Parry steadies the Tranmere ship
THIS week Les Parry described his appointment as Tranmere manager for the remainder of the season as "the best Christmas present I could have asked for." Here, NICK HILTON talks to the long-serving physio about his remarkable year at Prenton Park...
LES PARRY has seen enough football managers in action over the past 18 years to appreciate the role can be a precarious, high-speed balancing act.
Tranmere's long-serving physiotherapist admits he sometimes found himself speculating how he would deal with the demands of the job, confident in the assumption that he would not get the chance to test his theories.
"I never thought I would have to do it," Parry said. "It is like watching Ski Sunday on TV. You think: I would like to have a go at that but I know I never will."
Today, as Rovers prepare to say goodbye to 2009 with a sequence of one defeat in eight games behind them, Parry is not only the manager at Prenton Park but doing the job well enough to have secured the position for the remainder of the campaign.
He has plans to move out of the treatment room and into the manager's office – for the moment still unused – and ambitions to secure a manager's contract for next season on the strength of keeping Rovers in League One.
Over the past 11 weeks Parry has shown he might well have the skills to be football's equivalent of a downhill racer. The challenge for 2010 is to pilot Tranmere onto a safe course and the flatlands of mid-table.
Parry can be forgiven for not seeing any of this coming at the end of last season. The assumptions of just about everyone connected to the Wirral club were tossed into the air like snow by the turbulence of the last six months.
It began when chairman Peter Johnson surprisingly dismissed Ronnie Moore, Tranmere's manager of the previous three seasons, after the team narrowly missed out on making the League One playoffs in May.
Johnson took a gamble in handing control over to John Barnes at the beginning of June. The former Liverpool and England winger had a celebrity background but no experience in managing a club from England's lower divisions. The gamble failed to come off.
By the time Barnes was sacked on October 9, Tranmere were bottom of the table, having lost eight of their opening 11 League One games. Performances suggested the players were uncertain about what they were supposed to be doing on the pitch and the majority of supporters were hacked off by the whole business.
Johnson's decision to put the medical man in caretaker charge of the team was another surprise – but this time a shrewd move.
Parry's standing in being respected and well liked by players, staff and supporters gave the fractured club a figure for all to rally around.
"It was a massive shock when I was asked to take on the caretaker job," Parry recalled.
"But when I thought about it, who else at the club had any experience of working in the first-team? I could see why they thought I would be able to steady the ship, which was the idea at the time."
The caretaker regime, with Shaun Garnett and Wayne Allison providing the coaching expertise, steadied the ship so well that earlier this month, Johnson extended the appointment until the end of the season.
Parry acknowledges the improvement in performances and results could not have been achieved without the input of Garnett, promoted to first-team duties after working with the reserves and youth teams and Allison, a former Tranmere striker who volunteered his services.
“The coaching team gelled very quickly," Parry said. "One of the reasons for bringing in Wayne was I knew him very well and he knew Shaun Garnett very well. I don't kid myself for one minute that if Shaun and Wayne had not been with me, I would not have been offered the job for the remainder of the season."
Parry's initial reluctance about taking the manager's job on a long-term basis was influenced by the fact the work had to be fitted around his ongoing duties as a physio.
The imminent arrival of another physio, to look after the players fitness for the remainder of the season, is sure to have a big impact.
“For the moment I don't feel that much difference to when I was the caretaker," Parry said.
"I am still doing the physio's job as well. When we get another physio, and I lose that job completely and move into the manager's office, I think I will notice a massive difference."
Parry leaves little room for doubt that he is prepared to put his medical career to one side and commit himself to the much less secure occupation of football manager.
He said: "In four months' time I will hopefully be negotiating a new contract for myself and Shaun and Wayne and that will be because we have kept the team up. And perhaps we will be arranging to get in a physio on a long-term basis.
“In four months' time I hope we will have identified players we want to keep for next season and players we want to bring in.
“I realise these a long-term goals and it's a massive hill to climb. It's not going to be a question of winning a couple of games to get out of the bottom four. It is going to be a long haul."
In spite of the steady upturn in results, Tranmere will finish 2009 in the relegation zone.
However, the majority of the players have responded positively to the straightforward and pragmatic playing style introduced by Parry's regime and there is confidence inside the dressing-room that they will climb away from trouble in 2010.
Players have queued up to testify that they appreciate the simplicity and clarity of the instructions they are now being given.
“I have always believed in keeping it simple," Parry said.
"As a physio I won't use a big word to player. I talk about ankles and knees. I don't use the technical medical terms.
“I regard myself as being quite intelligent but I have listened to managers in the past and after 10 minutes asked myself: what did he say then? If I don't have a clue, then probably most of the players don't have a clue either.
“So we keep things straight forward and simple, so everyone understands. The players have responded positively to what we've asked them to do. If they hadn't we wouldn't still be here."