In the second of our updates from the Monday press conference, the manager and player contracts are the issues up for discussion.
On the manager’s contract, his future, have you had any discussions? He said there was nothing further to report on Saturday, so is that conversation coming? What is the latest?
NC – Since the initial very brief discussion we had in early January there have been no formal or informal discussions about the contract. There is nothing in the diary, but of course that can change because we keep things under review. The priority for everybody is success and achievement on the field and that is what we’re all focused on. We’re in a really critical period at the moment and everybody from board, manager, staff, players and everybody within the club is focused on doing all we can to continue the improvement that we’ve seen in recent weeks. We want to push up that table and make a real threat on those play-offs. The club comes first and that is what the top priority is.
Can you just confirm if a club came in for Keith Curle now, would United be due any compensation or could somebody just take him away with him being in his notice period? A club in League One who have previously said they have been impressed with Keith Curle have just sacked their manager, could they come in and just take him off us?
NC – Contracts are the same all the time, if you’ve got three months to run then there’s three months’ notice to run. If you’ve got two years to run then it’s two years, unless there is a specific exit provision. The normal exit provisions apply irrespective of the time.
So, having a manager tied down to a contract doesn’t really matter?
NC – In reality, with most contracts in football, it doesn’t really matter.
The question is, would someone need to pay to take Keith Curle off us now?
NC – It’s all hypothetical, but you would have a situation where if there’s four months of a contract to run then there’s four months left to pay.
Just with that and a few of the player contracts ahead of next year, you’re saying it isn’t such an issue, but there is a feeling amongst fans, that it’s creating a bit of uncertainty that they aren’t sure what will be happening at the start of next season. People are saying that a few bets are being hedged at the moment. Can you see that point of view or do you think it’s not quite right?
NC – I can see the point of view in terms of people looking forward and asking what next season is going to be like. My point is, having a contract or signing a contract on a piece of paper doesn’t change that uncertainty. If, for instance, we won 11 games in a row and someone came in for Keith, as Leeds did for Paul Heckingbottom at Barnsley, he’s likely to go. Likewise, if we lost 12 games in a row, the fact that you’ve just signed a contract is likely to give a different outcome. I think the key bit here is results, performances and progress. Those things bring clarity.
How big would it be in any part of the process if you could get into those play-off places? How do you feel about the potential to make it to the play-offs given the remarkable week you’ve just had?
NC – I think everybody is striving to do it and you don’t lose belief within a football club. All of us have been around the game long enough to know that you can’t predict the future and things can change very quickly, good or bad. You’ve got to keep competing to the 94th or 97th minute at Wycombe to see it through. You’ve just got to keep going and never give up. What I’ve seen at this club, with Keith, his staff and all the players, is there is a never-say-die attitude. When you’re 2-0 down at Notts County or 2-0 down at Wycombe, or 1-0 down and facing a penalty at Barnet, these are all times of adversity which show you what you’re made of. In each of those cases, if there had been any opportunity or room to claim excuses about manager contracts or players’ contracts, at those points it could have been shown. It was quite the opposite. The players stood up on each occasion, Keith and his staff made brave decisions and substitutions at Barnet, for example, and they paid off. There is no excuse culture there. I tend to judge people on how they behave and what I see is everybody fighting for the cause, never giving up and actually believing in something good. I hope the fans see that, certainly at Barnet we got tremendous support from the fans on a Tuesday night and it was the same at Yeovil. I think the fans can see that the lads are trying their guts out to get in these play-offs.
On the manager front, Keith signed his last contract in mid-February, so there was obviously a need within the club to get that sorted at that stage. Does it suggest a lessening of any faith in Keith that it hasn’t been sorted this time round?
SK – That situation was only sorted so late because of the floods. The work for that had already been done prior to the flooding event. It got put to one side for a good month before it was picked up and finalised. It isn’t a like-for-like rinse and repeat situation this time round.
NC – That was early in the cycle of Keith being here and it’s blindingly obvious that he’s been here longer now. Circumstances do change and there was a lot more work to be done, at that point. Good progress had been made early on, so it was felt at that time that we could push on with that. Three full seasons on you need to take a different view on where you are. A lot of work has been put in and then you’re looking much more longer-term than an initial contract renewal. Where we are now, we’ve had three-and-a-half years, so this is an opportunity to step back and have a breather and look more long-term. The club has been here before where it’s renewed manager contracts and very quickly regretted it. People are talking about looking two years ahead, and this kind of thing, and I think that’s how the club sees it. There’s no point in just saying – let’s sign up and see how we go for another six months – we need to look at where we’re going in the long-term.
Keith is one of the longer serving managers in the division so, having seen him for this length of time, does that not give you reassurance about what he’s all about in terms of the future?
