Ultimate United Articles
Paul Parker Heroes, Villains & Legends
As the Manchester United team that would dominate the 1990’s began to take shape, we take a look at one of the less celebrated individuals, who was one of the first names on the team sheet during the early Premier League years.
By Philip Meese
The position of right back has been a problem one for Manchester United over the last few years. It was revealed earlier this week that the club have decided not to take up the option for a further year on the contract of Antonio Valencia, who has been first choice in the role for much of the post-Fergie era.
Despite having Diogo Dalot and Ashley Young available it is rumoured that United are actively looking to buy a right back this summer. During the early to mid-1990’s, there was one player who was first choice for that position. Paul Parker was a terrific defender, and probably the least lauded member of Sir Alex Ferguson’s first great United side. It’s probably fair to say that if they had someone as good as him available right now, the club would not be scouting for anyone in that position.
Parker signed his first contract for Fulham in 1982, having come through their youth ranks, and did not take long to become established in the first team. Predominantly a right back, he was surprisingly deployed at centre back on several occasions. Despite being just 5ft 7ins tall, he had excellent aerial technique and his strong frame meant that he was never bullied by bigger, stronger opponents.
In addition to being versatile, Parker had great pace, stamina and proved a useful ally in attack, always supporting and overlapping his winger. Back then, Fulham were in the Second Division (known today as the Championship), but they were relegated in 1986, and almost declared bankrupt a year later. With that in mind, it wasn’t going to take long before clubs from the top flight began to circle, and Parker joined Queens Park Rangers in the summer of 1987. Ironically, it was because of an attempted merger with Q.P.R. that Fulham found themselves in such financial trouble.
First Division football didn’t faze Parker, in fact he flourished in the top flight. In 1989 Bobby Robson selected Parker for his England squad, and gave him his International debut against Albania. He impressed enough to be given a place in the squad for the 1990 World Cup in Italy. He soon displaced first choice right back Gary Stevens, and made the position his own. In the semi-final against West Germany, he had a hand in both goals, first deflecting a free kick past Peter Shilton, and then later setting up the equaliser for Gary Lineker. Despite England’s exit, he was one of many players to enhance his reputation at the tournament.
Parker made the £2 million move to Old Trafford in 1991 at the age of 27, by now entering the peak years of his career. He soon struck up a good understanding with another new recruit, Russian winger , and they made an effective combination down the wing. Parker’s arrival saw Denis Irwin moved to left back (which he handled with the minimum of fuss) and with Peter Schmeichel now protecting the United goal, the team began to look more balanced. It seemed that the final pieces of Ferguson’s jigsaw were starting to fall into place.
Parker’s first season at United saw him lift both the League Cup and the UEFA Super Cup, but is best remembered for the title challenge that fell at the final hurdle. Parker, however, had taken to life at Old Trafford like a duck to water. Oddly enough, despite excellent form as first choice for the biggest club in England, his International career petered out following his move to United. New manager Graham Taylor decided to make Arsenal’s Lee Dixon first choice right back, and Liverpool’s Rob Jones also seemed to be ahead of him in the pecking order. When those two got injured for the 1992 European Championship in Sweden, unfortunately so did Parker.
As the newly formed Premier League kicked off in August 1992, Manchester United made a stuttering start, but picked up form towards the end of the year when Eric Cantona was added to the squad. It gave the team such a boost that, just two months after the French strikers arrival, Parker scored his only league goal for United, finishing off a lovely move in a 4 – 1 thrashing of Tottenham at Old Trafford.
By this time, the United back four basically picked itself, which is why players such as Lee Martin and Clayton Blackmore found game time very hard to come by, and why the Reds conceded just 31 goals in 42 games on the way to winning their first league title in 26 years.
The 1993-94 season is looked upon by many as the finest Manchester United team Ferguson ever had. The first choice XI of Schmeichel, Parker, Bruce, Pallister, Irwin, Kanchelskis, Ince, Keane, Giggs, Hughes and Cantona never lost a game when all of those eleven players started. By Christmas, the Reds had opened up what seemed like an unassailable 12 point gap at the top of the table. Although Blackburn did claw back the lead, and gave United a fright by pulling level at one stage, Fergusons’ team prevailed and captured a second successive title. It was a sign of things to come, however, that the very last time those eleven players started the same game was in the 1994 F.A. Cup Final, when they completed The Double by beating Chelsea 4 – 0 at Wembley.
