While Manchester United’s big reputation Battle Royale with Chelsea headlined this Super Sunday festival of football, Tottenham Hotspur hosting Liverpool felt like the entertaining top billing on the second stage. And continuing my slightly tenuous band theme, it was the man running Tottenham’s engine room that really impressed. Scott Parker was the steady, precise bassist, keeping his new side’s rhythm and shape. His efficiency, poise and, um, funk allowed his showier teammates their solos. OK, that’s enough of the band nonsense.
Watching Parker so consummately – unfussily – pilot his new team made a few things clear. Firstly, last season’s West Ham must have been truly, unimaginably awful to endure relegation in spite of Parker’s presence. And secondly, were it not for an apparent Gallic stubbornness, his leadership and combative qualities could be enormously aiding another North London club right about now.
Instead, and fortunately for us Spurs fans, Parker has played two, won two in lilywhite, while his new team have scored six unanswered. It shouldn’t be surprising considering his five club wanderlust nor his Player of the Year billing, but the ease in which he’s assimilated himself into his new side has been eye-opening.
Despite the subtle summer remodelling, Spurs appear to boast a new edge. The post-Transfer Deadline Day Armageddon Tottenham seems to make an awful lot more sense. Last season’s line-up required a tall, mobile and potent centre forward. Cue Emmanuel Adebayor. To allow the positionally wayward Rafael van der Vaart to be employed as a nominal winger, a whippet-quick right back was needed to maintain attacking width. So Kyle Walker was recalled after his Villa coming out party. And to potentially partner the fledgling Sandro for an incredibly robust “2” in a 4-2-3-1, or as central midfield bad cop in a more cavalier 4-4-2 with Luka Modric, a savvy, disciplined head was needed. As ‘Arry will tell you, that man was always Scott “Scotty” Parker.
Against Wolves, Parker was conservative and a bit sly. He provided Tottenham with some much-needed cynicism. Translation: the England international knows when to concede “clever” fouls. If someone’s given the ball away (no names, but Niko Kranjcar’s handsome, beardy face is suddenly flashing across my mind) and the opposition are streaking in numbers towards Brad Friedel’s goal, you bring that b*****d down. But with a minimum of fuss, so to hopefully avoid a booking, or a dangerous free-kick. Despite their success, pre-Parker Spurs were never particularly streetwise.
Parker and Modric were so sharp in possession, intelligent in their positioning and far cannier than Charlie Adam, Lucas or Jordan Henderson. On this form, they’re a very sexy pair.
Parker wasn’t called upon for too many sly fouls yesterday. Mainly because Liverpool barely mustered a counter attack that didn’t involve Andy Carroll grinding things down to a pace Vedran Corluka would consider sluggish, but also because Parker and Modric were so sharp in possession, intelligent in their positioning and far cannier than Charlie Adam, Lucas or Jordan Henderson. On this form, they’re a very sexy pair.
Tom Huddlestone has proved an able foil for the Croatian in the past, but his immobility means Modric is forced to furiously scamper about the pitch, overcompensating. With his new partner, Modric’s all-energy approach remains, but now he bounds forward safe in the knowledge his back’s covered. It’s no longer a kamikaze mission to scurry forward. Parker patrols dangerous areas instinctively, mopping up trouble without drama and keeping things moving with refreshing common sense football. He clearly learned from Claude Makelele in Chelsea training.
And for his part, Parker can now also concentrate on his strengths. There’s no call for the Superman routine he was routinely forced into wheeling out at West Ham. Something he’ll appreciate as he lurches into his 30s. And long weaned on balsa wood midfield hardmen, Tottenham fans will simply appreciate some hustle and harrying. Wilson Palacios was the closest modern Tottenham has come to anointing a true enforcer, but he lost his appetite and passing range after that terrible family tragedy. Parker possesses Palacios’ grit and an understated ability to pick a decisive pass. At best, his presence could help re-spark Modric’s interest in a prolonged White Hart Lane stay. At worst, he’ll ramp up the Croatian’s sale price by another £5m.
Of course, things become interesting once Sandro returns from injury – ridiculous new haircut and all. Could Harry Redknapp then sacrifice Jermain Defoe and Aaron Lennon to finally play a proper 4-2-3-1, with Modric playing further forward in a freewheeling trio alongside Bale and Van der Vaart, and Parker and Sandro keeping guard? It’s a formidable, Man City-like line-up. Or, does Redknapp risk stifling the Brazilian’s enormous potential by maintaining the Parker-Modric pairing within a straightforward 4-4-2? It’ll be a pleasant problem to negotiate. For the first time in a long time, Spurs seem to have a lot of square pegs for square holes, regardless of formation.
The Manchester monoliths may remain headliners throughout the season, but infused with Scott Parker steel, Tottenham could yet make some very effective noise.
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