Scott Parker's elevation to the England captaincy is the latest peak in a long climb. Despite being born within months of Steven Gerrard, John Terry and Ashley Cole, he is not considered to be part of their “Golden Generation”. Parker does not have their stacks of England caps or their rows of club medals. He has only a handful of Champions League appearances, and those all in 2004, and was even, just six months ago, playing Championship football. He seems, at the age of 31, a relative stranger to elite football. And yet Stuart Pearce chose him ahead of the rest of the “Goldens” to lead England out last night.
Parker did what everyone would have expected him to do: setting an example of commitment and teamwork. Pearce said last week that selflessness was the most important trait, and Parker certainly displayed that. Three minutes in he earned Wembley's applause with consecutive slide tackles on Robin van Persie and Dirk Kuyt. When he threw himself in front of Wesley Sneijder's powerful shot, it epitomised his strengths and his character as a player.
But Parker is more of a stopper than a starter, and he does not have the class his opponents do. And so when Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder started to run things, he could only try to stop them, and could not always do that. He is not the first player to be left scampering back behind Robben, but that is what he was doing when the Dutch took the lead. And he could not blunt the incisive movements which ended with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar's brave headed second. Parker has certainly come far, but there are peaks in football even higher than the captaincy of England.
Charlton Athletic (1997-2004)
The late arrival of Parker as an England regular might have been a surprise, given his early promise. He made his Football League debut in 1997 aged 16 and, by 1999-2000, when Charlton won the First Division, he had an important role.
Back in the Premier League, he combined a scurrying, selfless approach with his natural gifts, making himself a regular in a competitive midfield.
Parker's breakout year at The Valley was 2003. In February he was picked by Sven Goran Eriksson for his first England squad, but he did not play in the friendly against Australia. He won Charlton's Player of the Season award, though, and he was rewarded with an England debut – in a friendly defeat to Denmark at Old Trafford in November, coming on for Wayne Rooney after 65 minutes.
Parker's excellence for his club did not avoid the attention of Chelsea. In January 2004, six months after Roman Abramovich's takeover, they bought him for £10m. Parker started to play in the Champions League, including the infamous "Tinkerman" defeat to Monaco. There was a second England cap: again from the bench in a friendly, as England lost to Sweden. It was not enough to send him to Euro 2004, although Parker did win PFA Young Player of the Year.
But Jose Mourinho arrived from Porto, bringing with him £11m midfielder Tiago, and Parker broke his foot in December. He never played for Chelsea again.
Newcastle United (2005-07)
The following summer, Parker left to join Newcastle in search of football. A good first year won him the captaincy, and a strong start to the 2006-07 season led to the clamour for his international recall by Steve McClaren for the Euro 2008 qualifier against Croatia in Zagreb in October.He was brought in to underpin an experimental 3-5-2 system. However, England lost 2-0 – and Parker was dropped again.
West Ham United (2007-11)
Parker's second season at Newcastle was not as good as his first, and Alan Curbishley signed him for West Ham for £7m in 2007. Settled back in London, he started to play the best football of his career. Despite a faltering team, and managerial changes from Curbishley to Gianfranco Zola to Avram Grant, his imposing midfield displays and attempts to drag the team towards competence won the hearts of the fans.
He equalled Trevor Brooking's record of three consecutive Hammer of the Year prizes from 2008-09 to 2010-11. That final year was his best: he could not keep West Ham in the top flight, but did win the FWA Footballer of the Year. Fabio Capello noticed, and Parker was called up in February 2011 for another friendly against Denmark: his fourth cap, at his fourth club. He did well, and was chosen for the qualifier in Wales in March which England won 2-0. From there, he was a regular.
Tottenham Hotspur (2011-)
There is no place for an England regular in the second tier and, although he played West Ham's first four Championship games, a move was no surprise, and he was sold to Spurs. From where the consistent excellence, the Dave Mackay comparisons and, of course, last night's captaincy have swiftly followed. Parker, it seems, has arrived, if not at the very top, then close to it.
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