ANYONE who knows Keith Curle will have been surprised to hear him called ‘quiet’.
He was a fearsome competitor during his own playing days, and football supporters, including those on the red and white half of the Steel City divide, remember the former England and Sheffield United defender flying into tackles and barking out instructions as he delivered yet another uncompromising display.
But that was how one member of Notts County’s squad described the 48-year-old soon after his appointment at Meadow Lane. And, surprisingly, it is a portrait the man himself recognises.
“That’s right, I didn’t say much at all to the team when I first came in,” Curle told The Star last night. “All I wanted to do was keep a watching brief if you like because I wanted to understand exactly what was in the dressing room.
“I don’t just mean in terms of ability. I mean in terms of character too. Right the way throughout the squad.
“You’ve got to know the type of people you are dealing with before you know how best to motivate them.”
Curle, who made over half a century of league appearances for United after arriving from Wolverhampton Wanderers in the summer of 2000, has clearly used the information gathered during those first few weeks at the helm well. Indeed, Sheffield Wednesday became the first side to beat County since his arrival last month when goals from Ryan Lowe and Gary Madine effectively settled Saturday’s contest in the Midlands before Lloyd Sam’s late consolation.
That result left Curle’s side sixth in the League One table; 14 points behind second-placed United who return to action following a 1-1 draw with Tranmere Rovers when they make short journey south tonight.
With Jonathan Forte – who started his career at Bramall Lane – and former United full-back Jon Harley both expected to feature for the hosts, Curle said: “I was familiar with a few of the lads here when I came in but not all of them and that’s why I felt it was important to learn about them.
“At his best, Jonathan is unplayable. He’s got pace to burn and he can score goals.
“We’ve tried to give him a little bit of freedom and not constrain him to a set role.”
Forte, on loan from Southampton, has responded with five in his last six appearances and should spearhead County’s charge against his boyhood team this evening.
Curle, of course, is no management rookie, having enjoyed spells at the helm of Mansfield, Chester and Torquay before joining Neil Warnock’s staff first at Crystal Palace and then Queens Park Rangers where he helped lead the Londoners into the Premier League.
“I’m really pleased to be back in management,” Curle, who together with Warnock and assistant Mick Jones, departed Loftus Road in January, said. “Notts County are a really good club and a really progressive club behind the scenes.
“The chairman and his board are very keen to establish strong links with the community and that’s also something which appealed. It reminds me of QPR in that sense because when Neil, Mick and I first went in there it had a really welcoming feel and that’s vitally important.
“There were good pros in the dressing room and that’s important because it means they police themselves. I’m trying to create something similar here and I think we can do that because of the character I’ve seen.”
QPR’s return to the top flight was the subject of a recent BBC documentary - “The Four Year Plan” - which painted a less than flattering picture of then chairman Gianni Paladini’s reign. Curle, though, has an altogether different take on the larger than life Italian.
“When Gianni left QPR, the heartbeat of the club went as well,” he said.
“People have a certain idea about what he was like but he was a focal point and a figurehead. He had agents and representatives of this player and that player constantly telephoning him but he was really good at filtering out what those of us on the football side needed to know and all of the superfluous stuff that would just get in the way.”
One to watch
Former Sheffield United forward Jonathan Forte has been in spectacular form of late. Claimed a hat-trick in Notts County’s 4-2 victory at The Valley earlier this month. Has hit the target five times in 10 appearances since arriving on loan from Southampton.
Sheffield United beat Notts County 2-1 at Bramall Lane earlier this season. They also won their last visit to Meadow Lane - in January 1999 - 4-3. Notts County have won 22 of the previous 74 meetings between these two sides with United emerging victorious in 42.