Collins Column: Parker, Better, Faster, Stronger

Jack J Collins 10th May 2019

Fulham have a new permanent boss in place for the roughshod road of the Championship, and it is a rookie in many regards who will be at the helm, in Scott Parker. The former skipper has done a good job since taking over, and yet it is hard to truly define a reign that has been mostly done in the light of first impending, and then confirmed, relegation. Jack J Collins digs a little deeper.

So, the deal is done and Scotty has the wheel on a permanent basis. It is the appointment we were all expecting, despite talk of approaches for Arsene Wenger, and whilst there are obvious drawbacks to Parker’s stewardship, there are plenty of upsides as well.

The first piece of good news is that the three victories and clean sheets secured against Everton, Bournemouth and Cardiff have somewhat broken the spell of the ‘Parker curse’ which was still holding sway amongst the more superstitious parts of the fanbase—so I was glad that we could get that one out of the way.

On a more serious note, the biggest upside of Parker getting the role on a full-time basis is the rapport that he appears to have with the squad, and the fact that he is a trusted and down-to-earth modern footballer who will understand the pressures and rigmaroles of what it takes in both the Championship and the modern game as a whole.

Tom Cairney has spoken at length about why Parker was able to transform the dressing room after a strange period with Claudio Ranieri, and I imagine part of the reason that the captain signed a new long-term deal committing him to the club was that he will have been given assurances regarding who was to be in the manager’s chair at the start of next season.

You imagine that to young players, Parker will be not only a shining example of what can be achieved in the game. As a former Premier League Player of the Year and England captain, he is uniquely placed to show just how far a player can go with the right attitude and application.

Interestingly, he appears to have developed somewhat of a bond with some newer players as well as those who he knew from his playing days at the club. Whilst I expect Stefan Johansen to return to play under the man who held the No. 8 shirt before him, I’ve noticed that Parker seems to have become close to Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa too.

I’ve heard from more than one source close to the club that Parker rates the Cameroonian midfielder highly, and if his appointment allows us to keep the likes of Anguissa in the Championship, then Parker serves more than just a tactical purpose – he can also become a figurehead for players to rally around and remain in black and white next season.

Tactically, the new gaffer also seems to fit. Having cut his coaching teeth under Mauricio Pochettino, Slavisa Jokanovic and Claudio Ranieri; as well as working under the likes of Mourinho, Villas-Boas, Capello, Hodgson, Curbishley and Roeder; Parker should have a decent understanding of a number of systems, styles of manager and ways of playing.

His favoured 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 appears to have been gleaned from the two real Cruyffian ideologists in that list in Pochettino and Jokanovic, meaning that Fulham should return to the Championship playing the style that brought them up – possession-heavy and progressive in attack – which is music to the ears of us whose shine for this side was dulled and battered by Ranieri’s catenaccio-influenced attempts to bludgeon out a counter attacking unit from a team clearly not built to play that way.

However, he does not possess the same single-minded approach that Jokanovic did. Whereas the Serbian rigidly stuck to his principles no matter the occasion – something on the whole which I respect, but didn’t always come off – I feel that Parker is able to rotate his pack of cards slightly differently, employing differing solutions to attempt to claim three points. He’s shown that he’s not afraid to tinker with things that are not working, and I imagine we will see more rotation of formation to suit the opponent, next season.

The last major positive for me is the respect that Parker seems to command in the game. Former teammates, opponents, managers and clubs all seem to have all the time in the world for the new gaffer, and that respect will allow him to build bridges in terms of signings, both loan and permanent. If he can go back to former club Tottenham to pick up a prodigious youth talent who could light up the Championship, in the way that Reece James has at Wigan on loan from Chelsea, or Mason Mount or Harry Wilson has at Derby, to name but a few, then perhaps Fulham could be on to a winner.

This has all been sunshine and roses so far, and it would be insincere of me to not also address the fallbacks that this appointment may well have. Whilst Kit Symons’ heart was in the right place when Fulham appointed him as a permanent manager, not that long ago, it was evident from the start that he simply did not have the managerial chops to turn Fulham into a force in the Championship; and his appointment came from the heart, not from the head. The fact that he has not had another hot seat since suggests that even he knew that he probably wasn’t cut out to be a number one in the dugout.

There is a slight concern that Parker’s appointment is from the same mould. He took a squad bereft of confidence and being played hopelessly out of shape, restored some normality and saw a spike in performances and results that is not unthinkable given the quality present within the squad. If Fulham can keep that level of talent above the ceiling of others in the Championship next year, there is no reason to think that Parker will not succeed, but if the levels drop below that, how much ability does he have to squeeze the very most out of a squad with clever tactical tweaks and ingenious solutions on the training field.

We have seen at Manchester United that since Solskjaer’s permanent appointment, the original feelgood factor quickly wore off and the superior tactical nous of opponents has seen United slip up against opposition you would not be expecting a squad of that quality to be slipping up against. I do have underlying concerns that a similar situation might be in play at Fulham, although I do hope that Parker’s education under some exceptional managers, a seemingly excellent tactical Number Two in Matt Wells, and a squad who appear to deeply respect his experience and authority will combine to make his reign a success.

We won’t really know if we’ve got this right or wrong until November, I would suggest, so for now, all that’s left to do is congratulate Scotty on his appointment, get behind him and the lads and believe in the project. He’s shown in his time at the helm that he is capable of bringing this squad up a level from where they sat. If he can do so again, and he’s backed accordingly, there’s no reason that this can’t be the beginning of something beautiful.

All together now: “Scotty’s at the wheel, tell me how good does it feel!”

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