By Nikhil J Vekaria
Promotion from League Two, a major Wembley cup final, victories over some of the biggest in the land – Arsenal, Chelsea, Villa.
There’s five of Phil Parkinson’s achievements at City, before you even begin to consider the other top flight teams that the Bantams have conquered, as well as the sense of belonging and pride he has brought back to Valley Parade.
Surely the decision to give him a new three-year deal last month was a no brainer, right? Well, 10 games into the new season and City are languishing in 19th, with just two league victories to their name. To add to that, they’ve also been knocked out of the cup by a York side who themselves are struggling in League Two.
It was back in 2013 when then Coventry boss Steven Pressley bemoaned Parky’s “dark age football”, as a hat trick from a certain N. Wells salvaged City a point. For all of Phil’s success at the club, his tactics have often been questioned by supporters over his four-year tenure.
A seeming over reliance on James Hanson up top, with allegations of one-dimensional football often being thrown at Parkinson, has led to some fans becoming frustrated with what could be seen as ‘boring’ and ‘negative’ tactics. Add to the mix that City have made some particularly poor signings under his guidance, and it is perhaps understandable that some eyebrows were raised when he was given a new three-year deal last month; although the overriding emotion of fans was joy and relief, that a manager who has brought so much success to the club had committed his future to it.
City went on a five match unbeaten run. This brought renewed optimism that this could be our year to truly challenge the top sides in League One, and make a play off push at the very least. As Devante Cole scored his third goal since signing for the club to give City a 2-0 lead over pre season title favourites Sheffield United, optimism was sky high amongst the City faithful.
However, United then went on to score twice and pull City back, and even had chances to win it. Consecutive defeats followed at the hands of Peterborough and Colchester and all of a sudden the optimism that surrounded BD8 at the start of the season had evaporated.
Since the defeat on Tuesday night, allegations of boring, negative and generally poor tactics have been thrown at Phil and his team on a scale that probably hasn’t been seen over his time at City. Add to the mix that many of his signings this summer have so far failed to deliver, particularly Steven Davies and Brad Jones, whilst others such as Greg Leigh and Luke James haven’t really been given an opportunity altogether, and it could be argued that it is easy to see fans frustrations.
Phil Parkinson has brought amazing times to this football club in recent years, times that will not be forgotten. For those alone, he deserves the opportunity to try and pull City through what has to be one of the toughest periods since he arrived. Year on year, City have improved league position under his management, as well as being on two extraordinary cup runs which offered memories that will last a lifetime. It is also so early in the season that a few consecutive wins and all will be forgotten by the City faithful.
However, has the decision to give him a three-year deal put this progress under Parkinson at risk? This is an allegation often thrown at Arsenal, one of the Premier League giants that Parkinson has masterminded victory over in his time in charge. The allegation being that too much managerial security can lead to a stagnation of results and progress, a culture of complacency settling in.
If you asked the majority of City fans who they realistically want in charge in three years’ time, the answer would likely be Parkinson. But, if you asked the majority if they are happy with City’s start to the season and general tactics and play – the answer would likely be a resounding no.
Parkinson’s three-year deal showed a genuine commitment by the board to keep one of City’s greatest ever managers here for the long haul. It also made him pretty much unsackable, due to the likely hefty fee it would take to release him and his backroom team from their contracts.
It is often argued that a manager is only ever a game away from the sack in football and that it is this pressure which drives success. It forces managers to try something new, to make changes when things aren’t working.
In recent weeks, City have looked a completely different team to the Parkinson sides of old. They seem to lack passion, desire and the tactical nous needed to either hold onto leads, or come from behind to win games. The standout player in recent weeks has been a 19-year-old loanee centre back, whilst players such as James Hanson and Steven Davies have been utilised on the left hand side in 4-3-3 systems, so different to the 4-4-2 big man, little man system, which used to terrify defences who faced Parkinson sides.
It would be totally unfair to throw all the blame for City’s poor start to the season at the door of Parkinson, however. City have already lost last season’s top scorer Billy Clarke to injury, as well as two marquee signings in Paul Anderson and Josh Morris. Parkinson has also changed systems in recent weeks, trying to find something that will be more effective and beat sides who seem to have ‘figured out’ City’s tactical approach.
He has brought in Devante Cole, who looks to have a goal scoring touch so vital at any level and yesterday re-signed ex fan favourite and explosive winger Kyel Reid.
However, City haven’t simply been unlucky, they’ve been poor. Poor tactics, ‘hoofball’ and a lack of game management has led to them taking just two wins from the first 10 games of the season, one with a last minute winner against Port Vale and the other against an Oldham team who for an hour played with 10 men.
Phil Parkinson’s achievements at City are impossible to overlook. He has taken the club from the brink of relegation from League Two to a team that should be challenging for the League One play offs. Via Wembley. Twice. The majority of City fans will be hoping they are proved wrong in upcoming weeks and that City start to climb back up the League One ladder, but all good things do come to an end.
Rather than this being a total decline to Parkinson’s managerial ability, it is much more likely that City have simply been unlucky with form and injuries, and that it will pick up in the current weeks.
However, by offering a three-year deal to the manager and his staff, despite the poor start to the season the club has had, it potentially puts the club in a rather big hole if performances and form don’t improve.