It’s a rum state of affairs when a footballer can almost completely drop from his club’s fans collective consciousness during the season after they voted him their Player of the Year. But let’s have a moment of honesty here- at times so far in recent months when Tottenham have been hitting the high notes so far this year, how many of us can honestly attest to having thought “this is nice and everything, but it’s nothing compared to what we could achieve with Scotty Parker in the side”?
The sad fact is that while Parker is respected and admired by the manager, the fans and impartial pundits alike, many would flinch at the prospect of him returning straight into this current Tottenham side this weekend now that his lengthy injury layoff has come to an end. A cogent argument for his inclusion can be formed around the usual collection of platitudes- leadership, focus, bite- but when you strip the situation to the bare bones, Parker doesn’t seem to bring much to the table any more compared to his direct competitors. He doesn’t seem to win the ball any more convincingly than Sandro, he doesn’t drive at the opposition as well as Dembele, and he can’t pick a pass like Huddlestone. In AVB’s Spurs, where does Parker the grafter fit?
The issue for me is that all of the above labels that are commonly used to pigeonhole Parker, ‘focus’ in particular, are misleading in the contexts that they are usually used. Married to images of Scotty taking a free kick point-blank to the face or attempting to tackle an opponent with his head, they have created a reputation for him as a workhorse or water-carrier; in simple terms, he’s valuable because he tries hard and puts in more puff than most.
For me, however, Parker’s focus manifests itself in ways which are much more directly important than the simple will to win. For one, he concentrates defensively more than most players in the League, rarely allowing pockets to open around his side’s penalty spot which would permit an opponent to chance a long shot. His keen positional awareness also means that few players can get a run on him, and his passing is lazer-precise which prevents the side from giving up possession cheaply in the closing stages of matches.
It is this more literal kind of ‘focus’, understood as alertness and an excellent reading of the game which makes Scotty uniquely placed to help Spurs improve as a side from this point onwards. Throughout the season so far, Spurs have suffered from the team’s unconvincing riding out of pressure in the closing stages of a game. Sitting deep and allowing the opponent to come on to us, a strategy designed to secure a narrow lead, has seen us more often than not surrender potentially winning positions as a result of a failure to carry it through properly.
With a player back in the side whose game is built around checking opposition threats and responsibility in possession, however, I feel that Tottenham now stand a better chance of seeing off ascendant teams in a credible and confident manner. With Scotty at the epicentre of our defensive efforts, lapses in concentration and cheaply conceded goals will become ever-rarer occurrences. When you look at the matches this season when that factor would arguably have been a decisive one- the draws against Norwich, and West Brom being key examples- the true importance of Scotty Parker suddenly comes much more sharply into focus. At the times you notice Parker, diving in to tackles and blocks, he’s usually doing something important- but it’s when you don’t notice him, when he’s quietly and studiously marshalling things and preventing the opposition from getting anything going at all, that his best work is realised. It’s this element of Parker’s game- the non-visible part- that drives the side on much more than the usual antics that get slapped with the ‘leadership’ tag.
If I wanted to achieve anything with this article, it is a redefinition of the concept of Parker’s ‘grafting’. Fundamentally, the sometime England captain is not simply a passionate workhorse, but instead a sturdy pillar on which an at-times shaky Tottenham side can rely on when matches take a turn for the turbulent. Daring deeds are well and good, but it’s when it comes to the ordinary, Clark Kent-ish things- playing the safe passes, locking down dangerous areas- that Scotty has in the past truly revealed himself as the hero this side needs.