The crucial off-field issues that Sunderland boss Phil Parkinson faces in the coming months
It has been a whirlwind few days for Phil Parkinson and it will be a while before it settles down.
The new Black Cats boss arrived with the brief of delivering an immediate upturn in results and with a punishing fixture schedule that will not relent for a good few weeks yet.
So already he is facing the daily challenge of trying to implement his ideas on the training pitch, while protecting his player’s energy for games that he simply has to find a way of winning.
His appointment was clearly signalled as a sign that promotion must be delivered this season.
A two-and-half year deal, however, also underlined that he will have a significant responsibility in what he described as ‘building the playing side up’.
It’s an absolutely critical part of his job with the club still very much rebuilding for the effects of consecutive relegations.
That process has not been helped by takeover uncertainty, but the shape of the club in the short term at least is becoming clearer.
If investment from FPP Sunderland is secured, as is now expected in the very near future, it will still leave Stewart Donald in charge and Parkinson was assured as much in the interview process.
So what are the bigger picture issues he will now have to begin grappling with?
We take a look at a few key areas…..
Next summer will see a significant turnover at Sunderland, regardless of how this season pans out.
As it stands, 11 senior players will see their contract come to an end.
Should Sunderland win promotion, then change will be needed to prepare for what would no doubt be a big campaign in a challenging division.
Should they fall short, it is clear that a change in direction would be needed after two failed attempts at getting out of the third tier.
So for the most part, this dizzying number of players in their last year is not a major concern and simply reflects the reality of life in the lower leagues.
There are some key areas that nevertheless need addressing.
Parkinson made a big call in dropping Jon McLaughlin at Wycombe Wanderers, and Lee Burge repaid his faith with a solid performance.
The decline in McLaughlin’s form is still a major concern, given that at the end of last season he was one of the club’s most valuable assets and dependable players.
A richly experienced player and a top professional, he will demand more of himself but it is impossible not to feel that the uncertainty over his contract, which the Black Cats initially said they would extend, has played a part.
Even if Burge deserves his place at the moment, the Scot’s position has to be clarified and some certainty offered.
Luke O’Nien is another who, having had Championship interest last summer, Sunderland cannot let go into the last six months of his deal as the January window opens.
The club are believed to have a year-long extension in their favour, which offers some comfort.
And Parkinson has already signalled that Benji Kimpioka has a future, ending his recent exile by bringing him into the fold in the matchday environment for the visit of Tranmere Rovers.
An exciting but raw prospect, it remains to be seen whether he can make a short or long-term impact for Parkinson, but it is another saga that has dragged on for too long and needs settling.
JANUARY & RECRUITMENT
The January window was an issue discussed in the process that saw Parkinson hired as the new manager.
Parkinson gave his thoughts on what type of player he would like to bring in and even some suggestions as to who those players could be. He was assured, he says, that backing would be there if required.
With Sunderland boasting just about two players for every position, it seems likely that for sustainability and managing a group effectively above all else, any incomings would surely have to be balanced by outgoings.
This will be a key challenge for Parkinson in the coming month or so, making swift judgements about the players he feels can play a part in his side and the ones who cannot.
As he has himself said, preparation is absolutely crucial and so he has little time to waste.
In the longer term, he has a major part to play in rebuilding a part of the club that was heavily affected by relegation to the third tier.
Donald has pledged to invest around £500,000 into scouting networks and the success of this is vital to a club still with little clear identity in who it recruits, how it recruits and how it believes it will be successful on the pitch.
For most of his tenure, Ross was left with an immense amount of responsbility to direct it in challenging circumstances.
Parkinson will play a key part in shaping this next step and it’s one that he, alongside the likes of Tony Coton, has to get right.
The talented midfielder suffered a raft of frustrating injuries during the Jack Ross era.
Though he missed Grimsby Town’s defeat to Leyton Orient at the weekend with a minor groin problem, he has managed to establish himself as a key player during his loan spell so far and has chipped in with some excellent goals.
He remains unproven at League One level but there is no doubting he has the raw attributes to succeed and add a bit of variety to Parkinson’s midfield options.
He will no doubt be keen to run the rule over him before the new year, while he will also have to work closely with academy staff to make calls on the next raft of loans for the best young prospects at the club, including Bali Mumba.
Parkinson has so far taken a gradual approach behind the scenes.
He said bringing Steve Parkin with him was ‘imperative’, but otherwise has left the staff in place.
Bolton Wanderers boss Keith Hill says he expects him to try and bring goalkeeping coach Lee Butler and head of sports science Nick Allamby with him.
That may well be the case, but Parkinson said he had agreed with the owners to take stock and assess where the club is at before acting further.
Parkinson has spoken in the past about just how important he sees the set up around players to be, and it will be interesting to see how he looks to build in the medium to long term.