Issue #41 Michael Wood on Why Steve Cotterill left Phil Parkinson lost for words

From these marble halls

In the marble halls of Arsenal’s Highbury ground sat a besieged Stoke City manager Alan Durban under criticism from a press corp who had had to suffer The Potter’s defensive tactics attempted to frustrate the home side.

Unsuccessfully as it turned out – Arsenal had won 2-0 – but Durban was unrepentant on his approach. He was not going to send out an attacking team that Arsenal would look good beating. He had come with the aim of splitting the points.

Told that the ninety minutes had not been entertaining he offered up a reply to posterity: “If you want entertainment go and watch a bunch of clowns.”

He does not detach from reality for long

Perhaps it was frustration at seeing his Bristol City team fail to beat a Bradford City side which was in poor form before Tuesday night’s 2-2 draw that prompted Steve Cotterill to say that Bradford City would see the game as a good point gained where as he reflected on two lost.

Cotterill’s comments not would be appreciated by his opposite number Phil Parkinson. “We were the only team trying to win it, Bradford came for a draw and they got it.” Parkinson disagreed.

Cotterill’s frustrations are understandable – his team twice led the game – but he allows them to cloud obvious (if received) wisdom. A manager who loses sight of the idea that any point away from home should be welcomed as the most which could be expected is one who is unnecessarily detached from the realities of League football. Cotterill, one of the brighter managers in the game, does not detach from reality for long.

Nor does Parkinson who was quick to point that he had sent a team out to win and but for an injury and a foul on Jordan Pickford they might have done that. Parkinson has good reason too make the correction too.

His remit to create an attacking team this season has been laid out in the boardroom and Cotterill questions the City manager’s attempts to achieve that.

Wanted: A bunch of clowns

At the start of the season Julian Rhodes talked about how the board had told Parkinson that there was a need for City to be more attacking this season. Indeed Rhodes’ ally Mark Lawn had been “the last to sign off” on appointing Peter Taylor as City manager because he feared that the football would be less attractive.

Parkinson is not required to win promotion, just be more entertaining while maintaining a similar position to last season, and Cotterill is suggesting that the opposite is true. “We (Cotterill’s Bristol City) couldn’t get the tempo of our game going in the first half because Bradford kept slowing things down, but fair play to them for that.”

The accusation that Phil Parkinson’s teams are not engaged in creating exciting football matches is not uncommon. The first time Parkinson came onto City fans’ radar it was during a spat with then manager Colin Todd in September 2005 in which Todd accused Parkinson’s Colchester United team of “killing the game as a spectacle.”

Parkinson’s response was confident and erudite in it simplicity. “He’s looking for an excuse for his team’s failure. Rather than analysing his side’s performance, he’s looking to blame me and it’s disappointing from a man of his experience.”

“I don’t have to justify my tactics to anybody.”

Parkinson’s position has changed, or been changed. As City manager he has to justify his tactics to Julian Rhodes and the Bradford City board who wanted more attacking football.

Is Parkinson failing?

So is Parkinson failing to do as he is told by his employers? If he is then what will the ramifications of that be?

Answers to these questions are not clear. If City are less attacking then losing Nahki Wells – a transfer was handled in the boardroom after the player had declared he wanted to leave – would have to be taken into account. Some players are just more exciting to watch than others.

But the difference between this season and last is more than players in shirts. Last season’s wingers have been replaced by (save us from the dumbing down of the word “diamond”) a three man midfield with a playmaker between the forward lines.

Fast, flying wingers are the most elaborate display of attacking football the game has to offer regardless of the result of that play. Teams with flying wingers will always be loved even if they lose because they are attacking. Yet Phil Parkinson allowed Kyel Reid to go unreplaced in the City squad.

Mark Yeates’ playmaking role is less about skipping over tackles and more about intelligent use of the ball. When winger moves end (if they end poorly) it is in sprints and limbs. When playmaker’s do not achieve their aims it ends in the ball being shuffled back to defenders.

When playing well a playmaker is insightful but looking for flashes of insight to play killer balls is not as “attacking” as flying wingers, at least not in the meaning which Rhodes seemed to present it.

Are City more attacking this season? Steve Cotterill does not think so, and not do I, and one doubts that the boardroom does.

So what does this mean for Phil Parkinson?

What does Phil Parkinson say on the subject of attacking football when he sits and talks to his bosses?

He may point out that with the team in poor form its not clear if a City playing better would not look better, or he may point out that this time last season City were on the back of an amazing run that led to promotion, or he may say that the team is more attacking as is shown by the result especially away from home.

You will have you own thoughts, dear reader, on if those arguments are compelling and if Parkinson has delivered what he was told to deliver – attacking football.

Perhaps though when told not only that he should win but how he should win Parkinson might regret not having taken a lead from Durban and stuck to the line “I don’t have to justify my tactics to anybody.”

But he did not, and so he could not offer it as a riposte to Steve Cotterill either.