It’s time to show some respect to Scott Parker

Neil Warnock was 62 when he made it. Chris Hughton 58, Sam Allardyce 57. Steve Bruce was 52 and Kevin Keegan was 51. Ian Holloway and Mick McCarthy were both 50 years old. Slavisa Jokanovic 49 years old. Few men have been promoted to the Premier League with two different clubs and when they have, it tends to come when they are deep into middle age.

Scott Parker has now achieved that goal at the age of 41. The only man to have done so earlier, in fact, is Paul Jewell, who brought Bradford City and then Wigan Athletic into the Premier League a few months before his 41st birthday.

Getting first Fulham and now Bournemouth to the Premier League, each on first request, makes Parker one of the best young managers in this country.

And while it will always be easy to point out that Parker had good players in each of his two jobs, the championship was never settled by talent and payroll alone. In fact, to reduce what Parker has done at Bournemouth to something predetermined by resources ignores what a managerial triumph it has been all season.

Parker took a risk by marching on Fulham to take the Bournemouth job. He had his frustrations with the management and recruitment of the London club and after two and a half tiring seasons, it’s understandable he wanted a fresh start with more control.

But Bournemouth was not necessarily an easy job. Not all the teams that go down come back and there are plenty of teams there – Stoke City, Wigan, Huddersfield Town – who are still watching the top flight from below. Yes, Bournemouth came sixth last season, but they were 14 points from automatic promotion. And lifting players back up after a failed play-off campaign may be easier said than done.

The other problem for Parker was the shadow of Eddie Howe, which still hangs over the club. It was he who brought Bournemouth into the Premier League and kept them there for five seasons. Fans are understandably still very loyal to Howe and his busy, aggressive style of play. For Parker, coming in and introducing something more patient, more possession-focused and more defensively secure was always going to have a mixed response.


Howe was popular at Bournemouth (Photo: Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

Parker has been criticized for his style of play by Fulham and Bournemouth fans, and Fulham fans taunted him with “Boring, boring Parker” when the teams met this year. (The fact that Fulham have scored so many goals under Marco Silva this season has been seen as proof that Parker has always had the handbrake in this Fulham team.) So it was to Parker’s credit that he came in Bournemouth with its own identity and ideas, kept its cool and stuck to it.

The most impressive part of Parker’s work this season is how he’s managed the team and got a large group of players to buy into what he’s trying to do. Especially since it was something he was accused of struggling with at Fulham, failing to communicate and connect with players who weren’t his first choice. But at Bournemouth he managed to do just that. For a group that has drifted in recent seasons, his pep talks have struck a chord.

Yes, Parker inherited a solid workforce but he had to deal with the departures of Asmir Begovic, Arnaut Danjuma and Diego Rico this summer. And while the club have splashed the cash, Parker has placed particular faith in Bournemouth’s Grade Three academy youngsters, even though they have started this season with almost no senior experience. Jaidon Anthony had just 70 minutes of Championship experience before this season but he was a revelation on the wing: eight goals, six assists. Only four teammates have played more league minutes than him this season.

Then there’s Jordan Zemura, who had two-minute league experience before this season but has impressed at left-back throughout Parker’s tenure. Anthony and Zemura’s impact shows that promoting Parker isn’t just about packing the team with big-name experience. Even after a busy January (three permanent signings, four loans), Anthony and Zemura retained their places in the squad.

Of course, Bournemouth’s great side presented their own challenges, the type of situation that hasn’t always been easy for Parker at Fulham. It’s impossible to keep every player happy and at times Parker has let top players out of his squads on match day, including Todd Cantwell and Parker’s former England team-mate Gary Cahill. But that didn’t lead to the same turmoil or sulking that happened at Fulham. In fact, team players Siriki Dembele and Jamal Lowe each made a significant contribution when needed.

Kieffer Moore came off the bench to score the promotion-sealing goal against Nottingham Forest, a typical Parker victory, based on solid defence, stopping opposition counter-attacks and trying their luck at the other end. Defense has been an issue at Bournemouth in recent years, both in the Premier League under Howe and last season as well. But this season Bournemouth have a league-leading 21 clean sheets (they got 16 last year) and the best defensive record, conceding 39 goals in 46 games.

So while ‘Parkerball’ may have its detractors, there is no doubt that it gave Bournemouth the solid foundation they needed. And the way Parker has managed this season – building on the style of play he developed at Fulham, improving his management of men, trusting young unknowns – sets him apart as a young manager at some importance.

When it comes to assessing the next generation of coaches, it’s often difficult to see them outside of the prism of their playing careers. But if we compare Parker to his contemporaries such as Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, we may even see someone with a more impressive record. His two promotions outweigh Lampard’s achievements, and although Gerrard has a Scottish league title with Rangers to his name, it remains to be seen what long-term impact he will have on Aston Villa. Gerrard and Lampard’s teams tend to play in a slightly frantic style, but Parker’s patient may even prove more durable.

Parker will naturally be desperate to do for Bournemouth what he couldn’t do at Fulham, and keep them in the Premier League. But whatever the future holds for him there, his record will draw attention across the country. Clubs bigger than Bournemouth were considering Parker last summer but thought it might be too early in his career to make the leap. That may not be the case next time, as Parker continues to change perceptions of himself and his work.

(Top photo: John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

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