How do we turn Scott Parker's two stronger performances into a sustained run of form?
With a key contribution to Spurs' recent NLD victory and a dominant box-to-box performance against Inter last night, and given my oft-stated affection for our brave RAF captain, you might have expected that any prospective article I would write about Scott Parker today would be one of unqualified praise. This piece, however, will not be. I fully intend to give Scotty credit for his excellent play of late, certainly, but it's going to be very much of the qualified kind, and meted out with constructively critical points (I hope!) on how we can continue to derive the kind of performances from him that you would expect from a pivotal member of a prospective top-four side. First, let's start by looking at what's been going right for Parker in his recent outings in lillywhite.
As previously stated, Scott Parker has indisputably had in some way a defining impact on the last two games he's played in for Spurs. He played the through ball through to Aaron Lennon that lead to the second-goal cushion we needed to hold back a battling Arsenal side on the weekend, and he conducted the Inter game through a series of bursting runs and key passes which probed away time and time again at a shaken opposition defence. In all of these respects, he demonstrated the kind of dynamism and enterprise that hasn't really been seen since his West Ham days, before he was converted into an out-and-out enforcer under the reign of Harry Redknapp at Tottenham.
On both occasions, Parker's efforts were indisputably stellar. Equally, however, it is also true that he was abetted in both cases by some pretty shoddy play from the opposition. In the former, the somnambulant defending of Per Metesacker and Thomas Vermealen practically invited the piercing ball that set Lennon up one-on-one with Wojciech Szczesny; in the latter, Inter's midfield provided yawning gaps that made Scotty's rampaging possible.
None of this is to take the shine off of Scotty's performance last night. You work with what you're given, and Parker seized the opportunities that came his way very well. At the very beginning of the season, we were crying out for a guy who could come into the side and start to turn openings into chances with a clinical flourish, and it's pleasing to see that Scott's been able to move into this gap of late. The problem, however, is that not every team will give Parker these opportunities. Indeed, as we saw in the weeks proceeding, many seem to know exactly how to set up to send him huffing and puffing down cul-de-sacs until he inevitably pirouettes himself to death and surrenders the ball. In these scenarios he needs to have a little more awareness of how to tactically respond, dropping back, picking his moments more carefully, and shifting the back-forth dynamic he has with Mousa Dembele. So far this season, when tested, he hasn't really been able to do this.
I submit, then, that Scotty's excellent performances of late have served only to clarify exactly where his shortcomings have lain so far this season. It shouldn't really be in question now that Parker isn't lacking in the tools to serve as a decent, influential box-to-box player for Spurs for the rest of the season. His passing and dribbling, when the right moment comes along, looks sharper than ever- a spent force for the side he is not. And when said right moment does indeed arise, his marauding antics are far from the detrimental to the side, as we first assumed they might be- indeed, the can be vitally important.
The key to getting Scott Parker to really deliver for Spurs for the rest of the season may thus not be to get him to go back to playing as a strict enforcer, again as the common consensus of late has suggested. Instead, we should encourage more complexity in his relationship with Mousa Dembele- we should urge on Parker's driving runs, rather than chastize him for them. What we also need to see from him, however, is more smarts in how he goes about doing it. The right moments, as we've seen, will indeed come for him at critical moments in games. It is important, however, that he tries carefully to perceive when these moments arise, and when the time is not apt, he is prepared to play a more simple, less enterprising part in how Spurs play. It's only when he tries to impose the wrong approach on the wrong type of game that he starts to look out of touch with the game and detrimental to the side. In other words, we don't need to totally reign Scotty Parker in- instead, we need to see more understanding from him of when the right time is to shift gears and have a more direct impact on the game is.
So what's the positive upshot of this analysis- even if there is a way of distilling Scotty's wild streak into a refined weapon in Spurs' locker, what are the chances we'll have of actually seeing said improvements? In my opinion, there is reason to be positive that Parker will gain the kind of situational awareness that will preserve the better elements of his game while scaling back his more impetuous side. The key to unlocking this will be the training methods of Andre Villas-Boas. In an excellent recent blog post, James Horncastle examined the similarities between the coaching styles of Mourinho and AVB, and concluded that neither are inclined towards giving players the kind of blow-by-blow instructions that lead to highly efficient, routine, automatonic outcomes, as both have been accused of in their careers. Instead, both men opt to drill their players in situational experiences, in order to improve their procedural memory, and build their instincts to allow them to make effective independent choices of their own in scenarios in which they are well-versed. AVB is quoted as saying that: "You teach them how to manage an experience, they take the decisions".
Hopefully, some of the positive effects of this coaching style are starting to rub off on Scotty Parker. If AVB manages to implement his favoured methods correctly, we should see Parker starting to develop more keen instinctual understanding in different situations against different opponents, and make smarter and more appropriate choices. This is how AVB has molded a side worthy of making a sustained push for the top four, and there's nothing to say that Parker can't be a part of the movement. Indeed, the recent signs have been good- for all his single-minded positive movement against Inter yesterday and for all of the opposition weakness, I felt that Parker and Dembele's interchange was more fluid and organic than we've seen at any point so far in this season when they've been starting together.
The hope, then, as I see it, is not that Parker represses his urges to attack the goal. Instead, it's simply that he follows AVB's philosophy of knowing instinctively when to shift gears back and forth, and times his positive contributions more effectively rather than trying to stamp his mark on games where he can be easily sussed out and rendered useless. Master that, and the sky becomes the limit again for the Flight Commander and his midfield partnership with Dembele.