How the Reading job showed City’s Parkinson problem

Why Colin Cooper did not get the Bradford City job

I heard a story from the horse’s mouth. Colin Cooper, in interview with Joint Chairman Julian Rhodes, was asked how he would work with incoming Chief Executive Archie Christie and Cooper was clear.

“I would not,” he said, “I’d get rid of him.”

“Well,” Rhodes is said to have replied, “he is making the decision.”

The dream job comes up

As soon as the statement was read out that Reading had “parted company” with Nigel Adkins Phil Parkinson’s name was being mentioned in connection to the vacancy. Within a few days Steve Clarke had been appointed to the job.

Parkinson is to Reading what Stuart McCall is to Bradford City – or Peter Beagrie perhaps – but a man of some significance at Elm Park and his performances as Bradford City manager could hardly suggest his name more.

However Parkinson’s achievements – and other Football League achievements – seem to be unimpressive when it comes to recruiting managers in the Premier League. This tendency to forgo Football League managers has started to spread downwards.

Which saves a problem

All of which saves Bradford City looking for a replacement for Parkinson and the upheaval that that would bring.

It would be foolish to say that Parkinson is a peerless manager and that City could not replace him but remembering that the last time the people in the boardroom were asked to come up with a name to manage the club that name was Peter Jackson.

When one looks at the difference between the club then and the club now it is hard to find anything which cannot be put down to Parkinson. From Wembley to Wembley, Wells to McLean, the club is built in the image that Parkinson wanted.

Which is not to criticise

And this is not an overt criticism of the boardroom just a recognition that they greatest achievement they have in the modern Bradford City is not getting involved and allowing Parkinson to build the club as he wishes. The impressive thing is how much Parkinson has built on his own.

Of course he has had Good Lieutenants at his sides but compare the years under Parkinson to the conflicts at the club between Peter Jackson and Archie Christie, or Archie Christie and Mark Lawn, or Mark Lawn and Peter Taylor (or rather, some of his players), or Stuart McCall and Two of the Boardroom and on and on.

Since Parkinson arrived Bradford City have not so much been a club united as a club with someone to stand behind and follow. Right now Parkinson is running Bradford City and everything at the club is adjunct to that.

The boardroom request to play more attacking football is characterised as just that – a request – rather than a demand. When Parkinson could not get his team playing around a playmaker he decided to revert to his previous less attacking formation and not a peep was heard publicly from the boardroom.

What would be left?

Without Phil Parkinson Bradford City have very little at the club on the footballing side. One assumes that on his exit Parkinson would take his backroom team with him – they all signed contracts at the same time suggesting that unity – and once Parkin et al leave then there is no chance of continuity.

For the right reasons they appointed Phil Parkinson with a remit to remake the club as he saw fit. To their credit they have largely stayed out of how Parkinson has run the club. I have worried in the past that Parkinson needs some support in his role and that the club lacks institutional knowledge retention but I’d be more worried is this boardroom started to tell the manager how to do his job. When it comes to football at Valley Parade Phil Parkinson is by a good distance the domain expert.

The boardroom are stuck in catch 22. They found success by giving Parkinson free reign to do as he wants but then they are under the constant threat that Parkinson could be tempted away and they would be left with nothing.

This is the Parkinson problem and without a solution there must just be relief that when Steve Clarke was appointed.

Lies, damned lies, and the spin we put around manager sacking

Preamble 1: The Joke

There is a punchline to a joke – and not a funny one – that goes something like this: “And so I said what’s Paul McCartney got to do with music? He has not had a number one since 1983.”

It is true that aside from charity collectives McCartney has not topped the charts since “Pipes of Peace” but the rise of the joke is that it is almost impossible (if not actually impossible) to listen to any piece of popular music written after the Sixties and not hear the mark of the man who put melody in The Beatles. That juxtaposition between reality and statistic – no number one in thirty years – is worth pondering as a comparison to how football enjoys talking about managers.

Preamble 2: The Spin

I doubt, dear reader, you have looked at a map to see where the Town of Keighley is but were you to do so then you would see that it is in essence a part of the greater Bradford sprawl and while there are no doubt some who would contest the point it is certainly within in Yorkshire. The most famous sons of Keighley include an Oscar winner in Simon Beaufoy, Secret Ruler of the World Dennis Healy and Tony Blair’s New Labour Spin Doctor Alastair Campbell.

Often condemned Campbell’s name has become synonymous with “spin” as a concept attached to lying and a concept that few like. About taking the truth and making it fit the point you want to make rather than making the point from the truth. Even those who backed Blair’s third way and New Labour go queasy when talking about Campbell describing him as a necessary evil but an evil nevertheless. Campbell proudly tells all that his local football team is Burnley, Lancashire.

That is spin. Not just retelling history, but restating geography.

And So To The Point.

Steve Clarke walked away from Old Trafford as a lauded coach who having spent his apprenticeship learning from the best (by which I refer to Sir Bobby Robson) had masterminded a win for West Brom at Manchester United. Less than two months later he was removed as manager of West Brom and it was said that the problem was not the performances in the current season but rather the return over the calendar year.

Not far from Campbell’s “local” team Bradford City manager Phil Parkinson is struggling. His team has a single win (at time of writing) from the previous fourteen matches. Why fourteen matches? What was significant about fourteen matches ago? It is hard to fathom except to say that if one were to cast back to fifteen then there are two wins, to sixteen there are three, to eighteen four and so on.

And it begins to strike one that there is a reason for the seemingly arbitrary drawing of fourteen as a sample size. It is the one which suggests the worst possible situation. There is a reason why Clarke is judged on the calendar year not the current season. It shows a worse situation than the club finds itself in.

These debates too are not just being had in boardrooms – the reason for Clarke’s removal was reiterated by supporters acting a kind of Hawthorne’s Greek Chorus – but wherever supporters meet. What happened where the act of spin – so derided and loathed when done in Politics – is practiced by the man on the street? Why, in our debate, are we so keen to start from a point of dishonesty.

There is, of course, something practical to be said for taking a sample and extrapolating it which is what those who present 2013 as a sample at West Brom would perhaps suggest had done but there is an absurdity to suggesting that the months from August 2012 to December that year are somehow not to be counted any more than one might exclude the three wins in four games which would would add to Parkinson’s record were one to expand it from fourteen to eighteen games. Football is poor at taking a long term view.

There is an assumption in football though that the high watermark is indicative. That a run of ten wins in twelve is not to be looked on in the context of a full season but rather as what can be expected from the next twelve games. Many a club has fired many a manager for not being able to understand this point of sampling. That one only discovers the result of a sample over the longer term and that a spike in data is no more indicative of the average than a dip.

Yet clubs react to dips. Phil Parkinson took Bradford City to Wembley twice last season, Steve Clarke took West Brom to 8th in the Premier League. These are not considered to be highwater marks but rather a reflection of what should be the case. Poor performance which would – in the longer term – point towards the average achievements of both or either club is seen as unacceptable. But why?

People lose their jobs – managers, manager’s staff, players, young players, people working behind the scenes and on and on – on the basis of decisions taken with such poor judgement criteria. That the good times will last forever and the only thing that must follow (unprecedented) success is more success.

People lose their jobs on the idea that Paul McCartney has not had a number one in thirty years and the worst thing is that as supporters we join in the spin that makes that so.