Football may not be a game renowned for its long memory, but even by the Premier League’s standard, the change in fortunes that Scott Parker has suffered in little over 12 months at Tottenham Hotspur feels incredible.
As we headed into the final straight of last season, the former-Charlton Athletic man was already well on course to pick up both the supporters’ player of the year at White Hart Lane, as well as a starting berth for his country at the European Championships.
Yet fast forward to the March of 2013 and it seems hard to believe quite how altered Parker’s standing within first team affairs feels this season. Because where as he last season he represented something of a priceless commodity, this time around, he feels more of a clunking component in a stuttering machine.
Of course, it’s easy to overplay what many have perceived to be a season of regression for Parker in the white half of North London.
A near on four month absence with an Achilles issue has cast an overwhelming shadow over the midfielder’s season and where as ideally he would have been eased back into first-team proceedings, the season ending knee injury to Sandro hyper accelerated his return to the fore.
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Indeed, the 32-year-old had amassed only an hour of Premier League football before his season was effectively jump started at QPR in January and the lack of options in the Spurs engine room ensured that Parker had to find his form the hard way.
Yet with only eight league games remaining this season, Parker heads into the final straight with his influence upon Andre Villas-Boas’ side a real talking point within the home crowd.
Superficially, when looking beyond Spurs’ recent hiccup of form, it feels difficult to justify a lot of the negativity that has surrounded Parker’s performances. Out of the 20 games he’s featured in for the Lilywhites this season, the England man has only played on the loosing side four times, with three of those losses coming in the last three games. Certainly, if he has been struggling to replicate the form of last term, it’s hardly had a detrimental effect upon the results.
But while Tottenham have hardly been floundering with Scott Parker in the side, they’ve not often felt like they’ve flourished in his presence, either.
It would be cruel to proportion the weight of Spurs’ often-jagged performances in recent months solely on Parker’s shoulders, although you can’t help but feel that he serves to represent a motif of the side’s collective inability to sustain any real rhythm to their play.
Should Spurs claw their way to Champions League qualification this season, supporters aren’t likely to worry too much about how they got there; just as long as they do. But despite going on a 12 game unbeaten run, while Villas-Boas’ side played some great football in patches, it was hardly a sustained free-flowing exhibition of attacking football.
In the games against Norwich City, Newcastle United and especially the two legs against Lyon in the Europa League to name but a few, Spurs managed to avoid defeat, but they certainly didn’t make life easy for themselves. The result has ultimately always been ground out, but at times Villas-Boas’ side have rarely managed to hit the high gears for more than a 10 or 15-minute spell.
And perhaps few have tended to look quite as laboured as Parker has done within the side, when things haven’t necessarily been free-flowing.
Some will point to the fact that the usual barometer for a good Parker performance last season was when you barely heard his name mentioned at all, as he mopped up loose ends and went about his business both quietly and efficiently. This season however, while he’s still performed that role well, the remit for his midfield play has encompassed a slightly larger scope under Villas-Boas.
The anchor midfield pairing in the Villas-Boas system requires an awful lot more dynamism and interchangeability than the relatively singular role Parker was asked to play alongside Luka Modric last term.
Where as last season, the England man was given the sole task of sitting and sweeping up, this time around, he’s had to offer a presence in the final third for the first time in his Spurs career. When Mousa Dembele sits, Parker has to move forward and consequently, he’s often looked painfully exposed when approaching the edge of the penalty area.
So is Scott Parker really a fading force or more an unfortunate victim of accelerated change? Whichever way you look at it, the role he’s being asked to play by Villas-Boas hasn’t made it easy for him to stand out in this team.
Yet on the other side of the coin, while he has tended to look like an awkward component in the Tottenham machine, the core attributes of his game have still remained a priceless asset in the newly found steel the side have developed in recent games. Calls from some supporters to drop Parker’s industry for the technical excellence of young Tom Carroll aren’t without gravitas, but as we’ve seen so often throughout the 32-year-old’s career, subtracting his skillset from your side often tends to do more harm than good.
Having had both Sandro and Scott Parker plying their trade in this Andre Villas-Boas system, there can be simply no arguments that the Brazilian remains the better fit and perhaps the overall better player. But with Sandro out the picture following injury, regardless of his limitations in the Portuguese’s system, Parker has done an admirable job within the starting XI. A long term option he may not be, but over the next eight league games, he still has a massive part to play.
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