‘Face Up. Front up. Don’t hide’: Scott Parker has a plan to lift struggling Fulham off the bottom of the Premier League table… and former Tottenham and West Ham midfielder insists he is ‘immune’ to pressure as he navigates relegation battle this season
- Fulham are bottom of the Premier League and are still looking for their first win
- Scott Parker is not panicking and has a plan to turn his side’s fortunes around
- He wants his players to show themselves and to ‘face up’ to the challenge ahead
- Parker is keen to harness the culture and is not one for regular dressing downs
- Fulham take on fellow promoted side West Brom on Monday in a huge game
Managing in the Premier League is hard. Doing it during a global health crisis is even harder. At Fulham, Scott Parker cannot even talk to all his players in one room at the same time.
‘I have to take two or three team meetings rather than one as we are only allowed a certain number of players in one room,’ he said.
‘We haven’t got anywhere at the training ground big enough for everyone to be socially distanced.’
Scott Parker has opened up on his plan to keep Fulham’s Premier League status this season
Fulham finished fourth last season, were promoted in the play-offs but are struggling right now
Every manager loses his temper with players occasionally. It must be exhausting to have to do it three times instead of once.
‘Yeah, I know,’ smiles Parker. ‘As a player here you just have to be clever about who you are going into one of my meetings with.
‘If someone has played badly at the weekend, just don’t go in the same room as that person!’ Parker is belly laughing by the end and it is good to see. Regular ear-bashings are not his style, anyway, but even if they were, he does not expect to reach that point often this season.
Fulham are at the bottom of the Premier League but you would not know it. ‘I feel brilliant, to be fair,’ he told Sportsmail on Thursday.
‘Pressure is something I have had since I was a 10-year-old on a McDonald’s advert.
‘Whether it was Under 12s football on a Sunday where everyone is looking and saying, “Oh, that’s the kid” or making my debut for Charlton at 16, then moving to Chelsea for £10million.
‘I have kind of become immune to it. Of course, there are times when it’s hard but when I was 10 and walking into school and kids were being rough to me, that was hard, too.
‘So you understand it and you try to stay level and that’s the biggest part of me. I know what my mechanisms are and they are simple. Hard work. Face up. Front up. Don’t hide. Especially now while we are having a bad run.
‘The reality is that we are not playing well. So what do we need to do? How can we improve? Can we work harder? Can I stay in the office longer? Can I be on the training ground more? That’s always been my go-to and normally I end up coming out the other side.’
Speaking to Sportsmail, Parker was able to laugh and dismissed the notion of pressure
Fulham go into Monday night’s game against West Brom desperate for a first win this season
Parker has only just turned 40 and this is his second full season as a manager. Last season’s promotion via the play-offs was a significant achievement and already remaining in the top flight looks like a big ask. Fulham have a single point ahead of Monday’s home game with West Bromwich Albion.
The former England midfielder knows his team must improve. There is not an awful lot of top-flight experience in the Fulham side. Parker once said football was only 20 per cent about ability. The rest is in the head.
‘I do feel like we need to improve on that but these are good players and they will,’ he nodded.
‘Setbacks will come and the bumps will come. They did last year. But being brutally honest we need to improve on how we deal with that and I am sure any one of the players would say that is a big driver coming from me.
‘I do think you can train it, though. You just have to try. We all go out on the grass and train the left foot or someone’s crossing or shooting but we lose sight of the other stuff. But it’s during adverse times that you can really learn and grow. We need to do that.’
A chat with Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson after his team beat Fulham 2-1 last weekend was helpful.
Parker is convinced that he can harness results from a group that has struggled badly so far
‘He was very complimentary of how we did things last year and this year,’ revealed Parker. ‘He just said “stick with it” and “keep believing in what you are doing”. That was nice.’
Less helpful was a tweet from Fulham co-owner Tony Khan after a home defeat by Aston Villa in September in which he apologised for the performance of Parker’s team.
