Keith Curle has hit back at criticism of Carlisle United’s financial approach under his management – and said success during his tenure “shocked” club bosses.

The Oldham boss’s Blues reign from 2014-18 has often been referred to by current United chiefs for the level of bonuses the club were paying players.

Director of football David Holdsworth has described it as a “stupid” bonus scheme and something that saddled Carlisle with outgoings they had to rein in for the good of the club.

Curle, though, pointed out that every deal struck was signed off by his then United paymasters, who remain the club's current owners.

And he said that, after the hierarchy agreed to put the bonus scheme in place, club chiefs did not expect United’s performances to be good enough to activate so many payments to players.

“The shock they had was that we were being successful,” he said in an interview on BBC Radio Cumbria after yesterday’s 0-0 draw at Brunton Park.

“It was all being geared to us operating in the top half of table.

“They gave that without understanding or believing this football club and team could be successful [after a period of struggle].

“And then they’re moaning about paying bonuses when the team’s winning games, scoring goals, keeping clean sheets?

“Those are incentives. It would be different if I was committing players to exorbitant [basic] wages. All the players were on below average wages for League Two.

“Every deal that got struck got signed off,” he added.

United changed their financial approach after Curle’s departure, amid the influence of backers Edinburgh Woollen Mill, but three years later find themselves third bottom of the Football League.

The Bristolian said he had heard criticism of how things had unfolded during his reign, and that he wanted to respond.

“I think leaving in the play-offs isn’t a bad place, or three top 10 finishes after a season of survival,” he told BBC Cumbria's United commentator James Phillips.

“I’ve heard the rumours and what has been said about the infrastructure of what I put in place [that was apparently] financially ruining the football or had ruined the club’s plans.

“David [Holdsworth] wasn’t here when I joined. Myself, John Nixon, Andrew Jenkins and Steven Pattison…we had to make a plan.

“They didn’t want to be bottom of the division and with the threat of going out of the Football League.

“We came up with a plan whereby we’d offer below average wages but with good incentives.”

Curle said the bonus scheme was designed to trigger payments if United were in the top 10, top seven or top three, and enabled players to earn “good money” at Brunton Park.

He said it allowed the club to sign players like Jabo Ibehre, Charlie Wyke, Nicky Adams, Mike Jones and Jamie Devitt who would not normally have travelled to Cumbria to join the Blues.

“If a criticism can be laid it will be that the club didn’t make as much money as they could have done [during my time there] because they had to [pay] incentives,” Curle said.

“That’s greed, not mismanagement.”

Curle referred to the revenue earned from cup ties against Liverpool and Everton in the 2015/16 season, plus the sale of star striker Wyke in the 2017 January window.

The latter came when Bradford triggered a £250,000 clause in his contract.

Curle said the departure of the frontman “killed” United’s promotion hopes in the 2016/17 season, when they were in the automatic promotion running for long spells before fading in the second half of the campaign and losing to Exeter in the play-offs.

Curle said he had urged the club to hand Wyke an improved contract beforehand.

“The club didn’t listen to everything I said,” Curle said.

“Charlie Wyke was on 18 goals in December and I said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t sell him now, offer him a new contract, giving him a big bonus to stay and sell him at the end of the season'.

“He was sold for 250 grand and one pound. Charlie would have scored 30-35 goals that season and been a £1m player.”

The News & Star has invited United’s hierarchy to respond to Curle’s comments.

The manager moved on to Northampton in 2018 and is now at the helm of Carlisle’s fellow strugglers Oldham.

He described Saturday’s game as “a nervy encounter” but said a clean sheet from his side was “acceptable”.

Curle's BBC Cumbria interview can be heard here