An ode to Scott Parker’s trademark 360 degree turns at West Ham
Last season’s Championship promotion race had a distinctly West Ham flavour to it. However, while the Hammers know all about Slaven Bilic as a manager, Scott Parker can hit some new nostalgia buttons for their fanbase.
Parker’s appointment as Fulham manager came too late for a narrative-driven return to east London in 2018-19, with a 3-1 win at the London Stadium prompting the visitors to dismiss Claudio Ranieri and hand the former midfielder the reins.
It’s been a very quick about-turn for a team which looked hopeless when dropping down from the Premier League, and the idea of a dramatic turnaround is something West Ham fans will be very familiar with having watched Parker in their midfield for several years.
There’s a common commentator’s cliche about a footballer being able to ‘turn on a sixpence’, but Parker, by contrast, was able to turn on a bank vault and still leave opponents no closer to dispossessing him.
There was no deception here. When Parker received the ball on the deck, you knew what was coming. The only question mark was whether he would make a 360 degree turn quickly or slowly. Johan Cruyff had nothing on this.
You’d think this would make it easy for opponents to dispossess the midfielder, and we’re struggling to think of any logical reason why that wouldn’t be the case.
And yet, time after time, we’d be treated to the incremental loop until he was back facing the way he was to begin with, only with slightly more space to manoeuvre.
It’s the closest thing football has ever had to Truman Burbank going once around the block to ensure the extras providing a traffic jam had disappeared. And, as with Truman, it worked just the way he planned.
From what I remember of Scott Parker the player, he's the best man to turn things round at Fulham. And turn things round again. And then turn them round again. And again.
— Adam Hurrey (@FootballCliches) February 28, 2019
In a way, management has always suited Parker, a man who permanently looked like he was wearing a crisp suit underneath his claret and blue kit.
His best attacking moments for West Ham came not when he was bustling through the middle but rather when – with space to pick his spot – he found the narrowest of gaps without making the kind of contact which would require anything approaching sweat.
It was often the ball rather than Parker himself who did most of the travelling. This was a man who could bust a gut for 90 minutes, covering more ground than anyone else, yet ensure all the sweat from his endeavours was able to concentrate around his face in case he had to dash straight off to a gala dinner or awards presentation upon the final whistle.
His consolation goal in a defeat against Chelsea is the best example: a lofted finish over the retreating Petr Cech.
No need for an extra touch, or even an extra step. Gotta save those for all the occasions when he receives the ball in the centre circle with an opponent slowly approaching.
Forgotten Goal #197
Scott Parker vs Chelsea 11/9/10 pic.twitter.com/xF3G1YCdCT
— VINNYWHUFC (@vinnywhufc) January 15, 2018
The approach was reflected in his nickname: throughout Parker’s time at West Ham, there was an apparent unspoken agreement to refer to him as ‘Scotty’ rather than Scott, to the point that it became a running joke to refer to him in print as ‘Scott E. Parker’.
It’s a fitting add-on for a man who felt prepared to do extra where required but knew the limit of how much extra was actually needed. An extra letter? Fine, but anything more was just an unnecessary flourish.
Parker was the kind of player who would rescue your cat from a tree but gently lob it towards you from a couple of yards away so he could get on with his day.
He could walk for a soon-to-depart train while everyone around him sprinted, knowing exactly how long he had before things ticked from ‘in time’ to ‘just too late’.
If his management is anything like his playing style, Fulham will get the exact number of points needed to meet their target; no more, no less. After leaving it until extra-time in the play-off final to earn promotion, it seems he already knows exactly how much to do.
By Tom Victor