Fulham might be biggest winners of Parker saga

Nathan Spafford

It’s hard to see why Bournemouth were so intent on getting Scott Parker. Fulham will shed no tears.

Far more often than not, protracted managerial sagas – like actual football matches – produce a clear winner and a clear loser. In the curious case of Scott Parker’s long-awaited and tedious switch from Fulham to Bournemouth, it is difficult for any of the three parties to stake a claim for victory.

With the majority of their divisional rivals already planning for the Championship season, the months-long chase to tie the Cottagers’ chief down to a stint on the south coast has seen both Fulham and Bournemouth lag far behind the other 22 sides in the league with preparations for next season well underway for the majority of those clubs.

Fulham meanwhile are left searching for a new manager to lead their charge into a third Championship season in five years by the River Thames, while down on the south coast, Bournemouth have ended their wait for a permanent manager with the arrival of Parker, who has very quickly gone from ‘decent young manager looking upwards’ to having many of the hallmarks of a managerial merry-go-round rider within the next couple of years.

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There is something to be said for a club going all in on its top target and remaining steely-eyed and focused until they get their man. Rather than settle for second best through the door in a far quicker timeframe, the Cherries have stuck to their guns in pursuit of Parker.

Though quite why the south coast club have gone all out for the 40-year-old remains to be seen. On the surface, one promotion from one Championship season is a record to be admired, and while you can’t lay two Premier League relegations at Parker’s door – the first came during his admirable caretaker stint in 2018/19 – there has been more bad than good during the former midfielder’s two-year permanent reign by the Thames.

A promotion via the play-offs in the Covid-hit 2019/20 campaign was well earned but anything less than an immediate return to the top flight would have almost certainly cost Parker his job, and there has been little in the intervening 12 months to suggest that Bournemouth are getting an innovator.

They will actually be getting the manager who guided the Cottagers to excellent results against the likes of Liverpool and Everton to put them in prime position in a two-horse race with Newcastle United, only to take two points from their last 10 games, finishing 11 points adrift of 17th place.

Scott Parker Fulham

Young though he may be, and still with plenty of time to suggest he could improve on that record, there is little to suggest Parker is the right man in the medium to long term for Bournemouth, but what if he were to repeat that one-for-one record from his time in west London? Like everything, it is of course possible, but Bournemouth maintaining their record of hiring average English managers is unlikely to revive even the faint hope of star winger Arnaut Danjuma sticking around, while key midfielders Jefferson Lerma and Philip Billing already look destined for returns to the Premier League.

In his sole Championship season with Fulham, Parker was afforded a squad blessed with Joe Bryan, Anthony Knockaert and most pertinently, Alexsandar Mitrovic, who if not quite a Championship cheat code, certainly offers the closest thing to assurances of finishing in the top six.

At Bournemouth, there is now a need for a restock in numerous positions while sticking to Financial Fair Play with just one more season of parachute payments to follow this campaign. Parker is yet to show anything approaching the nous required to make up the gap in quality between his Fulham side and this new Bournemouth outfit.

The difference between a good manager and a great manager can often be found in their basic tactical outlook. During Fulham’s defensive struggles in the 2020/21 campaign – which ultimately ended in relegation – Parker flirted with a back three seemingly in the belief it would automatically make his team better at the back.

In fact, three-man defences often allow for a more attacking set-up with wing-backs designed to attack more than stay back, while Parker had little in the way of centre-backs capable of playing in such a system. It was a move which ultimately yielded little in the return of positive results. It was a move which signalled Parker’s inability to be the difference between staying up and going down, between play-off semi-final defeat and promotion the next season.

In Jonathan Woodgate, Bournemouth had a decent manager with obvious limitations. In Parker, they have waited over a month to land a man whose only upgrade is in the fashion department, but dapper looks do not make up for the lack of improvement Parker is likely to bring to Dean Court.

Had the Cherries cast their net a little wider than their usual circles, they could have spun the bottle onto a much more exciting choice. As it is, Bournemouth have dedicated the entirety of their pre-season thus far to chasing a manager who offers no notable improvement over what came before. In short, a month’s more planning at this stage of the summer with Woodgate would have Bournemouth undoubtedly looking better come the opening day – and most likely come matchday 46 – than they do right now.

For Fulham, this feels like a get out of jail free card. Lightning looked unlikely to strike twice and now they are set to gain a manager with a lesser record on paper in Steve Cooper, but who in actual fact, grants them a far more promising future. They too have lost much of the summer to this protracted saga, but come out of it smelling nicer than Parker and his new employers.