As the Macron Stadium finally stops shaking from Aaron Wilbraham’s late winner, Wanderers can start to plan for another season in the Championship. Many outside the club have expressed surprise that there is speculation over the future of the manager who masterminded the ‘Miracle at the Macron’.
Rumours have surfaced that Sunderland’s new owners are ready to pounce and install Parky as their man to lead their campaign in League One.
Fresh takeover rumours has fuelled speculation that new owners will want their own man to spend their investment wisely. This news has hardly been met with uproar from the Bolton faithful, with Parky dividing fan opinion despite guiding Bolton out of the doldrums of League One and maintaining the club’s status in the Championship under the most trying circumstances. So, are Bolton crazy to think of letting Parky go or would someone else really take the club further than Phil?
Parky’s Success Against All Odds
Simply he has guided Bolton out of their toughest situation in my lifetime. Summer of 2016 and Phil Parkinson was appointed manager of a basketcase club which had plummeted out of the Championship to a backdrop of being on the brink of financial ruin. Despite edging back from the brink of bankruptcy, Parky was given no funds to spend and tasked to pick up a squad of players whose confidence was in the basement, never mind on the floor.
Against all odds he re-galvanised the current players, even managing to add one or two shrewd improvements to the squad, such as Mark Beevers and Filipe Morais, along with recognising the value of re-signing long serving David Wheater. Bolton Wanderers were transformed from a ‘no effort, no hope’ team with a porous defence, to a well-drilled and hard-working outfit who battled their way back to the Championship at the first time of asking.
Summer of 2017 and Parky was dealt fresh blows in his preparation for a season in the Championship, as off-field wrangling resulted in a transfer embargo which, not only impacted upon the club signing badly needed fresh players, but also likely resulted in Bolton losing midfield stalwart Jay Spearing. These issues combined with injuries to key players left Bolton rock bottom with two points from eleven games.
Parky never lost faith in his methods and slowly dragged Bolton out of the relegation zone, with his notorious attention to detail in his pre-match preparation resulting in Bolton grinding out impressive results against the high flyers of Cardiff, Aston Villa, Sheffield United and Bristol City. Parky was even robbed of his talisman centre forward Gary Madine on the last day of the January transfer window, without any time to find an adequate replacement.
Bolton’s form dipped and they teetered on the brink of relegation, but Parky’s helpful knack of finding a result when he most needed it shone through, with his troops delivered an enthralling final day victory over Nottingham Forest to secure survival.
It isn’t hard to imagine these circumstances distracting many managers, even using it as an excuse for bad form. Parky never offered up such excuses and seemed to have an unending reserve of resilience in the face of such adversity. This resilience has been a key component in Bolton still being a Championship club and it is hard to imagine that any manager would have been able to succeed under such circumstances.
Parky the Man-Manager
Phil Parkinson is the man no-one in the game has a bad word to say about, due in no small part to his impressive management of his charges. Even in their lowest moments this season, there has never been a peep of discontent from the dressing room. This suggests a strong team spirit, which has been reflected in the on-pitch performances.
Parky seems to have a skill for recognising the sort of leaders that are needed for a strong dressing room, where one can imagine that players such as Henry, Pratley and Wheater do the sort of self-policing of a dressing room which is vital for team spirit. One only needs to look at the debacle at Stoke City right to see what can happen to relatively small clubs, such as ours, when a manager fails to recognise the value of maintaining a tight knit dressing room with effective leaders.
Perhaps Parky’s greatest man-management success is the talisman that got away in January. Gary Madine was a subject of fan ire under Neil Lennon, turning out disinterested performances and with his confidence in front of goal shot to pieces. Slowly but surely, with an arm around the shoulder, Parky rebuilt Madine into the target man that his frame suggested he should be, finishing our League One season as leading scorer.
