Now that one issue has been decided, the next one seems to be the fate of the manager. I must admit I’ve been inclined to view it as a done deal: that Parkinson will stay. But from talking to others, other blogs, comments etc it seems he’s managed to divide opinion between all available points of view: he should not have been appointed in January as we needed a ‘new broom’ then and need it even more now; he’s had his chance but failed and should go; he might as well stay as he’s the only viable option (as few others would want the job and sacking him will only cost more money that we don’t have); he’s the best man for the job to really turn us around.
Like any investment decision, it’s not easy to separate out previous positions/assumptions when assessing the best options going forward. Those who opposed Parkinson’s appointment in the first place are bound to regard their views as having been vindicated (and let’s face it things could not have turned out any worse, apart for the guy who would have had to write out his settlement cheque), while those who backed it will be inclined to pin less of the blame for relegation on him than on what went before and to focus on some of the positives of late, including the attitude and commitment of the players. Clearly if results were all that counted and money was not an issue Parkinson would be on his way out. But this is not an accountability exercise and no investment decision should be based purely on what has happened in the past (which is not to say the past is irrelevant).
Before I’m (justifiably) accused of sitting on the fence, here is my basic position. I think the decision to appoint Parkinson in the first place was reasonable in the circumstances (including a belief that there was little prospect of a ‘new broom’ approach working in the time available) and that he should stay. This has to be grounded on the opinion that he is the best man available to do the job – and in my opinion ‘the job’ for next season translates into the club re-establishing a sound financial position and the team being in contention to go back up. To think of ourselves as automatic favourites for promotion is quite frankly ridiculous until we have some idea of what sort of team might take the pitch in August (or whenever the season starts). It’s likely to be a mix of half of what we have now, one or two additions (basically cheaper options to cover positions that will become vacant), and some of the younger players. Whether that mix will be sufficient to secure immediate promotion is to my mind entirely unknowable; I hope that next season will end with us if not promoted with a developing and improving team that would leave us confident in the prospects for the following season – and beyond.
In short, I don’t believe in a quick fix. Whoever is in charge at the start of next season has to be overseeing a long-term plan for rebuilding the club. If that has to be under a new manager, this has to be because the board identifies a candidate likely to do a better job than Parkinson. I don’t see the merits in sacking him and throwing the job open to applications. Let’s face it, when we were an ‘established’ Premiership club (in my opinion we never were because with limited crowd capacity and financial resources we – unlike a Sunderland or even Birmingham – only ever had to have one bad season and it was over) the vacancy attracted the likes of Dowie, Davies, Taylor etc. I shudder to think who would apply this time around.
There are a couple of names usually mentioned. Paul Ince and Tony Adams. Us removed from the world of football can only go on gut feelings here. Personally I’ve never been convinced of Adams’ abilities as a manager (and nothing he did at Portsmouth persuades me otherwise, including a wonderful touchside rant at a player who simply ignored him and carried on talking to Adams’ assistant). Ince is a different matter. A natural winner as a player and a lot to prove now as a manager. Would he come to Charlton? That has to be down to his personal expectations and demands, things I know nothing about. He may well feel that his interests are best served waiting for a Championship job to crop up, or that whatever terms are available are insufficient.
This does mean that the ball is in the board’s court. Whether or not there was an element of accentuating the positive, at the AGM it was clear that Parkinson had the support of the directors. It was stressed that he was the man they wanted to replace Curbishley (but were denied permission to talk to him) and from the comments made it seems evident that the board was a good deal more comfortable with Parkinson than Pardew (he’s the pundit now selling himself as the ‘ex-West Ham manager’). That can have negative connotations if ‘comfortable’ means unchallenging. But I don’t think that’s the case. Remember the bloggers’ meeting with Richard Murray at the start of the season and Drinking During the Game’s comment about him appearing tired. Now all the talk is about his enthusiasm for the task ahead. I don’t think it’s coincidence – or a positive to be overlooked that the board and team management working well together is necessary for our recovery.
So, if the board has lost faith in Parkinson fair enough. If so, and someone like Ince is available and up for the job, make the change. But if the directors are of the same opinion as earlier in the season what has happened since is not a sound basis for sacking Parkinson; neither is avoiding responsibility for a decision by simply doing what it is felt the fans might want (even though there is the imperative of season ticket sales). This does mean, I think, that the time is right for the dreaded vote of confidence – or not. A clear statement of support for Parkinson from the board is needed if he is staying.
If relations between the board and the manager are better than before, that still leaves those between the manager and the supporters. I don’t think its an accident that Parkinson has been going out of his way to praise the attitude of the fans of late – and neither do I think it’s an accident that the attitude of the players has improved now that booing by the crowd is off the agenda (it could of course return if there is a lame performance tomorrow night as there’s no excuse for throwing in the towel even now). Unity of purpose this season has left Stoke to enjoy at least one more season in the top flight. Wagstaff and others have quite rightly been stressing the need for us to regain something similar. In my view that means the board stating clearly the attitude towards Parkinson in the near future and us supporters backing the decision.