Exclusive: Scott Parker talks West Ham heroics, Fulham's promotion chances and a potential future in coaching
“This is probably not the answer you are looking for but to start looking back on a career that I haven’t quite finished might suggest that I should stop playing, which I certainly don’t envisage doing immediately. Can you ask me again in a few years’ time?”
When asked to recall the most memorable moment of his career to date, this was certainly not the answer expected of Fulham midfielder Scott Parker, who has enjoyed fruitful spells with Charlton Athletic, Norwich City, Chelsea, Newcastle United, West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur, Fulham and England. Nonetheless, it is a response that embodies the spirit that the 36-year-old has shown throughout almost two decades in the game. An industrious midfielder, who has proven himself to be an ardent professional, this motivation to continue at the highest level is firmly in-line with the player’s character.
A cultured midfielder, he who has clocked up the miles for both club and country, Parker has featured for the England National Team a total 18 times, while making over 400 league appearances across the Premier League and the Championship. Despite being a regular receiver of praise at domestic level, with sporadic appearances for his country, his increased involvement with The Three Lions came as a result of his breathtaking individual performances throughout his stay at Upton Park, with West Ham United.
In 2011, Parker found himself named Footballer of the Year by the Football Writers’ Association. Despite being one of the closest run contests in recent memory, the then-30-year-old topped the journalist’s poll ahead of Tottenham’s Gareth Bale. Following in the footsteps of legendary England skipper Bobby Moore in 1964, as he became only the second West Ham recipient of the award. Humble, as ever, he told The Boot Room:
“It was great to be recognised by the football writers and it’s an aware that means a lot to me though I have to be honest to say that I still feel some mixed emotions, the award came at the end of a season where we were relegated at West Ham.”
This accolade came as testimony to Parker’s excellent displays throughout the year with the Hammers, despite the club’s eventual relegation from the Premier League. Having made 32 league appearances for the Upton Park outfit, his consistency of performance for a team residing in a lowly top flight position saw him force his way back into the England set-up, earning a highly-anticipated recall for a Euro Qualifier against Wales.
Just like Moore, Parker would then go on to captain his country, albeit just the once – a moment he highlights, alongside his Three Lions debut, as one of the proudest moments of his career to date: “I think my debut, coming on as a sub against Denmark, will always stick out in my mind as it’s a great honour for any footballer to represent their country. I captained the side at Wembley against Holland too which was a great honour, the 2-0 win against Wales in the Euro 2012 qualifier at the Millennium stands out also.”
Named West Ham’s Player of the Year for three consecutive seasons, interest in Parker’s services was unsurprisingly high following the club’s demotion. After handing in a transfer request at Upton Park, he would soon secure his move to White Hart Lane with Tottenham, on a three year deal, under Harry Redknapp. A long-term target of the then-Spurs manager, the Englishman would quickly form a highly successful midfield partnership with Croatian international Luka Modric – a player he considers the best he has ever played alongside:
“There are many players to mention with different attributes that have made them great to play alongside as well as difficult opponents. I’d have to say that the two players that stand out are Luka Modric and Steven Gerrard who I played with at Spurs and England respectively. I have highlighted these two players as they have played alongside me in midfield it it’s easy to see how much talent they have in their positioning, movement and ability to pick out a good pass.”
Parker would go on to make 60 appearances for Tottenham, captaining the club on multiple occasions, with his committed style of play proving a revelation, particularly in his debut campaign. Nonetheless, when he opted to have surgery on his Achilles tendon in his second season at the Lane, he missed a long stretch of games which put him out of action until December. In his wake, the pairing of new signings Mousa Dembele and Sandro (who were seen as the players to replace Modric, who signed for Real Madrid in August 2012) were preferred by newly appointed manager André Villas-Boas. A tactical decision which would ultimately result in Parker’s summer move to Fulham.
The midfielder’s decision to move to Craven Cottage in August 2013 came as a surprise to many, and very few would have anticipated the Englishman decision to stay at the club following relegation at the end of the campaign. After all, only a season previously he had been playing in Europe for Spurs and driving the club’s challenge for a top four Premier League place. He finished his debut campaign as the Lilywhite’s Player of Year, before featuring heavily for the England National Team at Euro 2012. Nonetheless, determined to right the club’s wrongs, he opted to stick it out at Fulham in the Championship, and there he remains.
“I think I owed this [staying beyond the summer] to the club. It’s never great to be relegated and it’s an experience where you analyse the season and try to figure out how you might have done things differently to avoid relegation. It’s part of football and something teams and players have to deal with.”
It hasn’t be all plain sailing for Fulham since relegation from the Premier League, despite supporters and pundits, alike, anticipating an almost instantaneous return to the top flight. Nonetheless, after a few campaigns flirting with relegation, the London outfit finally looks in a position to challenge for promotion and, at the very least, a spot in the play-offs. Revitalized under the stewardship of head coach Slavisa Jokanovic, who expertly steered Watford to the promised land two seasons previously, Parker believes the squad has learnt the lessons required to fulfil their potential this term:
“The last two campaigns have been below par in terms of where we finished in the table and it’s a stark reminder of just how competitive the championship really is. Our ambitions have always been to try to get back into the Premier League and if we’ve learnt anything from the last two campaigns is that you have to be consistent and get a good run of form at key points in the season to stay in touching distance with the teams at the top. If we manage to do this, there is no reason why we cannot challenge for a play-off place. However, many other teams in this league will probably be thinking the same thing.”
