Before last year's World Cup finals, Scott Parker was selected in the provisional squad and then ignored by Fabio Capello for the two friendlies England played at Wembley and in Austria before the cut was made and the squad went to South Africa. He was given not a single minute in which to prove himself a candidate for the final 23-man party. It was as if Capello was punishing him for something.
The England manager, we know by now, is not one who tends to consider the sensitivities of his players. As for Parker, at the age of 30 you could not have blamed him last summer for looking at his four caps – each of them won under a different manager – and calling it a day on international football. Other fringe players, such as Paul Robinson and Wes Brown, did just that in the last 12 months. Something must have told Parker to hang on.
It has taken him eight years to win five caps and on Saturday it finally felt like he might have cracked the England team. Capello switched his formation to 4-3-3, or 4-1-2-3 depending on how you viewed Parker's position, in order, the England manager said, to combat Wales's similar formation. Funny that he did not do that against Germany in the World Cup, but that is another story. Parker was promoted ahead of Gareth Barry as the holding midfielder and was the game's outstanding player.
For England this is an interesting formation that looked a good deal more sophisticated than Capello's usual humdrum 4-4-2 that can leave his players so isolated. In this system Jack Wilshere and Frank Lampard, both excellent against the woeful Welsh, were free to dominate the game. It meant that Wayne Rooney had to play wide in a front three, but equally you could see him in the central role occupied by Darren Bent in the future.
Early days yet, but for Parker it must have been extremely satisfying. The long days spent in England's pre-World Cup camp in Austria without so much as a run-out on the pitch must have been deeply frustrating. Capello's general manager, Franco Baldini, has always been an advocate of playing Parker but it seems that only recently has his boss been converted to the player's usefulness as a holding midfielder.
Parker's father Mick died ten days ago after a long illness, with his son at his bedside that Friday evening. The following day Parker played for West Ham against Tottenham at White Hart Lane. "He would have wanted me to have played," Parker said. "I suppose it was the one time when I was going out on a Saturday and whether we won, lost or drew and whether I played bad or good, it didn't really matter. I needed to be out there for him. It sounds cliched but that's the reason I played.
"It has been a tough week. My father was ill for a long while. I suppose the one disappointing fact was that he wasn't here to see me play for England but I am sure he is looking down and very proud. My father had been ill for a long time and I have been dealing with that in my own way and trying to stay strong in my own way."
Parker has come a long way since he was the 11-year-old kid in the McDonald's ad juggling the ball in his garden. He has reinvented himself as an aggressive, tackling midfielder who last Saturday took care of Aaron Ramsey, the one major threat in the Wales team. There were times when Ramsey was forced back 30 yards with Parker snapping at his heels before he could find the pass to get the ball away and out of trouble.
The new formation and Parker's key role in it asks some interesting questions of Capello too. Is this is a new way forward for England? What happens to Barry now? Against Ghana tomorrow the England manager has promised 11 changes to the XI that started against Wales. Whether he does that is debatable but it would appear that we will not really know whether he has changed his thinking fundamentally until the game against Switzerland at Wembley on 4 June.
"The one thing I have noticed in my career is that when the opportunity comes, you need to try to grab it with two hands," Parker said. "If you go back through my career, like when I went out on loan at Norwich, came back and Alan Curbishley put me in the team at Charlton. It was my one chance to get in the team and I took it. That's the way it is for me. That's the way it always seems to be. I thought about that before kick-off. I knew I had to take my chance in this game. For definite."
It is never more the case than in international football, when the team can change so radically from game to game. Andy Carroll faces the same kind of opportunity against Ghana: he is young so he will presumably get more chances, but then Parker probably thought the same when he played his first game for England just five weeks after his 23rd birthday back in 2003.
Carroll will have to do well if he is to take the mantle of Peter Crouch as England's go-to big man. On Saturday, the Spurs man with 22 goals in 42 caps for England was not even deemed worthy of a place on the bench.