Parker was not happy and said so.
‘That has settled down fine,’ said Parker.
‘We have owners who care about Fulham and have spent a lot of money. Tony’s comments were coming from a good place.
‘He had his say and I had mine and it is what it is. My point was nobody had to apologise for the performance.
‘Tony is in charge of the other bits and if he wants to apologise for that it’s fine but he doesn’t need to apologise for the performance because if you do that, it’s because of lack of effort and that will never be the case for one of my teams.
‘So we move on and realise more than ever that we must stick together as a club, a team and as fans.
‘There will be a lot of people out there wanting to chip away at us and break us. We need to stick together.
‘It will be tough this year. I took over after Claudio Ranieri left and the club was in pieces. It was distant in all areas. The team, the fans, the group. Results can do that. A big driver for me was to get everyone back together and that to a large part is why we were successful last year.
Fulham owner Khan issued an apology on Twitter after the club’s heavy defeat vs Aston Villa
‘Not many relegated teams come straight back up. Look at Stoke, Huddersfield. It’s difficult.
‘Much of that success was from our togetherness. Sure there are times when you come in on a Monday morning and have to tell the players that something wasn’t acceptable.
‘I realise that I am trying to drive 30 men with different egos and personalities. I need them out there on a Saturday giving the best they can.
‘So creating an environment and a culture is about getting the balance right.
‘Everyone saw the Brentford game in the play-off final but that was just the end of it. What happened before was what got us here.
‘It has to be the same this year. One million per cent we have to stick together and I am sure we will do that.’
Fulham beat Brentford 2-1 in extra-time at Wembley. Most memorable was Parker’s emotional post-match interview during which he paid tribute to his wife, Carly, and their four sons for putting up with the baggage that a football manager inevitably brings home every night. During our conversation on Zoom, Parker was as he is always is. Smiling, engaged and great company. So is he managing to be the same at home?
‘Yeah, it’s all good,’ he said. ‘What I said was just how I felt. It was the emotion of a long, hard season. The people closest to you are the ones that see all sides of it. The end part makes it all worthwhile.
Tom Cairney has been a key part of the success under Parker but things are tough right now
‘It’s no different for me than it is for any other parent out there working. The pressures and sacrifices are just the same.
‘But the family are enjoying the Premier League, I think. The boys often tell me they would like more points. But I would like them even more than they would.’
Parker’s playing career took him from Charlton to Chelsea and then on to Newcastle, West Ham, Tottenham and Fulham.
He began his coaching life at Spurs with the Under 18s but the long-term objective was always clear.
‘My No 1 aim was to be at first-team level and manage my team,’ he said. ‘I went to Tottenham to cut my teeth and be on the training field. For my development as a coach I needed that.
‘I had dealt with a lot as a player and felt accomplished but on the coaching side of it, I wasn’t. I didn’t want to jump into first-team football and be learning my trade on the job.
‘I didn’t want to be making big mistakes in front of seasoned pros. I know how ruthless the game can be.’
With that last truth in mind, it feels a little as though Parker will need some results soon if the ground is not to start to shift a little beneath his feet.
His playing career saw him play for a number of London clubs, including West Ham (pictured)
The former Tottenham youth coach knows he has to innovate to keep this group in the league
He is realistic about that and knows exactly what Fulham’s horizons are this season.
‘If we finish the season fourth from bottom, that will be a huge achievement given that we were fourth in the Championship last season,’ he said.
As he looks to achieve that, Parker knows he must innovate. The bonds he wants to strengthen usually come from packed dressing rooms, team buses and squad nights out. The pandemic has removed those options.
‘We can’t even go out for a team meal,’ Parker said. ‘It’s out of the question. That’s the world we are in. But everyone out there is in the same position. No way will we feel sorry for ourselves. Being flexible is part of it and trying to find new ways to push boundaries and keep everything moving is the thing.’
As he said himself: Face Up. Front up. Don’t hide. It sounds like a decent motto.
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