There’s a remarkable short-sightedness to the clamour for Phil Parkinson to be sacked with immediate effect. Was he the best man for the job? No, though it’s easy to figure out why he was hired, particularly if you’re of the mind that Stewart Donald has a “League One mentality”, which is to say - as is the consensus - that his stewardship of the club is what one would expect of the stewardship of Eastleigh. Parkinson is very much a League One manager, and that really irks a lot of Sunderland fans. But for all that it aches to admit and accept, Sunderland is a very League One team. That’s simply the unavoidable side effect of dropping two divisions and failing to come back up at the first time of asking.
Have no doubt - the buck does ultimately stop at the manager. No one would be wrong to be deeply unhappy with performances under him thus far, and no one would be misguided to offer up the question: “is there someone we can bring in that will do better?” What I have to challenge is the stages traversed to come to the conclusion that follows.
Whether Parkinson was the best choice that the owners could have made when they sought to replace Ross (something which most fans almost universally pined for) is an irrelevance at this point. The real question we - or rather, the owners - should be asking is “what happens when we sack Parkinson? What next?”
There have been plenty of suggestions as to the best way forward (many kicking around on the slick pages of Roker Report - have a gander) and they range from the owners selling to the highest bidder at the earliest opportunity, to implementing a smorgasbord of new directorial roles; intricate and wholesale change to the infrastructure of the club seems to be the order of the day. It’s all a bloody good idea for the most part, but there is a chasm between where we are now and how we get to that target of a more developed club.
It’s big picture and forward thinking, but it can’t happen while our feet are stuck in mud. I feel more than ever we need to be scrutinising the minuscule detail of the circumstances we find ourselves in.
Any mackem living outside a cave for the last decade should by now have a pretty solid appreciation of the pros and cons of sacking managers after short stints at the helm. Frustration isn’t and should never be thought of as a reason to dismiss those predictable problems that may - will - arise from approaching this situation with anything resembling a knee-jerk reaction. We’ve seen it happen enough times to send us careering off a cliff into an unstoppable slide that will only be arrested by our painful, abrupt demise.
Just think for a moment of the potential, catastrophic consequences that could follow a U-turn in the faith shown to Parkinson by Stewart Donald: no manager to replace him; no plan when he does; no guarantee of contacts in place to facilitate said plan; no time to come up with a new one as the window looms; no understanding of the squad to support the plan you don’t have and don’t have time to come up with - how could any of this pay off for us at what everyone is rightly calling a crucial time for our season?
I’ve said on no few occasions that one of the only reasons Parkinson was (un)fortunate enough to land a job of this calibre is what stands out when you read between the lines of his CV, and it’s something I would wager he put a great deal of effort into conveying to his prospective employers when they sat down to discuss his application: his familiarity with this division and everything that entails.
I’m not speaking of something ethereal like a simple state of mind, I’m speaking of something tangible that comes with spending years of a career in one particular sector; contacts developed over those years and through dozens if not hundreds of interactions with coaching staff and players and their representatives, their families. Understanding the ebb and flow and the people that come down this same path we’re on, where they go next and where they want to go next, what they feel they can achieve and what they’re capable of achieving.
Wishful thinking? Perhaps. There’s certainly no evidence of any conversation that took place for me to pore over, and the fan engagement party is well and truly over. This is the conclusion I’ve come to by doing my utmost to view every decision by the owners as a logical move, and finding what little logic there may be in the background for doing so. It comes from trying to sympathise with every seemingly bad decision, and take a stance of optimistic objectivity.
So many complaints about Sunderland by Sunderland fans are based on what’s “on paper”.
The very notion that Parkinson should do better than his predecessor - with the exact same players that failed twice before - is fundamentally flawed, and seems to again stem from the dangerous misconception that the Sunderland team should be walking this league because McGeady’s a name some people recognise, and if they aren’t then it couldn’t possibly be their fault.
No player in this squad is worthy of more than they demonstrate for us week in, week out. This is a massive factor that I think goes sorely underappreciated. What’s more, that lack of appreciation of a critical problem dilutes the case for keeping to the course we plotted before the storm hit.
“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley”. There can be no escaping the truth that whatever Phil Parkinson, with the best intentions, had planned for his first dozen games in charge, it wasn’t the withering displays that followed the (increasingly mythical) Tranmere game.
I have no doubt that he avoided the post-match interview following the Blackpool game because he had no desire to be reminded of the painfully obvious fact that the team is performing terribly. I also have no doubt that everyone really wants to remind him that it’s all looking a bit hodgepodge to say the least, and I understand why they feel the urge to do so. I understand the frustration and I appreciate the desire to force a change where it feels no change will otherwise come.
Tin hat firmly on - burrowed six feet down in a fox hole with a week’s worth of water and a Rubik’s cube to while away the hours as my nonexistent online persona is bombarded with calls for castration and the immediate repeal of my duties as a wannabe journo - I put it to you fine people that change can happen under Phil Parkinson, if we can hold our nerve.
There are no guarantees of anything. Only death and taxes are certain, and for all I know the man most recently entrusted with the imperative promotion of Sunderland AFC is a lemon with no desire to withstand the (mostly justifiable) barrage that comes hand in hand with failing to meet the expectations of football fans as rapidly as humanly possible. But I have to believe otherwise, if only for the sake of my own sanity following this club.
What I do know for certain, is if a plan is in place to make the January transfer window work to our benefit - and you have to believe that such a simple resolution is possible and is the top priority of the owner, manager and staff - kicking Parkinson to the curb right now is a fantastic way of setting fire to that whole concept.
There are two games left until the window opens and six after that until it slams closed, leaving half a season to make the difference. It doesn’t leave us in a great position but it doesn’t cast us adrift if the holes in this old tub can be plugged.
Holding steady for the next eight games isn’t giving up on the season - though it does entertain great risk - but bringing in a new manager without any preparation, and with no guarantees that whoever happens to be available and willing could come close to the level of awareness required to operate on this team (something that can only be gained from time already spent developing such crucial knowledge) is akin to giving up on implementing meaningful change in the squad that the season depends on.
It might be a very small hope, but it’s a damn sight more than the hail mary of ripping up the plans and going back to the drawing board with a big question mark in place of Phil Parkinson. In this unique and dire instance, and with this little time to come up with anything more tangible than hitting and hoping, it’s surely a case of better the devil you know.