Madine continued this form into the Championship, even bullying Neil Warnocks physical Cardiff defenders and adding the sublime execution of bending free kicks to his repertoire. This form persuaded Neil Warnock to part with £6million in January and a man once referred to as the ‘Washing Machine’ will be a Premier League striker next season, owned in no small part to the Parky’s management style.
The Style of Football
The greatest grind between the Bolton supporters and Phil Parkinson is the style of football that is rolled out at the Macron on a weekend. The supporters have no delusions of grandeur about the football expected from the men in white at the weekend, with Big Sam rolling out almost ten years of direct football to great success that we all fondly remember.
What the Bolton fans do legitimately have a problem with is when the football is poor whilst seemingly lacking a plan. Watching Mark Beevers continually pause, look up, look down, look up, then hoist a high ball in the direction of 5’9” Adam Le Fondre which is easily headed away by a 6’3” centre half, for the eighth time in the game, can get even the most positive fan down. Perhaps Parky simply doesn’t have the players to play attractive football and he is just making the best with the tools he has. However, at times it really seems there is little or no plan to play any type of football which could bring the best out of the Bolton forward line lacking an obvious target man.
The lack of obvious plan has been compounded by some strange line-up selections and tactical decisions. The continued selection of conservative full backs Flanagan and Taylor, over the more enterprising alternatives of Little and Robinson, has left some fans scratching their heads and even left other fans downright frustrated. Indeed, many Bolton fans see little correlation between player performances and team selection, highlighted when Craig Noone came on and changed the game against Barnsley at Oakwell and then found himself back on the bench in the very next game.
It can always be argued that fans don’t see what Parky sees on the training pitch, but we do crave some understanding of what Parky is trying to achieve, rather than blindly accepting his tactics despite negative results on the pitch.
Does Parky have the ‘X-Factor’?
What do I mean by the ‘X-Factor’? The greatest managers have an arrogance and a single mindedness to take advantage of every single avenue of opportunity handed to them and are not afraid to take risks to succeed, and this is not a description of Phil Parkinson. Parky’s conservative approach has, to the most part, worked for the situations that Bolton have been in throughout his managerial tenure. The defences are weak enough in League One that if you keep it tight and target balls into the box and set pieces, these defenders are going to give to chances to score goals.
This approach has had mixed success in the Championship. Many of our wins have come against sides that were willing to commit men forward, where Bolton could simply sit back and absorb the punches and nick a goal. However, Bolton have struggled far more in games where they would be expected to take control of a game, culminating in Championship minnows Burton Albion beating the Trotters home and away, much to the fans dismay.
For me, there was no greater example of Parky’s inability to grab a game by the scruff of the neck than the game which started the calamitous run of form which almost relegated Bolton, Leeds United away on Good Friday. Bolton were on the back of a stunning win over high flying Villa which had lifted them 8 points clear of the relegation zone, whilst Leeds’s season had petered out on the back of a run of poor results. For me, the stage was set to take a risk and have a go at Leeds, as in the form they were in an early goal would surely have seen the mood amongst the Elland Road faithful quickly sour.
Instead, Parky approached it in the conservative fashion that he would any other away day, allowing Leeds to dominate and get on top of Bolton, galvanising the fan support and running out 2-1 winners. A win that day and Bolton, with a probable 11-point cushion from the relegation zone, would have surely stayed up very comfortably. Instead confidence drained out of the team and the White Men had to save themselves with some final day heroics.
Does Parky deserve another season? Considering how the odds have been stacked against him the answer for me is yes, but not a resounding yes. I do feel that the discontent with Parky is over exaggerated, with the minority that really want him out always bleating the loudest on social media, skewing the perception of fan opinion.
He has earnt the chance to build a team, with some financial backing, that could have a chance to be competitive in the Championship. However, with a better squad comes more games where Bolton will be expected to grab the initiative and dominate teams, something which I believe doesn’t come naturally to Parky and leaves me with some lingering doubts if he is truly the man to take us forward in the long term.
Will he prove my doubts wrong? Let us know in the comments box below.