Given the frustrations and anger surrounding Sunderland’s failure to gain promotion from League One again, it’s no surprise fans are already talking about our manager’s future.
It’s the easiest place to lay blame whenever a football club has failed and underachieved. The manager is the figurehead of the football club and the easiest person to replace when you need to do something that symbolises change.
They get too much credit when a team wins and too much blame when they don’t.
Having said that, across two roundtable articles on the Roker Report that can be found here (part one, part two), I was surprised to see only one contributor vote in favour of keeping Parkinson on, and even then, Philip’s “60-40%” split was hardly a ringing endorsement.
Ultimately, the key reason that Sunderland shouldn’t be looking to change manager is situational.
Sunderland are facing one of the most challenging off seasons in the club’s entire history. Optimistic projections for next season in England’s third tier foresee mass cutbacks and layoffs and a move towards a league-wide salary cap.
More pessimistic theories predict more clubs could follow Bury in going out of business, and that there could be further delays and maybe even no League One season until it’s safe for fans to come back and fill stadiums.
In these trying times do Sunderland really want to pay out a manager with two years left on his contract? Do the club want more uncertainty entering the most uncertain off-season British football has seen in over 70 years?
Most importantly, it comes back to ownership and Sunderland’s current set-up and just how difficult it will be for any manager to succeed until Stewart Donald sells up.
The club has squandered its financial advantage over the other 23 League One clubs and under two managers failed to display a cohesive strategy when it comes to recruiting players.
Quite frankly a majority of the defenders bought since Richard Hill has been in charge of ‘football operations’ and Tony Coton has been the head of recruitment haven’t been good enough. Our disastrous striker situation since Josh Maja’s departure has been well-documented and surely could have been avoided had the people in charge of football operations at the club had a more advanced strategy for buying and selling players.
If you can’t trust ownership and those in senior positions on the footballing sides of things to do their jobs properly and put a coach in a position to succeed, then unfortunately you need an unrealistic football manager who can do a bit of everything.
A magician who can identify the best players to sign, whilst leading Sunderland through a rigorous three-game-a-week schedule, whilst improving the team on the training ground. Now in 2020, given the advances made in football analytics in recent years and the reliable scouting networks that smarter EFL teams have in place, this shouldn’t all be the job of one person.
Yet when considering how impossible it is to have faith in others at the club to make life easier for the manager, you need someone with complete confidence in their ability to identify players and although this is the most overrated word in football, you need someone with ‘experience’. Parkinson has a CV comparable with anyone we could realistically get to replace him and his achievements in management are superior to a lot of the candidates put forward in four round tables on this website discussing his merits.
Putting faith in a man with two promotions as a manager in League One is preferable to more uncertainty and more upheaval at a time there are already so many concerning unknowns regarding the club.
Okay, I get it, Parkinson is far from blameless here too. The 52-year-old oversaw a two month stretch where the team played miserably, and in a normal season where a team hadn’t gone bust and Bolton Wanderers hadn’t almost followed them Sunderland could have been dragged into an unthinkable relegation scrap.
Parkinson certainly deserves some blame for the way the club’s form torpedoed after the sacking of Jack Ross. From the outside looking in, our players didn’t seem to believe in his approach or his methods in the build-up to Christmas.
Once Lynden Gooch was fit and Charlie Wyke returned saving us the pain of watching Will Grigg stroll around up front it all changed. Parkinson did create an identity and had the club playing in an effective system.
Defensively the team kept way more clean sheets than Ross could manage with the same players. Beat-downs in home games against Rochdale, Bristol Rovers and Wycombe Wanderers felt different to the occasional one-sided result we achieved under Ross.
These were games we dominated from start to finish playing fast effective football, overwhelming the opposition by creating a host of chances.
On the other hand, the Parkinson’s lack of rotation and unwillingness to give meaningful minutes to January signings can be directly linked to Sunderland’s desperately poor turn of form just before play stopped in League One. The curtailment of the League One season means we can’t truly judge just how costly the lack of rotation might have proved in our final run in, or whether the Sunderland Twitter truism that the team looked far fitter following Parkinson’s takeover would prove to be correct over an extended period of time.
Ultimately it comes down to one question - who would come to Sunderland now that you could confidently say would do a better job? Praying old managers with nothing to gain like Neil Warnock would jump at the challenge seems idealistic. Ignoring Roy Keane’s coaching career post-Sunderland because he “gets it” is equally naïve.
Parkinson’s managerial CV combined with the clear signs and examples of areas where the improvement during his short spell at the Stadium of Light should be enough to earn him another go at getting us out of the third tier.
The only time it would make logical sense for Parkinson’s job security to be seriously discussed would be if by some miracle the club is sold this summer. If prospective owners came in with their own plan and direction for the club, that moved on from the disease of short-termism that has infected and damaged the club for well over a decade, then it would be hard to make a case for keeping a stopgap manager.
But with Sunderland in its current state, I don’t see the argument that there’s an obvious upgrade who’d do better in such unnecessarily poor circumstances.