It’s all Downhill From Here.
Paul Parker’s eventual decline at United began on the opening day of the 1994-95 season, as United faced his old club Queen’s Park Rangers. A troublesome ankle injury saw summer signing , by trade a central defender, installed at right back, a position he never looked comfortable in. Parker did come on in the second half, but was shown a red card for a foul which saw him in breach of the new FIFA ruling regarding being the last man.
The main issue, however, was that Parker’s ankle injury was becoming so serious that it was becoming difficult for him to train on. He made just one further Premier League appearance during that season, although he was played at centre back against Barcelona in the Champions League, as Ferguson attempted to use his pace to combat the threat of Brazilian striker Romario. He also played in the return fixture at the Nou Camp, which United lost 4 – 0, and that was his last action of that season.
As United’s youth team pretty much became the first team in 1995-96, there seemed to be no place for Paul Parker. Although his injury problems were behind him, he made just 10 appearances. He did, however, score an incredible goal in the FA Cup win at Reading. A fluke maybe, where he looked like he was about to cross the ball, but instead hit a screaming drive inside the near post from a great distance. He will tell you he meant it, some will dispute that, however, Parker was only on the pitch because Phil Neville (another youngster who now blocked his path) had been feeling unwell and had to be substituted at half time.
While Parker was attempting to get back to full fitness, a young player by the name of Gary Neville was fast emerging and when he was given an extended run of games in the team, he never relinquished his position. Although United finished runners-up in both the Premier League and FA Cup, they now had a right back whose position would not come under threat anytime in the following ten years.
As Manchester United claimed another League and FA Cup Double in 1996, Parker was left out of the squad for the Final and had not made enough appearances to qualify for a Premier League winner’s medal. Such was the ascendency that United now found themselves in, it went almost unnoticed when Paul Parker, a key member of the team just two years previously, was given a free transfer that summer.
Following his departure from Old Trafford, Parker joined newly promoted Derby County. This is a good example of a move that should work out, but didn’t. A club who are new to the Premier League signing a player with a lot of experience in the division seems like a perfect fit. Unfortunately for Parker, Derby showed that the players they already had in their squad were more than up to the task, and they never even looked like being relegated. Parker made just four league appearances for the Rams before dropping down a division to join Sheffield United, and then later appearing for his first club, Fulham, in the fourth tier of English football.
In 1997, an injury crisis at Stamford Bridge saw Chelsea recruit Parker, but he played only a handful of games, and once they started to get players fit again, he was out in the cold, and didn’t make the squad for their 1997 FA Cup Final triumph against Middlesbrough. At the end of that season, Parker retired from professional football at the age of 33, and joined non-league Heybridge Swifts.
In 2001, Parker became manager of another non-league outfit, Chelmsford City and later Welling United. Neither of these moves worked out, and in recent years he has been seen trying his hand at punditry for ESPN and Setanta. He was often particularly scathing in his analysis of United under Louis van Gaal.
In every successful side, there are always one or two players who don’t stand out from the crowd. This is what makes such sides successful – these are the players who do their jobs with the minimum of fuss, rarely making a mistake, while the other high profile players dazzle and grab the headlines.
Throughout his Manchester United career, Paul Parker served the club tirelessly. A great player and a great professional. His link up play with Andrei Kanchelskis down the right flank was, at times, a joy to behold, and yet Parker never seemed to get the credit he deserved.
As previously mentioned, he was quick as a bullet, strong in the tackle, defensively very aware of his responsibilities and, for somebody who wasn’t exactly a giant, a very good header of the ball. The latter seems to prove that technique is just as important as height sometimes, which is why he could always do a job in the centre of defence.
If asked to name their all-time Manchester United eleven, most fans who have followed the club over the last 30 years would struggle to pick from the multitude of attacking players, but would instantly name Gary Neville as their right back. This is not much of a surprise, as his longevity and success in this position, coupled with his passion for the club, will mean he is always looked on as a United legend, and rightfully so. Maybe if Parker had come up through the youth team, and spent the majority of his career with the Reds, he might be looked on in the same light.
But as two Premier League titles, an FA Cup and a League Cup winners medal show, he was hardly a failure.
Added by Philip Meese on 03/03/2019 11:38:09