When an interim coach in charge of first-team affairs is losing fixtures, it’s understandably a lot easier to walk away than if results pick up, as does the atmosphere and performances around the football club. Even a club the size of Manchester United saw that impact as something that they could not reject after ‘loaned’ Ole Gunnar Solksjaer won over the board and was rewarded with the permanent position after winning losing just once in his first 13 fixtures and pushing what looked to be a lost season into Champions League contention. Following the permanent appointment of the Norwegian, United’s form has swung back the other and as I type, the Red Devils have lost five of their last seven matches (including exiting the Champions League).
So what relevance does this have to Fulham? Well, Scott Parker too was put in charge of first-team affairs on a basis of seeing it out to the end of the season for the club to reassess their future. Whilst Ole’s appointment sparked an immediate turn of dominant form, Fulham’s fixture list and quality of personnel saw it unlikely for Fulham to go on a similar run but other than a thoroughly disappointing display at Watford which confirmed relegation, Fulham have looked happier, more competitive and stronger. With a 2-0 home win against Everton and a 1-0 at Bournemouth, Scott Parker’s Fulham has now doubled their clean sheet tally and ensured that Parker will finish the season with more Premier League points than Slavisa Jokanovic, that man that took the Whites to the ‘promised land.’
One could also compare the Parker project to Darren Moore’s appointment at West Bromwich Albion the previous year. Moore was given the reigns after Tony Pulis and Alan Pardew were both let go in between a caretaker spell for Gary Megson. West Bromwich Albion was all but relegated with a 10 point gap and six matches. Wins over Manchester United and Tottenham including a point against Liverpool had West Brom hoping to keep their Premier League status alive until the final day but a Southampton win over Swansea saw the Baggies relegated whilst watching at home. Darren Moore was rewarded with the permanent job and took West Brom into a Championship campaign hoping for an immediate bounce back. Supported with the signings of Sam Johnstone and Kyle Bartley on permanent deals and the loan of Dwight Gayle (among others), Moore had the Baggies in the promotion chase all season but two losses against promotion rivals Sheffield United and Leeds United followed by a draw at home to the now relegated Ipswich Town saw Darren Moore bizarrely (from an outside perspective at least) sacked though it seems that West Bromwich Albion’s finances may not quite enjoy another year in the Championship, the lottery of the playoffs on the face of it was not good enough.
Back to Fulham, the players are openly behind Scott Parker, a good chunk of the squad were teammates of the former club captain but I think you may struggle to find a situation where the players were against the interim coach, especially following a horrible appointment of dinosaur Claudio. It’s hard not to harp back a few years and think of Kit Symons’ appointment following Felix Magath’s reign where the stands were desperate for the then under 23 coach to the first team role on a permanent basis following a strong run of form and very different feeling around the club. That experiment may be one that will worry the Khan’s, the Welshman lasted a little over a year and although through the recruitment of Mike Rigg and Kit Symons improved the playing staff slightly (in came Ryan Fredericks, Tim Ream and Tom Cairney) as well as overseeing the development of Marcus Bettinelli and Moussa Dembele, Fulham remained a team around the bottom of the division.
It would be very difficult to argue against the permanent appointment of Scott Parker being a gamble. The 2019/20 season will see Scott Parker enter his third year of professional coaching after a year with Tottenham’s under 18s and this rollercoaster at Fulham. Parker is currently supported by Matt Wells, a young but vastly experienced coach that was brought over from Tottenham where they worked together and also Stuart Gray, part of Jokanovic’s promotion backroom staff who probably should never have been allowed to leave. Gray has volumes of Football League experience, his stint in charge of Sheffield Wednesday saw them reach their highest finish in the Championship for six years as well as equal their single-season clean sheet record. Where Parker may lack experience on the training pitch, he’s being supported hugely in his backroom staff that he has been allowed to build up to this point.
Since Scott Parker has been placed in charge, we’ve some of the best individual performances from a few players this season. Franck Anguissa has strung together some impressive displays, Sergio Rico at Bournemouth made some impressive saves to ensure he kept a clean sheet and Ryan Sessegnon, playing off of the right, gave Nathan Ake nightmares. Even without Alfie Mawson, the eleven is playing more like a team making the back four feel as solid as it has all season. These last two victories have both been at 0-0 going into half time with an increase in performance once the sides came back out, that really displays a tactical nous and motivational aspect to the job that perhaps isn’t clear to the eye.
The talk of a Steve Clarke won’t go away and I do understand why the Khan’s would want to go in that direction given their previous experience with the aforementioned emotional Kit Symons experiment. I think the last two weeks have shown that Scott Parker can set up and motivate a team in a situation where the players have nothing to play for but pride. If supported with key players staying and adding to the squad, I do believe that Scott and his backroom staff can push for promotion. It is easy to say this when I am not under the pressure of every decision being analysed and criticised, even more so after a disastrous season.