I suspect that everyone who does one of these has been poised keyboard at the ready today to pen thoughts on either the end of the custodianship of Phil Parkinson or of the merits of confirming him as manager. It is possible that out of respect following the sad news of the death of Sailor Brown the club has delayed any announcement. If not (and a preview of the cup game against Norwich has now taken the prime spot on the club website), the silence is getting deafening. And, in the words of Thomas Cromwell (well, strictly speaking in the words of Robert Bolt attributed to Cromwell), “there are many kinds of silence”.
The absence to date of any statement confirming Parkinson in the post has to at least increase the chances of him not being retained. With no more matches until the other side of the end of the year and with the January transfer window about to open I cannot see the logic of delaying any confirmation of his staying if he is to stay, unless perhaps a new man is being brought in, his appointment cannot yet be confirmed, and it is intended that Parkinson stays on as assistant (the possibility cannot be ruled out, especially if it costs us more money to pay him off). Yes, he is talking in terms of who the club is targeting to bring in and of consultations with the board over possible signings. But he is duty-bound to talk as if he is staying. Perhaps Richard Murray is still using up his available mobile calls and texts to try to persuade a certain A. Curbishley that there is some good reason (ie good for him) to come back.
By delaying any announcement Murray and the board have lost any opportunity to present retaining Parkinson as a positive decision. Nobody can suggest with a straight face that his record in charge presents the compelling case for an extended appointment that Steve Waggott talked about in his column in the QPR programme. The best that the club could realistically come up with if Parkinson stays is something along the lines of “the improvement in performances since Phil took charge have not yet been reflected in actual results and the board believes that he is the man best placed to help us avoid relegation”. If this is to be the case it would have sounded more convincing a couple of games ago.
There can be a difference between poor decisions and decisions that don’t work out – and like economics football can never be a science as you can never repeat the experiment. Over the past couple of years just about every decision the club has made can be said to have fallen into the latter category, some (especially some signings) obviously make it into both. But I don’t think you can include managerial appointments as obviously poor decisions. As ever it depends on the alternatives available and the circumstances. You can look back on the whole affair and say that whatever alternative path had been taken things couldn’t have turned out worse. But nobody can say for sure things would have been better. Most of the time it was a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t. In my opinion the one decision that was poor was to insist to Curbishley’s replacement that he accept a structure involving Les Reed as number two and Mark Robson as number three rather than trusting the new man to bring in people he would be able to work with. Even then there is no guarantee that things would have turned out better.
After selection process which only served to underline the paucity of the candidates who applied for the job, Billy Davies would have become Charlton manager if he had said ‘yes’ when the post was offered; his strange prevarication opened the way for Iain Dowie, a choice which while not ideal was not widely criticised at the time (except of course by a certain someone who felt a little tangoed at Dowie’s move north). Not long after the board was faced with a choice of persevering with a manager who they doubted could turn things around and whose behaviour seemed to be arousing concern or being criticised for acting too soon. Having decided on a change the options were either to turn back to one or two of the candidates who had applied for the job first time around, launch another possibly extended application process (with no guarantee of anyone better applying than before), or elevating Reed. Even now there are obvious pros and cons from the decision taken.
Once Pardew became available the board acted to get him in, with Reed doing the decent thing and standing aside (and whatever his failings as a manager he deserves respect for what he did with Charlton under Curbishley and the dignity of his departure). No quibbles there. Notwithstanding the considerable problems involved in inheriting someone else’s team and having to oversee numerous comings and goings, as pointed out elsewhere the board could reasonably have expected a better return on its investments under Pardew. And this season his position became increasingly untenable. Once the decision was taken to sack him the board was faced with a similar problem to that of a year ago: whether to risk wasting time that we didn’t have in advertising the post or giving a chance to the man on the spot. Pros and cons again.
Like all football supporters we have delusions of grandeur. But to think that a couple of months ago some were thinking that someone like Sam Allardyce might take the job – and that we could afford someone like him – is a reflection of how we have failed to adjust to our new reality. It is only recently that the pitch announcer has not been reminding us that although we are near the bottom and playing pants a play-off spot was only a few points away. I’m daft enough to think that Curbs could conceivably not dismiss in an instant the idea of returning (and no, this wouldn’t be a perfect solution, just one that would be a damn sight better than anything else within our capabilities).
We all feel the pain of decisions that haven’t succeeded. But spare a thought for Murray. The value of his asset has plummeted over the past 18 months and even then there was the brief prospect of being bailed out by Dubai. Our punishment is to quite possibly endure once again the old Third Division; his own particular Sisyphean pleasure is to continue to pay for the decisions made.
I’m not going to speculate on whether Parkinson stays or goes, or on who should replace him. I don’t know the full range of options. Equally, I’m not going to think about who we should sign, at least not until the process begins, save to highlight that the most staggering statistic for this season is our total for goals conceded at home games. Parkinson is talking in terms of three or four new faces and these are players who will have to come pretty much straight into the first team and gel quickly. It isn’t new faces we’re talking about but another new team.
Instead I’m going to get up a little late, get driven over to the Croix Rousse market to buy a duck or a goose (possibly a Bresse chicken), have a pastis or two once the shopping is done before returning. I’m not going to cook said animal, so the afternoon can be spent in a suitably chilled fashion, the day culminating in traditional festivities. And yes, once refreshed and Eurostar permitting I too will be back at it howling and shouting come Saturday (if only so Murray can enjoy the New Year gift of a cup victory cheque). It’s just that every time I think about singing ‘things can only get better’ I remember when we sang it at Old Trafford at half-time in the cup game, after Schmiekel had been sent off. They didn’t. So with that in mind, I hope all and sundry truly enjoy La Bonne Annee in 2009.