Carlisle United 1921 Ltd directors Nigel Clibbens, Suzanne Kidd and Phil King held their first joint press conference on Friday morning, with plans to hold similar meetings with the media on a regular basis going forward.
Subjects covered were wide ranging and diverse, with no stone unturned, as the club’s media team hosted BBC Radio Cumbria, BBC Look North, ITV Border, the News & Star and the Cumberland News in the club’s new media facility in the Pioneer Stand.
We’ll be providing a blow-by-blow account of the press conference on the official website over the coming days.
Friday’s session opened with chief executive Nigel Clibbens speaking about the reasoning behind this new venture for 2018.
“This is something new that we’re going to try, having listened to the fans over recent weeks, and we thought it would be a good way of trying to allow the media to put questions to the directors who are at the club every day,” he said. “As things develop hopefully fans will get in touch via the media outlets to get their questions asked on their behalf.
“We tend to find that the media have their finger on the pulse anyway, and the questions raised are relevant to what people are saying. This should be a good way of providing answers.”
What about Keith’s contract? People often talk about it being easier for a manager to attract players and sell his vision when they have a secure contract themselves? How far are we from having news on that front?
NC – I spoke about the fact that the [recent] discussion about his contract didn’t form much of the meeting we had. We are all focused on making the team better. There’s no change there. We said we’d talk about it again towards the middle of the month, and that’s what we’ll do. The priority for us all right now is to win games and get up the league. There’ll be another update on this in February, or if something happens before that. In terms of recruitment, my experience is that money talks in football. And, with contract positions, if the club is doing well and everyone is going in the right direction, personal matters don’t really come into it.
But you tend to find that if a club is confident in their manager they keep him tied down to make sure other parties are put off? It can appear that Carlisle are hedging their bets, so that might mean that players hedge their bets when they consider coming to sign for us?
NC – It’s for the club to manage these situations as we see fit, and in the best interests of the club. I think it’s a little bit unfair to deem it as hedging our bets because we’re trying to do the best for the club. Keith is under contract for the next six months, so the position is pretty clear. The other thing to consider is that what it says in manager’s contracts about security of tenure isn’t really reflective of the practicalities of the business of football. It can become a bit of a red herring.
Can you say at this stage if the club wants Keith Curle to be the manager beyond this season?
NC – We’d like that to be the case. I’ve said in the past that I don’t personally see changing managers as a recipe for success. I think continuity and development, if you can deliver that, gives you a far better chance of success. He had a difficult task when he first came in and there was a lot of work to do to get us stable and in a better position in the league. Year-on-year we’ve seen improvement in terms of that position, but sometimes it isn’t always an upward trajectory. You can suffer bad runs, and things like that, but the key point is that we’re trying to progress. I value continuity strongly.
You said you weren’t going to offer a running commentary, but you also said there were going to be certain issues to resolve from a club point of view. Can you comment on what any of those issues might be?
NC – In general terms the club is changing, and it’s a different club to what it was a couple of years ago, definitely. The way football outside of the Premier League is moving on is fast-moving in its own way. You’re seeing a disparity growing between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ and you’re seeing a need for community clubs to get closer to their communities. The perils of not doing that have probably been experienced here, so there are all kinds of issues around the overall direction your club is going to go. That means you have to find the balance between spending resources on stadiums, and with off-the-field activities like marketing and catering, against spending your resources on the team. It’s no secret that almost every penny we’ve generated in the past has gone straight to the team, for good or bad. When you’re winning it’s good, and when you’re losing it should have been spent on other things. It can become a double-edged sword and the club needs to look at the balance of that going forward, as to whether or not it’s sustainable, and whether or not we can afford to continue to do that, or whether it needs to be rebalanced. That then impacts on what it means for the resources available for spending on players, so that’s one big area, obviously. We’ve talked about academies, and developing our own players, and we feel the development of our own talent is vital to the club’s sustainability going forward. That again impacts on what the structure of your squad is, while obviously continuing to understand that the modern game demands that you need to be winning games now.
So, do you see Keith as the man to oversee all of that for the longer-term?
NC – We’ve had discussions about this because it does lead you down a different route to where you’ve been before. Keith has been here for a while so it’s a debate about the change of direction for the club as to what we need going forward. Everybody has to be happy with that, so they are the more important [subjects to be covered] during the talks as far as I’m concerned. Obviously it’s then the stuff about winning football matches and getting up the league which are the more normal footballing issues which also need to be talked about.
Has Keith indicated that he’s keen to be part of the long-term plan?
NC – Keith has never said that he wants to leave the club, or anything like that. We have general debates about this kind of stuff and that gets things moving before you get into the real detail. Everybody has to be on the same page in terms of what the implications of all of these things are.
Is there a point where you would look to have all of this resolved, or is it something you feel could take its course until the summer, when his contract runs out? Could it be wrapped up before then?
NC – I think the sooner this stuff can be wrapped up the better, because it just leads to more conversations like this, but that’s just the nature of it. You can’t have it both ways, but we’ve all agreed that the most pressing thing is the football on the pitch on a Saturday. We have a January window to deal with and that’s where everyone is focused right now. We’re still in the cup, and anything can happen there, so all of that must be the priority.
Is it fair to say that the manager’s position is dependent on results between now and the end of the season or is that just part of the consideration? Is the hold back because of where the club is right now in the league table?
NC – We’re doing worse than we were doing last year, and that’s a step back, but the path to success in football is rarely a straight line. You have good periods and on other occasions you have difficult ones. That’s why you have to take a longer-term view. We’ve shown that we’ve improved year-on-year, but there’s no doubt that we have to do better than what we are now. I think everybody understands that. How we perform until the end of the season impacts on everything. We’re in a results business and it doesn’t matter what level you’re at, ultimately you have to win football matches to progress and get success. That’s what everybody is working towards.
So will this issue be resolved in May when you all decide whether you are right for each other?
NC - I wouldn’t put a timetable on when we’ll resolve the situation. There are issues around the long-term development and direction of the club to make us sustainable and successful. These are conversations that we need to have. Keith has talked in the past, at other clubs, about whether they meet his ambition. That’s why we’re trying to get to a point where we all know is what ambition is, and what good looks like for a club like ours, to make sure everybody is on the same page. What we don’t want to do is embark on a journey together to find out that what we all think is good is completely out of kilter. These issues are much bigger than any discussion over specific contract terms, in my opinion.