James Lawton: It may be a Scott Parker year but Bale has provided the memories that will prevail

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Only a value system tortured to breaking point by plutocrat superstars and a dementedly subjective fan base could raise too fervent an objection to Scott Parker's selection as Player of the Year by the football writers.

For the 30-year-old who has fought his way back into the England team, and given so much of himself to West Ham's attempt to survive in the Premier League, it is reward for suggesting that, in the great tide of money and celebrity, there is still a place for some classic professional qualities.

You know the kind of thing: career-long resolution, a willingness to put everything you have at the disposal of your team and a fine understanding of what you can and, just as importantly, what you cannot do.

Parker has been a poster boy for such virtues ever since he appeared as a precocious schoolboy in a McDonald's TV advert linked to England's misbegotten campaign to qualify for the 1994 World Cup.

He has been patient and tough-minded and roughly a million miles from the kind of self-serving career revisionism of the hard-done-by brigade led with such stridency by his fellow midfielder Joey Barton.

So shouldn't we salute unreservedly, at least once, a record of exemplary effort? Well, maybe not quite.

The trouble is that if Parker is many admirable things, if he serves as an excellent working model for such standout young talents as Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey, he is not the Player of the Year, at least not if the title still implies quite what it did at its inception in 1948.

Then, the prize went to the sublime Stanley Matthews. Now consider the list of winners and if there is the odd aberration – perhaps most spectacularly in the spring of 1999 when the stylish French winger David Ginola, who scored a memorable goal in an FA Cup tie at Barnsley, won the awards of both the writers and players in a season dominated by the influence of Roy Keane over treble-winning Manchester United – there is mostly the celebration of quite outstanding performance. As it happened, Keane picked up both awards the following season.

But for the Irishman's anarchistic nature, he would, as arguably the Premier League's most dominant player, have surely moved much earlier into a pantheon already occupied by George Best, Bobby Moore, Tom Finney, Bobby Charlton, Kenny Dalglish, a company of heroes inevitably joined by the likes of Thierry Henry and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The memory of such luminous talents has hardly been obscured in this non-vintage season but it is still fair, and even conservative, to say that at least half a dozen players have made more arresting cases than Parker for this supreme ranking.

On balance, and even on a day when his own club cast serious doubts about his ability to withstand some of the worst physical pressures of the game, the leading victim appears to be Gareth Bale, who last weekend was voted the players' player.

Nothing, surely, produced by Parker or any other contender matched the impact of Bale in San Siro and White Hart Lane during the destruction of reigning European champions Internazionale, an eruption that makes inevitable huge bids for his services this summer, a fact which will not be brushed by briefings from Tottenham that hint at his reluctance to play through the effects of injury.

That this is a stain on his competitive character is something that many great former players might seriously dispute as they hobble to their physiotherapists and their knee, ankle and back surgeons while reflecting on how many times their most regular big-game companion was a routine injection of painkiller.

It is also true that if Bale does err on the side of caution when determining his physical well-being, there is not much evidence of timidity when he goes about his work free from the worry, real or imagined, of breakdown.

Indeed, the power and the control and the vision of his best performances will surely provide the warmest memories of a season that too rarely rose above the lukewarm. There were also cases to be made for his Tottenham team-mates Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modric.

No one covered more ground, and with such accelerating maturity, as Arsenal's Wilshere and if Manchester City's Yaya Touré had produced a few more moments resembling the one that so devastated Manchester United at Wembley last Saturday, his formidable figure would also have been thrust into the frame.

It was ironic that in his moment of triumph Touré overwhelmed Nemanja Vidic, the United player who has done more than any team-mate to maintain his club's sometimes perilous campaign in the Premier League and in Europe.

None of this needs to cloud the hard-earned glory of Scott Parker when he takes his bow in a West End banqueting suite. It was not his fault that, unlike Gareth Bale, he lacked the capacity to carry us to the stars.

Courage required to cure sickness of Old Firm hatred

While there are no known antidotes to the diseases of the spirit and the mind that continue to assail the Old Firm game, everyone involved in Sunday's seventh meeting of this benighted season has a duty to reflect on the words of former Celtic player Mark McGhee.

What he muses over in the week when mail bombs and charges of sectarian singing have been added to the doomsday agenda is the kind of moral and physical courage required of Tommie Smith and John Carlos when they made their black power salutes at the Mexico Olympics 43 years ago.

McGhee recalls that back in the Eighties he was tempted to walk off the field when the tide of abuse washed around him but admits that he both "lacked the bottle" and any certainty that such a gesture would do any good.

The ex-player's agonising throws into the harshest light the miserable failure of players and officials in the last game, when the Scottish police, as they have done again this week with their swift reporting of the failed mail bombings, finally made the point that this wasn't so much a football match but a huge scab of social breakdown.

If these famous old football clubs cannot unite in a common purpose, if they cannot stand up like those Olympic athletes who said they were at the point of no return, they surely forfeit their right to existence. It is, as McGhee points out, a time for brave and decent men.

Wenger must learn to buy ready-made

From Arsene Wenger yesterday another statement of defiance: he will not change, he does not need to change. Everything will proceed according to his view of the world.

Meanwhile, a strong word is that Manchester United, concerned about their dwindling midfield forces, are contemplating a move for someone of the quality of Wesley Sneijder, architect of Internazionale's Champions League win and the prime mover of the Netherlands' march to the World Cup final.

Unthinkable for Wenger that he should take hold of someone else's proven product and put him to the most valuable work. For Ferguson, it is a routine reflex in a time of need.

This may just have something to do with the fact that since Arsenal last won a trophy, United have won seven, including the Champions League.

Anti-whip forces drive point home

The proposal of Towcester racetrack, pushed for by their director and former trainer Charlie Brooks, to ban the whip is more fuel on the controversy that has inevitably grown since the thunder and the mayhem of the Grand National.

With supporters of the weight of Sir Peter O'Sullevan and John Francome, the anti-whip forces are driving home the contradiction that lay at the heart of the National win by a plainly exhausted Ballabriggs.

Jockey Jason Maguire had the glory of victory even as he was stood down for five days for excessive use of the whip.

There is a moral ambiguity here which should not survive the next running of the great race.