You’d have thought it’d be quite the task to render a fans’ player of the season as something of a forgotten man, but such has been the hullaballoo that has encapsulated Tottenham Hotspur since the summer, Scott Parker seems to be just that.
Be it managerial change, tactical upheaval or the evolving face of the first XI, it’s felt at times this season that there’s been so much going on at White Hart Lane, that Parker’s absence through injury has been somewhat overlooked.
But with the news that the ex-West Ham man is potentially less than two weeks away from full fitness, Andre Villas-Boas’ side are set to receive a real shot in the arm and a huge boost ahead of the congested festive fixture list.
While Tottenham’s season has had more than a touch of the stop-start’s about it, Parker’s has term has of course so far, been rendered non-existent. The 32-year-old headed off after his superb debut season in N17 to the European Championship’s in Poland and Ukraine, already nursing a relatively delicate Achilles problem.
Following a fortnight of running his body into the ground for Roy Hodgson’s side, the problem had unsurprisingly failed to heal. While no one is ever going to criticize Parker for heading into Euro 2012 in the knowledge he may well have faced injury trouble ahead, the decision to delay surgery well into August certainly raised a few eyebrows.
Of course, the outlook for the Tottenham Hotspur midfield in August looked an awful lot different from the stuttering engine room that supporters have witnessed in recent weeks. The talk before the term began, was whether Parker would indeed even get into Andre Villas-Boas’ side. The school of thought was that with the emerging Sandro ready to step up to the plate in North London, and a glitzy replacement for Luka Modric in the form of say, a Joao Moutinho, there may not be any immediate need for Parker in midfield.
Needless to say, things haven’t quite turned out that way.
The mercurial Mousa Dembele’s arrival into the Spurs midfield has looked a superb acquisition – when he’s played, that is. The Belgian’s hip injury has left Spurs looking woefully exposed in central midfield. The midfield pairing of Sandro and Tom Huddlestone has predictably lacked much in the way of creativity, something that Parker himself may not have been likely to help with.
Yet that’s not all they’ve lacked, either. For all the technical qualities and tactical intelligence that Andre Villas-Boas has looked to build his team around, one attribute he can’t look to implement in Spurs’ shiny new Enfield training HQ, is that of leadership. Tottenham have felt as if they’ve lacked that sprinkling of grit, steel and determination that, even though it was hardly in abundance, they boasted last season.
Ledley King wasn’t the most vocal of captains, but he was a born leader by example. He retired during the summer. Rafael van der Vaart wasn’t a player who ever led Tottenham out of the tunnel in the Premier League, but he was a winner, a man who never shied away from a battle. He’s now plying his trade for Hamburg.
With Michael Dawson relegated to the bench for much of this term and Scott Parker sidelined through injury, that’s left only William Gallas as any form of leader within this Spurs side – and while he’s a decent organizer of a defense (when he’s in form, that is), he doesn’t feel like a natural captain.
Spurs are crying out for a leader or a figurehead to help find their form and drag this developing side back up into form ahead of the New Year’s fixture list. In football, as in every other walk of life, timing is everything. Enter Scott Parker.
Would the fielding of Parker helped prevent the late goals conceded against the likes of West Brom, Norwich and Manchester City? It’s difficult to say either way, but you can’t help but feel he could have helped prevent the air of inevitability that lingered around all three of those fixtures.
As well as the classic Parker trait of putting the body on the line and the last ditch tackles to save his team, most importantly, he gets the basics right. Be it the simple pass under pressure or the clearance out the box when danger’s looming, Parker’s decision making is second to none. Tottenham’s on the other hand, has often been suspect at best this season. In terms of defending a lead especially, Scott Parker is a superb asset to have in your side.
The England man’s return to the fore will come just after the return of Dembele’s, a man who Parker is technically now in competition for one of Villas-Boas’ two holding roles. Of course, Sandro’s superb displays this season would suggest that when fit, both the Brazilian and Dembele are sure starters. But it doesn’t have to be as clear-cut as that.
Given the monumental effort Sandro has put in for Spurs this season, at some point, AVB is going to have to give him something resembling a rest. But even then, while fans have witnessed first-hand the effects of playing a set of intrinsically defensive midfielders in the holding pair, Sandro’s attacking instincts are an underrated commodity.
Giving him a shot at the Dembele role besides Parker might seem unorthodox, but it could free up their influential Belgian to play higher up the pitch. Something of a wild card, yes, but it merely represents another option to Villas-Boas – something he’s not had many of since the season began.
But however you frame it, Scott Parker’s return to fitness represents a massive boost to this Tottenham Hotspur side. Supporters have underestimated the impact the Englishman could have once before, when quiet moans of disagreement were uttered upon his arrival in N17. He finished the term as player of the year. Don’t be surprised to see him produce a similar response this year.