By Luke Lockwood
I’ll mention it straight away – I don’t get to as many City games as I would like because I play football on a Saturday and would always pick playing over watching. I go when I can and was a season ticket holder for the majority of the 10 year decline in league position. I have seen the worst times of Bradford City and also the best, and right now – despite the terrible relegation form we are enduring – this is nowhere near the worst.
Perhaps I am less angry than others as I do not have to put myself through the pain of enduring another 90 minutes every week; and agreement amongst all is that the last two performances in particular have been completely indefensible.
I have no issue with people complaining following abject performances, as I have done on many occasions over the years, including many match reports and opinion pieces either here or previously to Boy from Brazil. However, I think the current criticism of Phil Parkinson is over the top, despite a very disappointing end to our first stab at League One and we are entering a stage where any reason to question him is jumped upon.
Some criticisms he has been charged with this year are absurd, and I’ll begin with those just to get them out of the way. Most ironic of all is that he is criticised for not bedding in more young players and building for the future, with Oli McBurnie being the obvious candidate. It’s quite frankly laughable that as fans we expect Parkinson to build for the 2-3 years down the line when he is coming under pressure less than a year after delivering promotion and a League Cup final.
When McBurnie has been in the side he has proved that – although promising and technically gifted – he is not ready for the step up yet and Parkinson is right to protect him. After scoring goals for fun in the youths, the immediate pressure and expectation of the large City crowd may prove too much for a 17-year-old boy.
The same applies to the following recurring argument, “Why doesn’t he sign that Gregory lad at Halifax who’s scoring for fun” – Jake Speight or Ross Hannah anybody? Who’s to say we do not have people watching him, or have had people watching him and have decided he is not good enough for league level, or in fact that he may cost too much? Crawley Town had three bids turned down in January. If Parkinson signed Gregory he would still take time to adapt to League One football and would not be the quick fix that all City fans crave.
Parkinson definitely deserves his fair share of criticism for this season, but he doesn’t have a magic wand to guarantee success. Did we all think it would be plain sailing back to the Championship now? Surely we have experienced enough heartache over the years for any of us to be foolish enough to think that?
He has got it wrong at times. Perhaps he put too much faith in those players that got us promoted and to the League Cup final. These include players from the same crop that were unanimously agreed upon as the best squad since the Premier League, and nobody complained when their contracts were extended.
We currently can’t even decide amongst ourselves who is good and who isn’t, and the only players we seem to get wholehearted agreement on are Stephen Darby, Andrew Davies (when fit) and Gary Jones – who himself came in for criticism earlier in the season. It also seems like James Hanson has finally won over his doubters, as Aaron Mclean becomes their target for not scoring enough.
Depending on who you speak to, Rory McArdle is either a very good partner for Andrew Davies or a League Two player; Nathan Doyle is either easily a Championship player or a liability who will go missing for a third of a season; and Mclean is either a playmaking, assist machine who will eventually add goals or a past it 30-year-old looking for his final pay cheque.
Yes there are those who we have all identified as not good enough or surplus to requirements. Garry Thompson, Matt Taylor, Rafa De Vita, but Parkinson has most likely also come to this realisation and will either release them or try to move them on in the summer.
We can also look at his inability to plan for the inevitable departure of Nakhi Wells. Mclean could prove himself to be a top quality capture, but it obviously will take some adjusting either to fit him into our style of play or for us to build our game around his. Certainly, the slow progress being made does suggest Parkinson was inadequately prepared for how we would adapt to losing the focal point of our game.
However, it may be that Parkinson thought we had enough to maintain our League One status when Wells left, and was putting in preparations for next year. Mclean seems the player who is desperate for his midfield to get up in support or beyond him, as shown in how he created goals for Gary Jones at the start. Alas, Jones is no longer of an age where he has the legs to do so week in, week out. Parkinson looking at other options in the centre of the park would suggest he is planning for that.
On the other hand, Parkinson may have taken a gamble at the start of the season on Nakhi Wells, James Meredith, Andrew Davies, Kyel Reid and co being capable of mounting a better challenge this year than they have. Unfortunately gambling does involve an element of luck, which Parkinson has been without. Those four significant players have all missed a large chunk of the season – Nakhi Wells may have been on Bradford’s books until January, but he stopped playing for City in December.
We must remember that Parkinson was not in charge at this level last year, he wasn’t watching the quality and style required to be successful and it is a while since he was last managing in League One. He has had this year to assess what is required and make us upwardly mobile for next year.
We can all agree that his summer signings were not of the required quality, but this coming summer is when we should judge Parkinson on his signings. Remember this is the man who recruited Stephen Darby, Gary Jones, Nathan Doyle and James Meredith, following a less than convincing two-thirds of a season where he just about kept us in the Football League.
Indeed, if there is anything we can take from experience it is that Parkinson has shown us he is a manager who learns and adapts but not necessarily with immediate results. Look at the way he implemented tactics following the League Cup humiliation to produce the performance that steamrolled Northampton on the same Wembley pitch.
Then there is the most common comment of them all: “Phil Parkinson would be sacked if it wasn’t for last year”. But he did have last year. That is why we are fighting to maintain our position in League One status rather than potentially fighting to do the same in League Two. The ironic thing is had we stayed down we probably all would be much happier if we were competing for promotion from League Two and proclaiming what a great manager he is. I’m not saying anyone regrets getting promoted, but we wouldn’t have known any different and would still (hopefully) be experiencing that winning feeling.
It is much like Alan Pardew would have been sacked last season if it wasn’t for the season before that. The club stuck by him believing in his ability and look at his Newcastle side this year: back up the table in 8th place, behind only those sides who have invested millions upon millions and an extremely well-run Everton.
Everton, a side managed by a certain Roberto Martinez who was in charge of Wigan when they were relegated last year. Would Wigan have replaced him had he not been poached by a much bigger, more attractive club?
Further, look at the relegation fight this year in the Premier League and how much improvement a change in manager has provided these clubs
Apply the same logic to our experiences in recent years. Was replacing Nicky Law with Bryan Robson a success? Was replacing Colin Todd with David Wetherall a success? Was replacing Stuart McCall with Peter Taylor a success? Was even replacing Peter Taylor with Peter Jackson a success? Even more importantly still – did replacing Peter Jackson with Phil Parkinson produce immediate results?
Then the next question we need to ask is this: what would replacing Phil Parkinson with Mr.X – I can’t even think of a suitable replacement – achieve? Perhaps a short run of improved results, as players fight to prove themselves to their new manager, or perhaps not. Almost definitely a complete rebuild once more come the summer, as another new manager looks to implement his style on the team with no guaranteed success.
Besides, who do we want to replace him with? Another manager with some success and some failures on his CV; or an unproven, inexperienced manager desperate to prove himself. Because I believe we’ve tried both, and Dean Windass is waiting rather impatiently by the phone if not!
Then consider what keeping Phil Parkinson might achieve? Most probably maintaining our League One status – though perhaps not convincingly – and the opportunity for him to learn from his mistakes and experiences and build on his squad for next year. I know which scenario I would consider more likely to provide success next season.
Take a step back from the pain of the abject performances each week and look at a club: promoted last year under a manager who made them upwardly mobile for the first time in over a decade. A side that at this current time has a cushion between themselves and the relegation zone, in a division they worked so hard to get to. Fans that have experienced much worse in recent history than they are doing now and a manager who, given a bit more time, could prove he can progress them further still.