with Barnsley, Curle was out of management, instead working as a No.2.
And when his opportunity came, almost five years later back in February, some were shocked as he took the reins at Notts County and many fans were upset that Martin Allen had been axed.
Curle admitted to feeling nervous, apprehensive as he appeared for his first match in charge at Meadow Lane, unsure how he would be accepted.
But after leading them to seventh in League One last season, missing out on the play-offs on goal difference, he had soon won many over.
Notts are unbeaten away under Curle since he took over, an almighty record of 20 games, and right in the mix for promotion after he went about rebuilding a squad in the summer.
That success in the last ten months takes me back to his first full season at Field Mill. Curle might have been raw, but he brought professionalism with him. He wanted everything to be right, on and off the pitch.
Curle himself is well groomed, always clean-shaven, lean, looking smart. His office was always immaculate, his paperwork in neat piles. Everything had to be just right.
His players at Mansfield were made to wear suits to both home and away games. It did not matter if they were in the fourth tier or the top flight, they were full-time professionals.
And even in the bowels of the now boarded-up Bishop Street Stand, where the few local press, including myself, would sit, he wanted to be more professional.
In the old bricked room underneath, reminiscent of being back in the '60s or '70s, he saw an opportunity to create a little press room. Somewhere to have a drink and a sandwich, for home and opposition press alike, during matches. To briefly warm up in the winter for 15 minutes or for shelter before kick-off.
He asked us to bring print outs of back pages and match reports, frame them and put them on the walls. To get it done, he helped paint that room during the week. Once done, he was happy. He felt these were the types of things that all clubs should have.
Maybe he was just trying to keep a few local journos on side, but it was more about his attention to detail that impressed. He wanted to improve every aspect of the club.
Fast forward nine years and recently I found myself down at Meadow Lane, sitting in Curle's office. It had been a long time since those Mansfield days.
With experience he has learned, he understands limitations of some players and how to play on their strengths.
On that side, the years that have passed since his playing days have helped him make the transition from player to manager. After all, it has been almost a decade since he pulled on his boots.
At Meadow Lane, behind the scenes, everything is looking immaculate, set-up like a proper football club.
His office might be bigger than the one he had in Mansfield but the information was all there, his paperwork in neat piles, scouting reports sat on his desk. And still, he was clean shaven, smartly dressed, articulate.
Everything about him he had when he first entered management is still there to see and obviously, in time, he has learned more and has more experience to help him now. And so far, so good in his 'second chance'.
All he has ever wanted is to be a success and with Mansfield, you can't help but feel that the assistant referee's flag could have been the difference. Or better-struck penalties.
It is going well again now with Notts but, once again, the fickle line between success and failure in football is so narrow, you just never know which side of it you will end up on.