Scott Parker: Why I just had to leave Chelsea

After the wasted years, Newcastle's star midfielder hopes he still has time to realise his England dream. By Jason Burt
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Timing has not been good for Parker of late. The past two years, as he describes them, have been "pretty non-existent", which is a harsher verdict on his time at Chelsea - during which, it should not be forgotten, they won the Premiership and he appeared in a Champions' League semi-final - than any critic would ever deliver.

But then Parker is unswervingly driven. It's what took him to Stamford Bridge in the first place, believing it was "a massive challenge I could overcome", and it is what also made him decide to leave, thinking "obviously he [Jose Mourinho] didn't like the way I played".

Newcastle United was his destination in the summer, with Parker sure that he can push them on to the glory they so intensely crave. And if, along the way, he can force himself into the reckoning for next year's World Cup, then so be it.

"I've got to have an unbelievable year to figure in the squad," Parker says with customary candour. "I think that, personally. But I do think I can do it, and we all know that injuries arise around that time. The first thing, though, is for me to get into a squad, get my foot in the door, show what I can do. But I'm going to have to have a big season to fight my way in."

Unless the Football Association arrange more warm-up matches, he has four attempts - starting with next month's friendly against Argentina - to add to the two substitute appearances, against Denmark and Sweden, the latter in March last year, that he has so far registered. At that time Sven Goran Eriksson predicted Parker would be the next to break through, and only last week his name was mentioned again.

But Parker says: "I'm a realist. I've not been in an England squad for a long time, and when I have I've come on 10 minutes here and there, so I'm not exactly proven." But he adds: "I feel that I could easily step up and give it a go. It's about getting that chance."

That is something that bad luck with injuries - and lack of opportunity - denied him at Chelsea, where he was bought from Charlton Athletic two Januarys ago by Claudio Ranieri for £10 million. It came shortly after he had, like a force of nature, destroyed the Italian's side on Boxing Day at The Valley.

Despite the competition, and Ranieri's tinkering, Parker, popular with fans and team-mates, did well. But he simply didn't play enough. "When you look at my three years prior to Chelsea, I was playing some really good football and doing really well. I suppose when I first went to Chelsea and then last year, when I wasn't playing, people forgot about me."

The arrival of Mourinho left Parker in no doubt where he stood - "that I'd be understudy to Claude [Makelele]". So, when the Frenchman was injured or rested, Parker played. "I was brought in for my first Premiership start against Blackburn [in October 2004], which we won 4-0," he recalls.

Suddenly it was picking up. "I'd played two games and he [Mourinho] said I was playing the next game as well." Back-to-back starts. At last. Just what he had yearned for. "It hadn't happened before," he says. "It was really good." Parker could feel the rhythm return. "Then I came on for the last 15 minutes against Norwich and broke my foot."

It was the week before Christmas. His first major injury. Not only that but, 10 weeks later, just as he was "pushing on" in his rehabilitation, he broke his foot again. His season was over.

His confidence, he says, did not suffer, but maybe Chelsea just wasn't to be. Parker certainly offers a fascinating insight into what it's like at the world's wealthiest club. "There's much more pressure when you get selected for a game having not played," he says. "You have to play unbelievably well to have any sort of chance of even being selected for the next game.

"But I put pressure on myself as well, and I think you see that with some of the other lads at Chelsea. You want to impress the manager. When you run out there that's what you think: 'How can I do that?' "

The injury, the whole Chelsea experience, meant Parker "learnt so much". He says: "There are a lot of positives I can take as well as the disappointments. There was also a lot of hard thinking. I was looking at myself, looking at the situation, and obviously I realised my chances were going to be limited. I could have stayed there, but I'm the sort of fella who just wants to play."

But it had to be the right club, otherwise "I wouldn't have left. I would have just said, 'I'm going to give it a go again at Chelsea." Newcastle - as well as Everton, Tottenham Hotspur and Wigan Athletic, yesterday's opponents - came calling. There was, Parker states, no contest. "The main reason [for choosing Newcastle]," he says, "was just for me to play football again and to play on a big stage. I just felt this was the best place."

Parker believes he left Chelsea "not feeling that I've failed. I didn't play a lot there, and when I did, especially under Mourinho, I thought I did well. But it wasn't meant to be. For one reason or another the manager didn't fancy me." Perhaps, Parker wonders, it was because he wasn't one of the Portuguese manager's signings. Now he has Graeme Souness, and "I feel that he's not going to pay £6.5m if he doesn't like me. It's a massive help, running out knowing that he believes in me and knows what he's going to get from me". Souness has not been disappointed.

"When I came here I hadn't played football for a long, long time," Parker says. "I was just coming back from an operation on my foot and thought I might struggle. But I've had a run and I'm doing well." Not that Newcastle started too impressively. "It's a big club and there's a lot of focus on it," Parker adds. "I noticed that straight away. At Charlton, if, after two games, we hadn't done so well nobody would have really noticed. But all of a sudden here, it's 'sack the manager, the team are... whatever' and I'm thinking, 'Oh my God. What's happening?' " The opposite is also true. "I think if the team do well then I realise the reaction will be great as well."

Results have picked up. The addition of Michael Owen was "massive". "You know exactly what you are going to get with him," Parker explains. "He's going to score goals and that's exactly what we needed. It has given everyone a lift."

The storm, he believes, has been "weathered", and the times will get even brighter when injured players such as Emre, Albert Luque and Kieron Dyer return. "If we get our first XI out then I think we'll be a real force," Parker says.

"I just look at the League this year and you've got Chelsea who are far ahead and everyone else can beat everyone else." There are, nevertheless, no regrets about leaving Stamford Bridge, even if Parker notes that the squad is "slimmer" than when he was there.

"Coming from London, it's not until you get up here that you realise just how football-mad the place is," says Parker, who will soon move, with his wife, Carly, and two young sons, Frankie and Murphy, into the home they have bought. "It's pretty much full-on. It's what people said before I started. They've taken to me as well, I think, and that helps."

They certainly have - as has Souness, who hails Parker the "modern-day midfield player" and one of the best professionals he has worked with. The respect is mutual, not least because, despite his youth, Parker is well aware of the player his manager was.

"He had a major influence on me coming here, as a person and as a midfielder," he says. "He's an honest man. If you don't do it for him you are out of the team, and if you do then he treats you well. I think that's all I want. If I'm not playing it's because I'm not playing well, and that's fine by me."

Parker believes he's playing "catch-up" football now. "I know what I can do and I believe in myself," he states and that is good news not just for Newcastle but for England. "I'd love to be in it," he says of Eriksson's squad. "As a player and an Englishman it's what you dream of." It's a dream the holding player intends to hold on to.

Life & Times: From Charlton to Tyneside

BORN: 13 October 1980 in London.

VITAL STATS: 5ft 9in, 11st.

CLUB CAREER: Charlton (Aug 1997-Jan 2004). Made 128 League appearances, scoring nine goals. Had a loan stint at Norwich (Oct-Nov 2000, one goal). Joined Chelsea in Jan 2004 for £10m. Totalled 15 League appearances (one goal). Signed for Newcastle in June 2005 for £6.5m. Eight League matches to date.

ENGLAND CAREER: Two appearances as a substitute. Made debut at home to Denmark (lost 3-2, Nov 2003).

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