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Curbishley clashes with club captain Neill over leadership jibe

Alan Curbishley's fraught season at West Ham was made worse by a dressing-room row with the club captain, Lucas Neill, after his team's 4-1 win over Blackburn Rovers on Saturday.

It is understood that, in front of the West Ham team, Neill told Curbishley that the players had "kept you in a job" and that the manager himself needed to do more to lead the team.

The clash came despite the second victory of the season for the West Ham manager and was with one of his more vocal, if not popular, first-team players. With a squad full of difficult personalities to manage, feelings were running high in the immediate aftermath of the game when Curbishley was told by Neill that he needed to "inspire" his players. West Ham had snatched two goals in injury time to make the scoreline look lot more comfortable than the match had been.

There was a stand-off between Neill and Curbishley, although it is not expected that the player will be disciplined for his outburst. When he spoke to the press after the Blackburn match, Curbishley admitted that it was "a bit lively in the dressing-room afterwards because we [were] a little frustrated" at letting Blackburn get "back into it". According to sources that was an understatement, with Matthew Upson and Craig Bellamy also involved in an angry exchange.

Despite his often beleaguered aspect, Curbishley continues to have the support of most of the dressing room, although it came as a blow to him to have been confronted by Neill. The outspoken Australian international was one of Curbishley's first signings when he came to the club from Blackburn Rovers in January last year and was made captain soon after that.

The West Ham board has made a public show of faith in the manager, despite refusing to back him with any substantial funds in the transfer market this summer. The sale of Anton Ferdinand to Sunderland and the unremarkable incoming players, two more of whom arrived yesterday, have all been interpreted as a sign of the Icelandic owner Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson's dissatisfaction with Curbishley. However, after two victories they are persisting with the manager for now.

West Ham had hoped to make an announcement when the transfer window shut on Monday night but it was not until yesterday that they announced that Curbishley had been able to add to his squad. The Italian striker David Di Michele, who plays for Torino, and the Congolese left-back Herita Ilunga, of Toulouse, have both joined on season-long loans with a view to a permanent move. West Ham claimed that they would be permitted by the Premier League to complete the deals after the deadline because of a delay in the release of the international transfer certificates.

Given their recent transfer record in the signing of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, whose acquisition two years ago was so mired in controversy that it earned West Ham a £5.5m fine and very nearly a points deduction, it is surprising that they are seeking leeway on the rules.

However, the loan system is often used by clubs to facilitate permanent transfer deals that are too late for the deadline, such as Jermain Defoe's switch from Tottenham to Portsmouth at the end of January.

More pertinently the club said that they also hope to sign the Ghanaian international Stephen Appiah, who is a free agent and able to move outside the transfer window, in the next week. Appiah, who has played for Juventus and Fenerbahce, is an established figure in European football but the signing of Di Michele and Ilunga will do little to convince West Ham fans that they are destined to improve on last season's 10th-place finish. Di Michele, 32, who has six caps for Italy, and Ilunga, 26, are not the transfer window's most sought-after individuals. Their signings, plus those of the Swiss international Valon Behrami and Jan Lustuvka, represent all the additions to the club that the director of football, Gianluca Nani, has been able to make this summer.

Ilunga is a replacement for George McCartney, who left the club last week to rejoin Sunderland.

Belfast Telegraph

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