Euro 2012 - The making of an England captain
Scott Parker, appointed England captain for Wednesday night's friendly against Netherlands, makes for a rather unconventional skipper.
His experience of international football is not like that of Steven Gerrard - notably overlooked by Stuart Pearce - who has a long history in the England shirt, encompassing World Cups and European Championships.
Instead, Tottenham's child-TV-star-turned-Premier-League-hero has been forced to endure a frustrating England career that has taken in four managers, five clubs, nine years but resulted in only 10 caps.
However, Parker finally secured a regular place under Fabio Capello last season and Pearce further recognised his qualities as a player and a leader by handing him the armband for the prestige friendly against the Netherlands.
And he was so close to starting as skipper with a good result. Arjen Robben's injury-time curler gave the Oranje a 3-2 win at Wembley moments after Ashley Young had brought England back from a two-goal deficit; however Parker played well in the engine room of midfield.
This is the story of how Parker realised every boy's dream by becoming captain of his country.
Hitting the big time
He may not have represented England at a major tournament yet but Parker does have history with the World Cup. As a 13-year-old, the talented prospect was chosen by McDonald's to showcase his skills in his back garden for an advert ahead of USA '94 and became an overnight sensation in the process.
An England debut
Six years after coming through the ranks at Charlton under Alan Curbishley, Parker made his international debut as a 23-year-old in November 2003 when Sven-Goran Eriksson called him off the bench in a 3-2 defeat to Denmark at Old Trafford. It was deserved recognition for a player who, with his impressive work ethic and ability to make an impact on a game, had become one of the most consistent in the Premier League and was named as PFA Young Player of the Year for the 2003-04 season.
Chelsea come calling
By the time of his second appearance under Eriksson - a 1-0 defeat by Sweden in March 2004 - Parker had earned a big-money move to Stamford Bridge as one of the early beneficiaries of the Roman Abramovich revolution. However, his £10 million transfer to Stamford Bridge proved a disappointment as he made only eight league starts under Jose Mourinho, with Chelsea preferring Frank Lampard and Claude Makelele. As Parker later explained: “There were early parts of my career where I wasn’t mentally tough enough and things would get me down. I was at what you’d call a small club at Charlton and got the move to the big club. The owner was spending absolute millions and it didn’t work out for me. Football is about opinions.”
Croatia horror show
His slump form at Chelsea resulted in Parker being exiled from the international scene for well over two years but, by now a Newcastle player following a £6.5 million move in June 2005, Parker was handed an unexpected return when being called up for a crucial Euro 2008 qualifier against Croatia in Zagreb. However, manager Steve McClaren decided to set his side up in an unfamiliar 3-5-2 formation and Parker's first international start proved disastrous as a disjointed England side lost 2-0.
Triumph in Cardiff
It would be another four-and-half years before Parker was back in the England shirt, with Fabio Capello calling him up thanks to his performances with West Ham, the club he joined in a £7m deal in June 2007. Parker impressed when making an appearance as a substitute against Denmark in February 2011 but it was an away qualifier in Wales the following month - just his fifth cap - that established Parker as a key player under Capello. He said following the game in Cardiff: "At times it has been a bit disappointing for me, but I have just cracked on with it and seen what happens. One thing I've learnt in my career is that, when the opportunity comes, you need to grab it with two hands."
Footballer of the Year
West Ham fought a protracted and ultimately unsuccessful battle against relegation in the 2010-11 season but Parker's performances were nothing short of outstanding. His efforts in a very poor team were duly recognised when he became the first West Ham player to receive the Footballer of the Year award since the great Bobby Moore, another England captain, in 1964. When informed of this fact, Parker replied: "That means a lot to me."
Parker switched West Ham for Tottenham in the summer of 2011, immediately impressing in Harry Redknapp's midfield, and his status as an important player with England was further cemented when he appeared in European Championship qualifiers against Bulgaria, Wales and Montenegro as the country booked their place in the Euro 2012 finals. He was also a member of the side that defeated world and European champions Spain at Wembley in November and his continued excellent was recognised when, 12 months after his return to the national side against Denmark, he was named England's Player of 2011 following a supporter vote. "I don't think I ever lost hope that I could make it at international level," he said. "I crammed in a lot in one year. I realised time was ticking."