At the age of 36, Parker has seen his game time limited this season, making 12 starts in 16 appearances. In spite of this, he continues to play a pivotal role at the club, with his experience proving a tremendous asset. The midfielder recognises the unforgiving nature of the Championship and understands exactly what is required of Fulham in order for the club to fulfil their targets come May. Currently in 10th place, with 25 points after 18 matches, the club have shown signs of brilliance this term. However, these moments have been undermined by abject performances and failure to close out games, like against Queens Park Rangers, as Parker described:
“Our performances have been good and we’ve had chances to win some of the matches we’ve lost or drawn in; QPR at home springs to mind where we dominated for most of the match and had good chances to win, instead we conceded late, lost the game and we were left scratching our heads a little bit. There are still many games to play, this league is relentless and we have to keep ourselves focussed and motivated for every challenge. The recent win at home against Huddersfield Town demonstrates just how good we can be on our day.”
There is a certain romance in the direction Parker’s career has progressed. Having, himself, enjoyed considerable success as a youngster, winning the 2004 PFA Young Player of the Year Award in the season he made the switch from Charlton to Chelsea – an accolade which would set him up for a very successful career in the upper echelons of the English game – he is now able to offer his experience and guidance to those who could one day follow in a similar path. Speaking with fondness, Parker described how he was able to pass on some of his experience to Ryan Sessegnon, when the 16-year-old made his senior debut for Fulham earlier this season:
“This certainly brought back memories of my first match [for Charlton under Alan Curbishley, also at the age of 16]. The advice I give to young players is to enjoy every moment, there are a lot of pressures associated with playing professionally and it’s vital for a young player to possess mental strengths and the ability to come back stronger when faced with injuries or when things aren’t going well.”
When his playing days draw to a close, a career in coaching, or even management, appears to be the next step for the Fulham captain. Having completed his UEFA Pro licence during the summer, he has spent his time at Craven Cottage getting to grips with this side of the game through his work with the Fulham under-21 team. Playing just as big a role off the pitch, as on it, he we also seen assisting with first team affairs on the bench during the club’s spell without a manager, last Christmas.
“Coaching certainly opens your eyes and ears,” he said, “I take a lot of information in and I try to use all the best bits that I’ve learnt from managers and people that have coached me throughout my career. It’s no secret that it’s an area of great interest to me and coaching would allow me to stay in the game I love when I finally decide to call it a day on the playing side.”
“Ultimately a successful coach is judged by the results he or she produces and this comes down to the planning, preparation and work carried out on the pitch. I have coached at Fulham and at Spurs and you do recognise quite quickly that there is an art involved in getting your message across to the players and relaying the small things you have learnt.”
Slavisa Jokanovic is a keen admirer of Parker’s leadership qualities, and there is every chance that the Fulham head coach will have a place for the Englishman once he playing days are over. Having offered the 36-year-old a contract extension last May, Jokanovic clearly recognises his importance to the club, be it as a player or a coach. Speaking to Get West London earlier this season, he is quoted as saying:
“In the spring, when I’ll be thinking about Scott Parker for next season or not and it’s a question of when he wants to finish. He’s a quality man and in front of him is his decision. He can play for a few years and he loves the beautiful game. I don’t know what he’ll do when he ends his playing career whether it will be coach or not but he’ll be involved in the club 100 per cent.”
Nonetheless, despite working towards his badges and a potential future in coaching, Parker appears reluctant to cut short his career early, in making the transition from player to backroom staff. As he previously alluded to, the former West Ham man stills sees himself very much as valued member of the playing squad, and there is no doubt that he remains a priceless asset to Jokanovic in this capacity. When asked if he will soon consider making the move upstairs, he responded with the following:
“I try not to give this too much thought which might seem a strange thing to say given that I’ve been taking my badges but whilst I’m still playing and enjoying it, I try to apply all of my concentration to my physical preparation and to the games which coincidentally come thick and fast so you don’t really get too much time to think about anything else. I’m the type of person that doesn’t want to attempt things at half measure, I want to be able to say that I’m well prepared and can coach to the best of my ability and I’m sure when the time finally comes, I will switch my attention but as I say, right now I enjoy playing.”
At 36 years of age, and with just one year left on his current contract at Fulham, the long-term future is perhaps uncertain for the 2011 Football Writers’ Player of the Year. For now, Parker’s focus is evidently the London outfit’s battle for promotion back to the Premier League. However, questions regarding the next step in his career are going to continue being asked.
Clearly enjoying his football under Cottagers boss Slaviša Jokanovic, he still has an important role to play, not least for the experience his brings. Be it next summer, or in two years time, Parker will retire as one of the nation’s most individually decorated players. Having won the hearts of thousands throughout a career spanning just shy of two decades, his industrious playing style has made him a cult hero for both club and country.