NC – Even in my time with Keith, every day you work with someone you get to know them better. That’s why I’ve consistently said that I favour continuity of managers. I’m still of that view. On the other side, and being realistic, there are issues where after a while clubs and managers can be criticised just for being there too long. We’ve got to try to get away from this culture of change for the sake of change. These are all issues you have to talk about and get to grips with. You have to park winning three games, or losing three games, and look at the broader picture. These are big decisions and it isn’t easy. I said in January that we had put all of the open issues on the table. Performances and results on the pitch form part of that, but there are a lot of other issues which go into this, if you want to get it right.
There’s been speculation amongst supporters that the club, whether directly or indirectly, have been looking at or sounding out other managers in some way, north of the border included. Can you comment on that?
NC – Absolutely not. Unequivocally there is no way we have done that. That would be disrespectful, and I’m not interested in any of that. You might get it the other way, where managers put their hat in the ring, but there’s no chance we would go out there to do that. It’s actually counter-productive to do that in my view.
How would you describe the club’s relationship with Lee Clark? He’s been a talking point for a couple of weeks now.
NC – It’s an interesting one. I hired Lee at Huddersfield and I was tasked with letting Lee go, and I think Huddersfield were fourth in the league at the time. I’ve known him for a long time, in and out of work, and he comes to the club regularly. If you want to look for demons and conspiracies, you can find them anywhere. Having Lee in the director’s box, or having a chat with him, I don’t see the issue. Just to be clear, we don’t pick where visitors or guests sit. The ticket office staff sort that, and any visiting manager or former-manager is always put in the director’s box. That’s standard practice.
Can you see why it set tongues wagging when there is uncertainty over the manager’s position?
NC – I think if Lee had come to the game and we’d hidden him in the corner, someone would have seen him. They’d then have asked why he was tucked away and accused the club of trying to sneak him in. As I say, if you’re looking for something you can find it wherever you choose to look. Lee’s been a friend of the club for a while, so I have no problem letting him in if he wants to come to a game. I certainly wouldn’t stop him or hide him, so it’s just one of those things.
On the playing front, can you comment on whether or not any of the current squad have triggered any clauses or extensions?
NC – At least one has triggered one and one or two are very close. I’d have to speak to Keith about what information he wants to give out on that because that’s his area. He sometimes likes to guard that type of information, so it’s better to ask him that question.
With loanees and players coming out of contract it’s a temporary feel to the squad at the moment. Is that a good thing, because there’s potential for a big turnover in the summer once again?
NC – I’m a big believer in motivation more than contracts. Each individual has to be motivated as to why they want to succeed. Despite having some on short contracts, each has a strong motivation to succeed here. On the plus side, the shorter you have contracts from a club point of view the more flexibility you have to change things. We’re coming to a natural period where a lot of the signings coming out of contract were done two years ago, as part of a two-year cycle. This is the point where it’s why we say there’s more to discuss than just winning a few games. When we get to the summer, whichever division we’re in and however the next few months pan out, there are a lot of decisions to be made across the whole of the football side, not just about the manager.
Is there an argument, when you’re planning for next year, that you’re missing out on things already? Historically deals with Nicky Adams and Mike Jones were already wrapped up or virtually wrapped up by the time we got to the summer, and it was early business done by a manager who knew his future with players who knew their future. We’re going to miss out on that if this carries on much longer.
NC – I don’t actually share that view at all. My view is that contracts don’t give certainty. In recent weeks we’ve seen another manager in League Two go who had a period where his team were in good form and in the play-offs. They then went on a bad run for 12 games and he was out of a job. He had a longer contract than Keith, which gave him no certainty at all. Results matter. We’ve seen that with Uwe Rosler, he lost 5-8 games and he was gone. Paul Heckingbottom signed a new contract at Barnsley, then left even though he’d just signed a contract, so contracts don’t give you that certainty. We’re in a results business, and performances and improvement are what bring clarity about the way things are going. In terms of recruitment in the summer, and even in the January window, none of the decisions we took in January were driven by contractual positions. They were driven by the opportunities we had on the table. If other opportunities were brought to us as a club between now and the end of the season with players, we would discuss them. I don’t think Keith or Lee Dykes have stopped looking forward because of their personal positions. Work goes on.
You’re confident that they’re doing the planning for next year and getting players lined up within the squad who are out of contract, even though they don’t know whether they’re going to be here?
NC – Everybody is professional. The nature of the game is that this is what people have to deal with. You never know what is around the corner, or what the next result is going to bring. Some people might have said ten days ago that they couldn’t see where three wins were going to come from, but we’re sitting here on the back of three wins. Morecambe hadn’t won in five and played Wycombe, who had won six or seven in a row, and Morecambe ended up beating them. You never can tell, and you can’t look too far ahead. Everybody is professional and the key point here is that we’re all trying to get success for this club and get up the league. In recent weeks, despite everything that people might say is going on behind the scenes, we’re making progress on that front.