Phil Parkinson’s appointment at Sunderland has been met with a muted response from the fanbase and that is understandable. Not necessarily anything to do with Parkinson himself of course, it’s the expectation that often dulls the delivery in these situations. Amid talks of a potential takeover by very wealthy Americans many saw a phoenix stirring in the ashes of our club.
With Ross departing some of the names bandied around as replacements initially were optimistic at best, ludicrous at worst. Roy Keane, Chris Hughton and even a return for Big Sam were proffered as potential replacements for the vacant seat. Once the initial clamour for a marquee management appointment had passed the list was whittled down to a few prospects. Ainsworth, Stendel, Parkinson and Cook. With the exception of Cook, possibly, those all seemed much more realistic for where the club finds itself. The other name linked was Kevin Phillips.
Now for sentimental reasons Phillips would be a huge statement, but take a moment. Yes, all managers have to start somewhere, but at a time when promotion is vital for the club would we really want to take a risk on a manager who lacked experience? The combination of expectation and inexperience was too volatile a risk for either the club or for Phillips himself if we are to be entirely honest. I certainly wouldn’t want to be looking at SKP at the end of a season where we have failed and saying that he needs to go. A bright history would be tarnished if that were to happen. Perhaps that’s being too risk averse and expecting the worst when in actual fact he may well be the best manager in the world, but we all have a bit of the old cynic in us at times.
So, Parkinson it is; and whilst I am not exactly firing off party poppers at the announcement it’s probably time to look at the positives. The main positive is the experience which was lacking in some of the other candidates. Parky has both played in the lower leagues and managed in the lower leagues. He knows what this league is about. Promotion with Colchester in his first job was a great achievement; they were unfancied having been relegation candidates when he first took over. This put him on the radar of Hull who snatched him as a bright young prospect. It didn’t work out at Hull and heavy defeats meant he left the club by mutual consent. His time at Charlton proved largely uneventful, the highest point was finishing fourth, they subsequently lost the play off semi final.
It was at Bradford that his star rose again. He became the first, and remains the only, manager to take a team from the fouth tier of English Football to a major cup final; a huge feat despite a heavy loss at Wembley. He received the Outstanding Managerial Achievement Award for that cup run, more importantly in the same season he secured promotion with Bradford. It’s also worth noting that his cup exploits didn’t end there. An FA Cup run saw them beat Chelsea and *ahem* some team in red and white on their way to the quarter finals.
The Chelsea result saw Bradford fans labelling him the real Special One. He moved on to Bolton and secured promotion to the Championship at the first time of asking despite an EFL transfer embargo. Parkinson left Bolton largely because he felt his position had become untenable due to boardroom wranglings. The fact that Bolton narrowly escaped the same fate as Bury suggests he made the right decision and so he arrives at Sunderland with a history of getting teams to the right end of League One. His championship record is less impressive, but we can worry about that if we get promoted.
The other criticism is of his style of play. Big strikers, big centre halves and some fairly long hoofs in between them. His style is direct with little flair by all accounts. I have concerns how our squad fits with those instructions and what this means for the more creative players in our ranks. What I don’t have concerns over is whether the style of play will entertain me. I made that mistake once before when I decried the appointment of a certain Mr Allardyce based on what I knew about his style of play. In recent years, despite the style of play, they were some of the most entertaining times watching Sunderland. When you’re winning games you’re enjoying games and if Parkinson delivers results which see us promoted then I’m not certain there will be many saying they would rather have stayed down and been more stylish. The criticism of style is more relevant when the results are suffering, as Ross found to his cost.
I’m not going to tell everyone to get behind the manager and give him a chance because I know you will. There may not be the fanfare that Kevin Phillips would have brought as he took to the dugout for the first time but everyone who goes along to Wycombe is there for one reason. To follow Sunderland. We have a job to do and it’s time to get our heads down and do it, fanfare can come later. With Parkinson at the helm we may start to see draws turn into wins and if that happens we’ll all be wondering what the lack of fuss was all about.