If Carroll starts tomorrow then it will probably be alongside Jermain Defoe. With six players pulled out of the squad yesterday, the team selection for the Ghana match is looking increasingly like a sop to the clubs in the hope they will play ball with Capello over the last 16 months of his reign as manager.
With Parker at the helm Saturday's Group G Euro qualifier was won inside 15 minutes. First James Collins collided with Ashley Young to concede an early penalty that Lampard converted, then Bent tucked away his second goal in two games from Young's cross.
Parker was later asked if he ever wondered why it has taken so long. "In football, nothing baffles me," he said. "At times it has been a bit disappointing, but as always I have just cracked on with it and seen what happens." In Cardiff, it all happened for him.
Subs: Wales Evans (Morison, 66), Vaughan (King, 66). Unused Myhill (gk), Eardley, Gabbidon, Allen, Church. England Milner (Rooney, 70), Downing (Wilshere, 82), Jagielka (Parker, 88) Unused Green (gk), Lescott, Defoe, Carroll.
Booked: Wales Crofts, Ledley, Vaughan, Bellamy, J Collins. England Rooney, Johnson
Man of the match Parker Match rating 5/10.
Possession Wales 45% England 55%.
Attempts on target Wales 0 England 5.
Referee O Benquerenca (Por). Att 68,959.
By Steve Tongue
Not given a shot to save, only corners and occasional crosses, which he dealt with well, punching firmly. Kicking less certain at times 6/10
Like the match, his afternoon could have been a different tale with Gareth Bale playing. Eased through it and played a superb ball to Young for second goal 7
Quietly efficient alongside Terry and caught only once, when Morison turned him in the first half. No chances at the other end from set-pieces 6
After two assured performances in midweek media conferences, he produced another one where it really matters. Even set up the opening goal when pushing forward 8
Held his own after a couple of feisty clashes when Bellamy started down his flank. Involved in the move for the first goal and might have expected more attacking success later 6
Emerging as the most natural holding midfielder since Owen Hargreaves, he did his job perfectly in winning the ball and playing it short. Deserves long run 9
Even more than Wilshere, he benefited from being allowed to play further forward than in recent internationals, with Parker offering security behind him 7
Demonstrated his astonishing maturity again, keeping his head amid some heavy tackling and playing through-balls only a fraction too heavy for Bent 7
Had earned his place with a good display in Denmark and justified it by dominating the hapless Danny Collins. Won the penalty and crossed for second goal 8
Growing in confidence as an international, he led the line and held the ball up to good effect. Positional sense brought another poacher's goal 7
Can cope playing wide on the left but not on the right, and familiar frustration set in after switching. Two wild fouls brought booking and suspension 5
Tightened up midfield
for last 20 minutes 6
One good effort n/a
Late entrance n/a
A strange afternoon for the Wolves goalkeeper: no chance with either goal but barely a save to make otherwise despite England's domination 6/10
Happier against Rooney than Young, he managed to get forward down the right occasionally but had little joy having done so6
Will have to face some stick from Villa team-mates Young and Bent later this week after struggling against both. Clumsy foul to concede penalty6
Was too busy trying to stop Bent's runs to help overstretched team-mate Danny Collins on his left deal with Young. A difficult day for the Swansea City centre-half 6
Dreadful afternoon for the left-back, who was constantly caught out of position, as when Johnson's pass down the line sent Young away to create the second goal 4
Looked a dogged workhorse, who occasionally got close enough to an England midfielder to whack him. Rightly booked for one of his fouls5
Cardiff followers will have been disappointed by their former hero's efforts alongside Crofts. He is used to easier days than this at Celtic5
The most likely source of inspiration for Wales, he came into the game more in the second half, playing a couple of neat passes inside Cole 6
Did Gary Speed ask too much in adding the captaincy to his playmaker role? Utterly outshone by club-mate Wilshere5
Surprisingly picked ahead of David Vaughan in a position he is unfamiliar with on the left of midfield, the Leicester man was rarely in the game5
Former England non-League striker looked out of his depth, admittedly with little support from his midfield or wide players. No goals after six caps 5
on King 6
Had no more success up front than Morison 5Reuse content