Scott Parker: How ex-England midfielder turned Fulham from losers into promotion winners

By Rob StevensBBC Sport
Fulham celebrate their first goal
Goalscorer Joe Bryan rushed to celebrate with Scott Parker after putting Fulham in front at Wembley

Played five, lost five. Scott Parker's managerial career could have not got off to a more inauspicious start.

Fulham were at a low ebb that would culminate in relegation from the Premier League with five games still to play.

But little more than 17 months after Parker took the helm at Craven Cottage, the mood could not be more different - after he led the Whites to an immediate top-flight return, with a 2-1 victory over west London rivals Brentford 2-1 in Tuesday's Championship play-off final.

Promotion could be worth £135m to the club over the next three years.

Here is how Parker transformed Fulham's fortunes during his first full season in management.

Inheriting a losing mentality

Scott Parker
Scott Parker was only five games into his managerial career when Fulham were relegated from the Premier League after losing at Watford in April 2019

Fulham were 19th in the Premier League, 10 points from safety with 10 games left, when Parker took over as caretaker-manager at the end of February 2019, becoming their third boss of a troubled campaign following the departure of Claudio Ranieri.

The former England midfielder's losing start saw relegation confirmed after only his fifth game in charge - a 4-1 defeat at Watford last April.

That defeat at Vicarage Road was Fulham's 13th in 14 games in all competitions.

"This team, 15 months ago, was a team that lost most weeks," Parker, 39, said.

"What you didn't see and what people don't understand is a deeper-rooted issue at the club, which had some real gaping wounds.

"This club needed some stability and a clear direction."

The first signs of a recovery were shown when Parker's men recorded three successive victories after the drop was confirmed, keeping three clean sheets in the process to give a glimpse of the squad's potential.

"I remember being at the penultimate [home] game in their Premier League season. Scott walked around the pitch and there were only sporadic bunches of Fulham supporters who had stayed behind," former Swindon striker and BBC Radio London pundit Sam Parkin told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"He gesticulated to stick with him and that he knew what he was doing - not to worry and don't take it out on the players."

Dealing with expectation

Fulham were among the favourites for promotion to the top flight in pre-season, having hung on to star striker Aleksandar Mitrovic and brought in proven Championship performers Ivan Cavaleiro and Anthony Knockaert.

But the Cottagers were never in the automatic promotion places at any point during the campaign, with a couple of setbacks halting their momentum.

Parker acknowledged "self-doubt" in his players after three straight losses in December and their hopes of catching the top two were effectively ended by back-to-back defeats by Brentford and Leeds United in their first two games after the season restarted in June following the coronavirus lockdown.

"There was a period where they were very inconsistent," Steve Brown, a former team-mate of Parker's at Charlton Athletic, told BBC Sport.

"That is the problem Scott has had to wrestle with throughout the season. You could watch them one week when they were outstanding and the next they weren't at those same levels."

However, Parker rallied his squad after their 3-0 defeat at Elland Road, and Fulham went seven games unbeaten at the end of the regular campaign to finish fourth, behind Brentford on goal difference.

"I've seen a different side to his management in the last few games at Craven Cottage," Parkin said.

"Maybe he felt it was a bit of a free hit that automatic promotion had gone. It gave him an opportunity to work at different things."

Parker showed his ability to cope without Mitrovic, who won the Championship's Golden Boot this season, when the Serbia international missed both legs of the play-off semi-final against Cardiff City.

Aleksandar Mitrovic
Striker Aleksandar Mitrovic scored 18 more goals than any other Fulham player this season

"He has shown there were more strings to their bow in how he can set the team up," Parkin added.

"The game plan [at Wembley] and movement of the front players caused Brentford a big problem from the first whistle."

A determined character

Spending the majority of his career in the Premier League with Charlton, Chelsea, Newcastle, West Ham, Tottenham and Fulham, Parker was a committed and combative midfielder who won 18 caps for his country.

He took his first steps in coaching in Tottenham's youth set-up before returning to Fulham as first-team coach under Slavisa Jokanovic in the summer of 2018, after the Whites were promoted to the Premier League.

He is not the most demonstrative in his technical area during games or as loquacious as some of his peers in press conferences, but below the surface lies a steely determination to succeed.

Brown says Parker was "a very shy person" during his formative years at The Valley.

"He was certainly not someone at a young age that I envisaged going into coaching," the former defender added.

"He has learned how to change that particular part of his character to become what he is.

"Away from the pitch, he is very relaxed but once you put a football in front of him, he becomes a different animal. It makes him really driven.

"Scott is very calm, measured and calculated on the sidelines.

"You need a concrete belief you are very good at what you do and he looks comfortable in a manager's skin.

"To do what he has done in his first full season is exceptional."

A close bond with the players

Scott Parker congratulates his players
Fulham boss Scott Parker congratulated his players after the final whistle confirmed promotion to the Premier League

Parker's demeanour at the end of extra-time showed how he has developed a relationship with his squad.

A quick embrace with his coaching staff after the final whistle was followed by several hugs with individual players as the celebrations intensified on the pitch.

He was tossed in the air by the first team, and Mitrovic came over before the trophy lift to put an arm around his boss and give him a friendly hair ruffle as the pair exchanged words.

"It was very emotional and rightly so - but the players were all around him," said ex-Fulham midfielder Lee Clark, who played alongside Parker at Newcastle.

"I think he has a really strong bond with that group of players now."

Brown added: "They looked genuinely together as a team.

"It was amazing to see how many popped out of the celebrations to shake his hand and give him a hug."

Left-back Joe Bryan scored both goals against the Bees at Wembley, and thinks Parker's playing career has helped his transition into management.

"He's very good at motivational talking," the 26-year-old told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"When he talks, everyone respects it - he's been there and done it.

"It's good to play for a manager you know is speaking from personal experience of being a player."

Premier League recruitment the next challenge

Once the celebrations are over, Parker will need to concentrate quickly on getting Fulham ready for a fresh Premier League campaign, starting in September.

The Whites spent £100m on new signings after winning promotion under Jokanovic two years ago, with their scatter-gun approach to recruitment backfiring.

"They went a bit gung-ho in the transfer market last time and they didn't look like they had a plan over what they were trying to do," Clark said.

"Scott has been saying they have to learn from two years ago and the mistakes they made last time.

"It goes to show it doesn't matter the amount of money you spend, but how you spend it.

"I think he has a really strong bond with that group of players now, and he'll want to keep the majority of those and maybe add two or three."

With less than six weeks until the start of the 2020-21 season, Parker's measured approach to management will be tested as Fulham begin their recruitment and target top-flight survival.

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