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Stewart Donald & Phil Parkinson: Searching for answers to Sunderland’s problems

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Stewart Donald is the only person who can ensure Sunderland execute the fading opportunity of an escape from League One to the Championship in 2020.

Sunderland Press Conference - Stadium of Light Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Communication - it’s important in football; no more so than at Sunderland.

Ellis Short was deeply criticised for his silence upon his departure from Wearside, Donald and Methven were lauded for their open approach on their landing in the summer Sunderland sun. A last minute play off final defeat, on to manager number two, and senior members of the club’s hierarchy disappearing faster than our automatic promotion hopes - that same communication is now widely accepted as misplaced and amateur.

Whilst a tolerance of some misplaced and mistimed statements should be acceptable, after all, Donald was taking on the challenge of a lifetime, which was even bigger than he could ever have imagined. What shouldn’t be questioned are the angst, anger and frustration from Sunderland fans at the startling lack of accountability for the current state of our club.

At the very top the absent Donald and departed Methven cascade an acceptance of unaccountability down throughout the management, coaching and playing staff. Ultimately this has embedded throughout the club as its new culture.

The fabled ‘rotten core’ became synonymous with Sunderland, however the issues experienced were far greater than any individual. Donald seemed to ride the wave of hope and expectation upon his arrival, yet that wave began to decrease at the beginning of this campaign, and finally crashing down after Parkinson made it no wins in 8. The departure of Methven and accompanied silence of Donald echoed a sentiment of carelessness, disregard, and lack of accountability from Sunderland’s majority shareholder.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

With this free rein of responsibility and discreet ownership, Parkinson has seen the opportunity to alight with those principles and has duly obliged. Removing himself from Saturdays post match media gathering - the opportunity to demonstrate his thoughts, experience and leadership - shows a distinct lack of accountability.

Jose Mourinho has been the master of protecting his players from blame whilst seemingly avoiding it himself throughout his managerial career. Short sharp answers, sometimes a rant, sometimes a monologue of frustration - he could encapsulate his audience to a point where his response became the talking point itself, the very issue that produced such a tirade, dissipating into forgotten history.

Whilst nobody can reasonably compare Phil Parkinson to the special one, some professionalism and will to overcome would have been the bare minimum that a man who wants to turn a sinking ship around would display.

The manager electing to not even attempt some explanation or distraction? Well, that speaks louder than any of his words ever could.

It’s astounding to many that a manager of Parkinson’s experience can’t see that avoiding a post match interview would bring nothing but further angst to the supporters he’s desperate to win over. It perhaps brings Parkinson’s character into question, showing that he’s unable to motivate himself to even attempt to outgrow the culture that has now been built within the club. Whilst Parkinson didn’t plant the seeds of failure all on his own, he has tended to them daily, ensuring a thriving fertile crop. Saturday’s no-show was another shower to accelerate that dank overgrowth.

Sunderland v Southend United - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

McGeady then. Axed from the squad and seemingly the club, there’s no doubting that the Irishman can be a tough nut to crack. Yet, under Jack Ross his motivation and application wasn’t an issue, even with a broken foot.

Why has it suddenly become untenable? Only Phil has that answer.

In his interview with the ‘Coaches Voice’, the ex Bolton manager spoke of his communication medium, more specifically the timing, “there would be things you would say on a Sunday that you would definitely not say on a Monday”. It appears since his appointment at Sunderland, that verbal philosophy has rolled into Saturday as well.

But who could really blame him? Donald has disappeared, along with seemingly everybody else - why shouldn’t he take a break from the chaos? After all, in his mind at least, he wasn’t the cause of this.

Parkinson probably feels that no matter what he says, it’s a losing battle. Every word analysed, every statement taken out of context, such as his statement on accepting a point at Gillingham. In the heat of the moment, a goal down with only a few minutes to go, it’s hard to disagree that a point would have been better than a loss. But this is Sunderland, in League One - to a cash-strapped Bolton or struggling Colchester that is reasonable, to one of England’s most decorated and well-supported club it’s incomprehensible.

Apathy and unaccountability rules the day. At least it did Saturday. With almost two weeks until the next fixture, without a win in 8, it seems unreasonable to ignore the supporters, media and ultimately the state in which the club finds itself.

Sunderland v Blackpool - Sky Bet League One Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

Until Donald returns, until an acceptance of mistakes and removal of a strategy that can be largely compared to that of many non league clubs is implemented, the rot will continue to set in, the roots of a stifling culture will grow further, entwining themselves into the very fabric of Sunderland once more. The failures of the club and Phil Parkinson will continue to dance their slow jig towards a footballing insignificance and financial oblivion.

Donald is walking that tight rope which appears to dampen and thin with every moment Parkinson remains in charge of this soon-to-be irreparable club. Accountability starts with communication, accepting you were wrong, accepting you want to change those decisions that has set you on the road you walk down.

Parkinson’s words and actions have suggested it - his decision to avoid Saturday’s call shows he’s no longer prepared to fight that battle and change direction. In the modern era of football, humility in failure is no longer present.

Stewart Donald is the only person who can ensure Sunderland execute the fading opportunity of an escape from League One to the Championship in 2020.

As symbolic as it would be, Parkinson’s last game should be anything other than a comprehensive victory to former employers Bolton Wanderers - although the mood seems to suggest Donald sees that differently.

An attendance plummet from 47,000 on Boxing Day last year to probably less than half of that for the next fixture is as good of an indication as any that the supporters and city are fed up with Phil, and require a character bigger than whatever lingering mood hangs over the Stadium of Light to break through it and ignite a fire in the belly of Wearside once more.

Only Stewart Donald can implement those crucial changes, and it starts with accountability.