Carlisle Utd boss Keith Curle has his critics - but the facts are in his favour

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Keith Curle
Keith Curle

For a man who has delivered year-on-year improvement, Keith Curle does seem to attract a lot of ire.

Take this week's rumour that Aberdeen were taking a look at the Carlisle United manager. Some Blues fans did not like the idea, but there were also those openly offering to drive Curle the 232 miles to Pittodrie.

Managers will always split opinions. Even when steering Carlisle to the title in 2006, Paul Simpson had his critics. Complaining about a diversity of views brings to mind the old line about sailors objecting to the sea.

Curle is experienced enough to know the drill. Other than the odd moment when he fixes his eyeballs on someone in the Paddock, it seldom seems to bother him.

One has to ask, though, if there is a risk of looking too hard for faults when the more meaningful evidence is plainly in his favour.

At some stage the time to refer back to the pre-Curle landscape will be over. It is a regular habit of the manager to highlight how dismal United's position was when he was hired to replace Graham Kavanagh.

Ground Zero does not have to be the reference point for ever. It does, though, form an obvious and significant part of the Curle story and those who discard it in the rush to turn him over are choosing to ignore aspects of the full picture.

Carlisle were 24th when he took charge, finished 20th that season, rose to 10th the following year and last season ended sixth.

Yes, the Blues are still in League Two, yes they tailed off poorly in the second half of 2016/17, yes, a flush of new signings could do with coming quickly to ease concerns, and no - nobody is obliged to like everything about the man, whether his public persona, his tactics, his transfer approach or whatever else.

Each of those factors, though, is secondary behind the firm facts. Statistically, each campaign of Curle has produced something better. Next term will be a challenge for sure, but is this honestly the time to be setting the sat-nav for Aberdeenshire and inviting the 53-year-old to hop in?

Even if the speculation was true - there was nothing to suggest Aberdeen actually contacted Carlisle about Curle, before Derek McInnes' decision to reject Sunderland ended the possibility anyway - it would have been an endorsement of United's boss, not a convenient opportunity to get rid.

The Dons, last season, were the second-best team in their country. There will be Europa League football next season. Many of us regard Brunton Park as the centre of every universe but it does not require a hugely open mind to perceive Aberdeen as a step up.

It would mark Curle down as an asset, not a dispensable option. Taking the other view requires an excessive focus on negative areas. Claims the United boss got lucky with Charlie Wyke, for instance, ignores that it was Curle who recruited the striker in the first place, and developed him into a prolific No9.

Lambasting the loss of an automatic promotion place swerves the work that put United so high in the first place. Castigating the points squandered and goals conceded is fine, but only when set against the positive work that still resulted in a play-off finish.

To conclude the Curle reign has somehow hit the skids is based on assumptions and predictions rather than reality to date. This might not mean he deserves a five-year extension but the thirst to get shot of him in some quarters feels over-egged.

At the very least, there are surely more pressing areas of concern at United right now, or at least some uncertainties that would benefit from a settling voice or two.

Talks with Edinburgh Woollen Mill over their financial involvement with the club are said to be "positive", but with little meat on bones. It cannot be confirmed, yet, whether Philip Day's firm intend to be either a backstop or a catalyst.

If the former, then Carlisle would be back in survival mode, coping but not striding forward. It would also clash, surely, with a strategy that sees, according to chief executive Nigel Clibbens, the club "not actively looking" for other outside investment.

If the plan is more front-foot than that, one wonders when there will be evidence of this intention, as well as any public comment to that effect, from EWM. Actions will always outweigh words, but so far they are extremely quiet partners.

On player recruitment, last summer's frontloaded strategy has not been repeated. June 17 is no time to panic while many players are still on holiday, while there is no law that says your best signing has to be your earliest, even if that is how it worked with Nicky Adams last year.

What United could do with, though, is still some evidence of how strong and confident they are able to be. Until then, supporters will see a void and pour worries into it, from the credible to the lurid. If there is any capacity to reassure people in the imminent future, the Blues should take it.

A lack of public comment can easily create the illusion of inactivity. It is an easy trap. On the basis that you can't get behind something you can't see, though, a conclusion to at least some of the chases would help.

If Aberdeen was always a red herring, it would be interesting to know who set that little hare running, and why. Instinct says Curle may need to deliver real success before his career can soar in the way he feels it can and should.

There is also an interesting dynamic at play between when the manager would prefer an extended deal at United (now, presumably) and when the club would like to press on with recent "preliminary" negotiations.

Messages from the top of the club on that subject have been conciliatory, but also without the sense of a hurry. At some point it might approach a knife-edge and we will then get the measure of what either side feels is the best way forward.

Right now, though, it feels like what stability there is at the forefront of the Blues should remain. Curle may not be Merlin in a tracksuit but his performance has been good enough to date.

At the very least, the offers of a lift a couple of hundred miles away should be saved for the ones who truly fail.

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