Phil Parkinson’s form as Sunderland manager has potentially been the worst in our history. I couldn’t disagree with the chants of “sacked in the morning” aimed at him on Tuesday night, but I also can’t think what exactly I’d want to see him do differently that would have a significant impact on the team’s performances.
I struggle to form any kind of convincing argument in favour of Parkinson apart from clichés about “time” and “stability”, and I completely agree that major surgery is needed to change this team in January, but the problems go back before Parkinson’s appointment or even Ross’ sacking, and go above any manager of the club.
It was clear to me in the summer that the leadership at the club had taken their eyes off the ball, in a quite literal sense. The owners’ attentions were understandably fixed entirely on the potential for a takeover by Mark Campbell, and the installation of John Park as Head Scout/Director of Football.
This clearly had a number of knock-on effects.
Transfer business was delayed until late in the window, a staple of Sunderland summers. Furthermore, Ross was reportedly presented with a list of targets that John Park was to sign and spent time vetting and approving the list. A complete waste of time.
I’d imagine that Tony Coton would have seen the apparent writing on the wall at this point and himself mentally checked out, sensing his long-term future was not at Sunderland. Similarly, the radio silence we had all summer from the usually open and communicative Donald and Methven suggested they had also washed their hands of responsibility for the long-term success of the club.
This is where the clear and obvious absence of someone in a Director of Football role is at its most apparent. Like any modern football club, Sunderland needs someone who is technically qualified, experienced, and has a significant network in the professional game to formulate and implement a long term plan for the footballing side of the operation.
Donald and Methven are obviously successful and experienced businessmen, with a spattering of football experience, but apart from having massive amounts of cash are no more qualified than any other football fan to actually run the footballing operations of a professional club of Sunderland’s stature.
It is completely fine for them to focus their energies on investment and takeover talks, but to neglect the footballing side to do this is ludicrously irresponsible.
Talk of a “Dortmund Model” early in their tenure at the club has proven to be a complete non-starter. This sensible notion of developing and signing young players to sell for a profit has fallen completely by the wayside as we have signed a number of journeymen and utterly mediocre squad players, as well as veterans on the wrong side of the age curve who have failed to inject leadership and street-wisdom into the team.
Yes, the club desperately needed bodies and some experienced heads to even form a twenty-five man squad last year, but this lack of clarity and intelligent recruitment continued into this summer.
The signings of Jordan Willis and George Dobson were promising, representing targeted acquisitions of young and proven players for this division, but apart from Luke O’Nien I can’t think of any other transfers we’ve made in League One that match that profile.
Instead, we’ve repeatedly relied on players on the wrong side of thirty, with no resale value. Thirty-two year old free agent centre back Joel Lynch has appeared completely mediocre, the signing of Grant Leadbitter was nice to see but he has failed to impress at all on the pitch, and the mercurial talents of Chris Maguire has frankly been a shadow of the player we saw last season.
The fact we didn’t address the team relying on moments of magic from two thirty-plus wingers in Aiden McGeady and Chris Maguire, signing young and athletic deputies who could share the burden this season, is baffling. No other promotion candidates in this division play or recruit in this way.
Compare our business to Peterborough and you’ll probably be left as frustrated as I am. With a fraction of the resources available, they have implemented an aggressive, intelligent transfer policy that not only sees them making more profit on signings, but playing better football and getting better results than us this season.
Throughout this period, the infuriating lack of pace and athleticism in the squad has continued to be utterly neglected. We still have a diminutive team with only Watmore and Kimpioka offering any semblance of speed, invariably off of the bench. The failure to address this at all has been criminal.
On the pitch and off, there is no clear plan for the fans to see or the players to follow.
Do we want to sign promising young players with resale potential or veteran free transfers? Do we want to hire a hungry young manager that will grow with the club or someone with a proven track record? Do we want to play attractive entertaining football or win at all costs?
This is why I can’t see why sacking the manager would actually improve anything in the long-term. Both Ross and Parkinson have been undone before they even managed a game by the failures of the recruitment team and executive owners to plan for the long-term success of this club.