Scott Parker is not yet ready for Tottenham - he failed to make the most of his tools at Fulham

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Scott Parker must show he can translate personality into points to prove his managerial credentials - PA
Scott Parker must show he can translate personality into points to prove his managerial credentials - PA

It is a strange truth of Scott Parker’s young managerial career that there were more grumbles from Fulham’s supporters last year, in their promotion campaign in the Championship, than during this season, which has ended in a painful relegation.

A year ago, when Fulham finished fourth in the Championship and won promotion thanks to a dramatic win in the play-off final, there were large chunks of the Fulham fanbase who were unconvinced by Parker’s work as manager. By contrast this year, with relegation from the top flight confirmed after 35 matches, the 40-year-old’s reputation seems to have been enhanced — to such an extent that he has been linked with the Tottenham Hotspur job.

Why? Partly, it seems, it comes down to expectations. Fulham started this season so badly, with a team so desperately in need of new signings, that it has at times felt like an achievement for them to have even put up a fight at all.

Perhaps it also comes down to what we expect from managers in the modern game. It depends on the club and the context, but loosely we can break it down into three categories: the team’s performances and results, the "culture" and "identity" of the club, and the image projected by the manager.

This season, Parker has emphatically ticked two of those boxes. At Fulham he has done an impressive job of forming a strong connection with his players, many of whom were new arrivals, and building a genuine sense of togetherness within the group.

As a club, Fulham failed spectacularly in this regard in their previous season in the Premier League, in 2018/19. It is therefore a measure of Parker’s man-management skills that he has bonded this squad together, not least because so many of their players are loanees. He made clear following their defeat by Burnley on Monday that the effort and spirit of his players has never been in question this season, and there is no evidence to the contrary.

As for the image projected by Parker, some readers might scoff at the thought of this being important. It matters, though. Of course it does. The manager is the face of the club, the spokesman for the team and the man who is tasked with forming the connection with the supporters. Jurgen Klopp, as just one example, has shown how powerful it can be when a manager has that clarity of communication with the outside world. Unai Emery, as another example, showed how damaging it can be when that connection does not exist.

Parker is not Klopp, and he has not had Fulham’s supporters inside Craven Cottage this season, but he certainly looks the part and he definitely talks the part. Open, honest, realistic: Parker has not hidden behind excuses this season, nor has he ever claimed that he or Fulham are anything they are not. Parker carries himself well and, fundamentally, is likeable.

Fulham have lacked a cutting edge - Aleksandar Mitrovic has only scored three Premier League goals - GETTY IMAGES
Fulham have lacked a cutting edge - Aleksandar Mitrovic has only scored three Premier League goals - GETTY IMAGES

Which brings us to the third, and most important, category: performances and results. This is where the doubts lie, and where Parker has the most questions to answer. There can be no questioning his abilities as an off-field manager, but the former England midfielder clearly has plenty to prove when it comes to his team’s showings on the pitch.

The temptation is to point to Fulham’s lack of goals this season and feel sympathy for Parker for not having a ruthless goalscorer in his squad. The same argument can be made for Graham Potter at Brighton, where the quality of the team’s performances has not been reflected in their points total.

But it is also right to question whether Parker has made the most of the tools at his disposal. Aleksandar Mitrovic, scorer of 11 Premier League goals in 2018/19, has found the net only three times in 25 appearances this season. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, a member of England’s 2018 World Cup squad, has scored one goal in all competitions.

The best managers create teams that are greater than the sum of their parts, adding value to individual players. How many of Parker’s players are worth more now than they were at the start of the season? Defenders such as Joachim Andersen, Tosin Adarabioyo and Antonee Robinson have all impressed. The forwards, as individuals and as a collective, have not.

The solidity of Fulham’s defending at times this season, and the obvious structure with which they play the game, has shown that Parker is capable of organising a team. On the other hand, it is surely fair to say he has not been able to manufacture a well-functioning attack. Fulham have scored just 25 goals in 35 appearances, and have failed to find the net in 11 home league games.

Monday’s 2-0 defeat to Burnley encapsulated their season: they had plenty of the ball but never looked like hurting the visitors in the final third. "In between both boxes this year we have had our moments and looked like a good side, but where we have fallen short is the other side of that," said Parker.

"While we get the ball in the right areas, in those clinical moments you need the final details, the weight of the pass and the clinicalness to score goals. We have fallen a little short. You need more than effort and we just lacked that bit of quality."

Parker refused to discuss his own future after the final whistle. As a managerial candidate he will clearly hold some appeal to owners and chairmen across the land, especially those who are struggling to create those valuable connections with their supporters, although at present he does not seem equipped to deal with a club of Spurs' expectations.

He has shown this year that he has the personality, and the charisma, to be a Premier League manager. But, crucially, can he translate that personality into points for his team? On that front, he still has plenty to prove.