Rejuvenated Parker back in England fold
Scott Parker is old-fashioned in the purest sense of the term – even his precise side parting and the habit of never wearing his shirt outside his shorts conforms to the image of a figure from a bygone age.
As he enters the room with a firm handshake for every member of the media, Parker gives the impression of man who applies traditional values in his personal and professional life.
Fabio Capello may be pondering his selections in defence and attack, but one decision that should not be giving him a sleepless night is placing Parker in the centre of England’s new-look midfield.
Last season's player of the year Scott Parker has now set his sights on establishing himself in the England team. PHOTO: GETTY
Parker has rebuilt his England career from the wreckage his rejection for the World Cup in South Africa, seemingly changing Capello’s mind along the way as well as being named Footballer of the Year despite West Ham United’s relegation last season.
He was acknowledged as one of the better performers at England’s pre-World Cup training camp in Austria last year, but did not make the plane and it appeared he would be forever unfulfilled at international level.
The suspicion lingered that Capello felt Parker was not quite international class, that he did not move the ball quickly enough in possession to be of useful service to England at elite level.
Parker took his disappointment before focusing on giving it a final shot at convincing Capello of his worth and more specifically deciding to “give it a rip” in a 45-minute appearance as a substitute in the friendly win in Denmark in February.
Capello took the hint and Parker is now flourishing, particularly in the qualifying wins in Wales and Bulgaria, where his ability to form a solid base in midfield has protected England’s defence and allowed their attack to flourish.
And after making an outstanding start at Tottenham following his move from West Ham United, these are heady times for the 30-year-old who has always been highly-regarded by his fellow professionals.
If England avoid defeat in what is expected to be a hostile atmosphere in The City Stadium on Friday, Parker will be in sight of representing his country at a major tournament, a chance which looked to have gone when he was ignored for South Africa.
He says: “I went to the pre-World Cup training camp and thought I did pretty well but I knew it would be difficult for me because I didn’t play in any of the qualifiers. I knew the manager had his team. I probably would have gone along with the same thing had I been in his position.
“Injuries occurred and I thought maybe I would have a chance but it wasn’t meant to be. Coming away from the initial disappointment I thought it was going to be hard for me to get another chance.
“There hadn’t been a lot of opportunities for me under Mr Capello so I thought it was going to be difficult but I’m glad that I said to myself that I’m going to get my head down and see what happens. Thank God it has turned around and I seem to have got my chance.”
Parker is in the unusual position of being one of the older members of England’s squad and yet part of the new generation because of his lack of previous opportunities. He regards this as the perfect combination of a player without the baggage of previous failures and yet with the experience to make his influence count.
He said: “I understand things a lot better. I can deal with disappointment a lot better and all of that makes me a better player as well as a better person. You realise in football that there comes a point when age takes its hit on you but I think I’m a better player now.
“I understand that when age hits you and you can’t run any more it is a big issue but I certainly feel that I can deal with things a lot better and I’m a better player."
And he accepts that Capello's decision to pitch him on as a second-half substitute in England's friendly in Copenhagen was probably the make-or-break moment for his international career.
“I had to take that chance against Denmark," said Parker. "I had been in the squads a few times under his management and never really got a chance and probably went there wondering whether I would get on.
“Half-time came and he put me on. My attitude was to go and give it a rip and see what happens. Obviously I impressed the manager a little bit to get a start against Wales, which was massive for me. From then on it has gone well.
“I probably didn’t think I would figure but I’ve realised over the course of my career that football can change quickly. It’s changed for me and now I need to stay as focused as I can and keep performing as well as I can.”
England will train at The City Stadium on Thursday evening as Capello formulates his final plans, with speculation rife about his selections at right-back and up front.
Everton’s Phil Jagielka has been touted as a possible solution at right-back with Chris Smalling injured, but the 29-year-old has never looked comfortable in this position and struggled in the Wembley defeat against France last November.
Capello must weigh up his experience against recalling Manchester City’s Micah Richards – who is another who seems to have to fight to convince his coach – or give a first cap to Spurs youngster Kyle Walker.
Manchester United’s Phil Jones is also in the mix, but Capello is an admirer of Jagielka, the man he called “The General” after victory in Switzerland.
Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck is another to win favour with Capello, but the attacking trio of Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young and Theo Walcott appeared perfectly built for these types of fixtures in the away win in Sofia.
It is unlikely there will be any doubts about Parker’s place, despite Frank Lampard’s recent renaissance at Chelsea – proof that even the single-minded Capello can be swayed by strength of character and performances.