Scott Parker may have been forgiven for questioning his philosophy of playing out from the back after Fulham, in the heat of their battle to stay in the Premier League, gifted Man City two goals during their 3-0 defeat at Craven Cottage last weekend.
However, the message could not be clearer from the Fulham boss as he looks to continue to build the club’s playing identity and secure their Premier League status.
“Along the way, there are going to be some mistakes and there are going to be errors, but you need to be consistent in the message,” Parker told Sky Sports.
“Having and keeping the ball is key. If the opposition haven’t got the ball, then you haven’t got to defend as much.”
It certainly has been key as Fulham, who were eight points adrift of safety at the beginning of February, now contemplate an opportunity to move out of the relegation places for the first time since the middle of December when they take on Leeds United, live on Friday Night Football on Sky Sports.
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‘The message has to be clear’
Parker has galvanised Fulham with wins against Everton, Sheffield United and Liverpool giving them plenty of hope to beat the drop come May, but if they do manage to secure their top-flight status for next season, playing out from the back will be a key weapon.
“You need the constant belief of the players,” he added. “It’s very important that the players buy into it and you give the players the confidence and the belief that even through the mistakes or errors, that it is something I believe in and I take the responsibility at those moments.
“And, of course, from my side, I need to be strong in that as well because it is very easy for people to judge playing out from the back. As soon as you see one mistake, it’s very easy punditry to just say they played out from the back and they made a mistake.
“You do need the right technical players in those moments, players that are brave and players that want to play in that way. And also, that the message from me is a very constant one.
“You cannot be grey in those moments. You need a clear way and a clear identity, and I think we’ve got that.
“As always, it has been bumpy but the reason I’ve stuck to it is because I believe in it. I haven’t stuck to it out of stubbornness. I’ve stuck to it because I had 20 years as a player, developing my ideas playing in teams that played that way.”
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Everything for a reason
It’s that philosophy and that passion to stick to the process that caught the attention of former Arsenal striker Thierry Henry, who was a guest on Monday Night Football.
So what is Parker’s philosophy?
“The way we play is very positional,” Parker said. “I believe in a control of a game with the ball.
“I think it’s really key that there’s real reason for me, my coaching staff and for us as a team to play the way we do.
Thierry Henry names Graham Potter, Marcelo Bielsa, Pep Guardiola & Scott Parker as some Premier League managers that he admires pic.twitter.com/l9yhgPwPSJ
“We don’t play it because it’s fashionable to play out from the back. We play that way because we want to create bigger openings, bigger overloads in certain moments, bring teams onto you to create a three against three at the top end of the pitch or to create a spare man and therefore bigger overloads that you can try and penetrate and score goals from.
“That’s the reason you do it.
“Of course, it brings risk but when you sit in my position and your team understand that’s the model I want to play from because it creates chances and it gets us where we need to get to in terms of the right areas of the pitch, you need to be very consistent in that message.”
‘I drew from my experience as a player’
Parker enjoyed an excellent playing career, enjoying spells at Charlton, Chelsea, Newcastle, Tottenham, West Ham and Fulham, while also making 18 appearances for England. Parker admitted it was an extremely varied career with battles for silverware, battles at the top of the table and also battles down at the bottom.
He also played under some excellent and experienced managers, including Alan Curbishley, Jose Mourinho, Graeme Souness, Gianfranco Zola and Harry Redknapp, among others, but the 40-year-old insists it was his time as a player that shaped his future managerial career.
“I mainly drew from my experience as a player and the teams I played in,” he said.
“I played in very different teams, relegation teams, teams that have struggled and teams that played in a certain way. On the flip side of that, I played in an England team full of the world’s best, at that time, a Tottenham team that was, in my eyes, an incredible football team and a Chelsea team that was full of unbelievable players and technical players at that.
“During all those experiences I formulated how I wanted to play, which has always been my main driver, and then how I enjoyed the game the most. What gave me the most success as a player and what gave us as a team the most success and why that was.
“They were the main factors for me. Of course, I learnt off of different managers but the main way I have developed as a coach have been from the experiences I have taken away as a player.”
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Parker’s admiration for the Bielsa way
Parker goes head to head with one of the most recognisable managerial philosophies in world football when Marcelo Bielsa takes to the visitors’ dugout at Craven Cottage on Friday, and the Fulham boss is full of admiration for the work the Argentine has done at Leeds.
“What he asks of his players, individually, and his team is very unique and very difficult,” Parker said.
“What a job he has done at Leeds and he has done it consistently during his career. When he arrived at Leeds, they were a Championship team, and no disrespect in any way, they were Championship players and he’s turned them into what we are seeing now which is international players and Premier League players.
“They are a front foot, unique team in the way they play. Playing them in the Championship and earlier this season give you more knowledge of the style, more understanding and more experience, but it is a difficult task. You need to withstand the intensity they play at and that can be tough.
“We have played against them a few times now so that experience is invaluable to us, but they will still be a tough nut to crack.”
Home improvements key for Parker
If Parker can lead his side to victory on Friday they would move out of the bottom three for the first time since the middle of December. With Brighton also taking on Newcastle on Saturday evening, which is also live on Sky Sports, it’s a big opportunity for Fulham to lay down a marker.
However, they will have to improve some recent indifferent home form to secure a fourth win in their last eight league games. And with just four home matches remaining before the end of the season, Parker is targeting home improvements to aid their survival bid.
Brighton and Hove Albion
“We’ve got some really big home games coming up and it’s going to be really important for us to get something from them,” he said.
“Every game from now until the end of the season is important. It’s a cliché, I know, but for sure we’ve got games at home where we need to try and pick up some points.
“We’ve not done well enough at home this year. Away from home we’ve been good, but our form at home for the remaining four games is going to be important.”
When asked about the opportunity to move out of the bottom three, he added: “Psychologically it will be a big boost for the players.
“However, the most important thing is that we turn up like we have done now for a long time and perform. Perform and get three points.
“Three points, a win and a performance is what gets you out of the relegation zone on Friday and if we can continue that, hopefully it gets us to the point here we can stay out of it.”
Watch Fulham vs Leeds on Friday Night Football on Sky Sports Premier League from 7.30pm; kick-off 8pm
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