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England midfielder using psychologist in pursuit of succes

Sunday, 17 March 2013 - 10:11am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Scott Parker has no doubt what he wants to do when his football career eventually ends.

Scott Parker has no doubt what he wants to do when his football career eventually ends. "I would like to manage," the 32-year-old Tottenham Hotspur midfielder, who has just been recalled to the England squad for the forthcoming World Cup qualification ties, reveals.

"It's what I think I'd be good at. There's a tactical side to it and that's relevant but if you can manage players and how they are and how they feel - I think that's how you get the best out of them and that's why I want to go into management.

"I've seen managers who are brilliant on the training pitch, with their tactics but are not so good at dealing with players and understanding their needs. I think my experience with different managers helps and I have a good understanding of what I feel you need to do to become a very good manager and build the best team."

The pressure on managers, the scrutiny, the sackings - does it not put him off? "Football is in the blood," Parker, who has just started taking his coaching badges, says. "It's a bug. We beat Arsenal and the changing room is the happiest it can be, then we play Liverpool and we lose. You are up, then you are down. I'm sure as a manager it's the same. There's only one guarantee, of course, and you will get the sack. But it's something I really want to get into."

Today (Saturday), after having, just, knocked Inter Milan out of the Europa League, Parker will hope to be 'up' again with Spurs at home to Fulham in that intense pursuit of a Champions League place. Tomorrow he will join the England squad, for the first time since he was injured at Euro 2012. "I still strive, I still want to play for England," Parker says.

No one could ever accuse Parker of not striving. A principled character he strives also to bring that degree of honesty to his life off the pitch as well. He is speaking at the Nightingale Academy in Edmonton Green, north London, which has a partnership with the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation who have a full-time employee based at the school that struggled academically and with behavioural issues. Parker says he is acutely aware of how the actions of footballers can impact on the young.

"I do see footballers as role models and maybe that's because I have three kids myself," says the father of nine-year-old Frankie, Murphy, eight, and five-year-old Sonny. "I'd like to think that over the years people see me as someone who does things in the right way. I have respect for people, whoever they may be, and I'd like to think that transfers back to me. So role models are something that I believe in."

To the extent that there are some players, he says, he would prefer his children not to idolise. "Maybe I sometimes think: 'I don't really want them to look up to someone like him,'?" he admits. "I do think like that as a parent."

Not that Parker is too judgmental. "Football, when the whistle blows, sometimes you are going to do things, you are going to react to things, that every player must sit at home afterwards and think: 'Why did I do that? What was I thinking?' It's hard to make judgments because of the heat of the moment but there are lines that some people cross."

Not that, either, when Parker crosses that white line, he ever appears to leave anything behind. It has always been his style but, if anything, it has intensified in the last six years since he started working with sports psychologist Mike Griffiths. I raise an image of Parker at White Hart Lane in the first-leg of the tie against Inter. Spurs are three goals up, it is the dying minutes and yet he is straining ever sinew - it can be seen in his face - to make a tackle.

Parker laughs. "I don't want to let anyone down. You realise your role in the team and that's what you try to do. There are always messages going on in my head - I wouldn't want to say what, you'd probably laugh. But I'm always reinforcing the messages - what my objectives are, and I have objectives every time I run out on the pitch - and I guess at those moments, like the one you raise, I'm reinforcing them at the time when maybe my body is saying 'I want to give up'.

"He [Griffiths] helps make things a bit clearer for me. We are all human and I have the same worries and fears as everyone else. Sometimes you feel bad on the day, might not feel too well but you have to grind out at least a 7/10 performance. I suppose I've just become a bit more mentally strong and been able to block out the bad stuff and focus. He helps me create clearer pictures, objectives. It's a bit more 'this is what we need to do and this is how we do it'."

Mental toughness is a key factor for Tottenham head coach Andre Villas-Boas, especially with games coming thick and fast and fatigue creeping in. Parker has a strong bond with the Portuguese - just three years his senior - who had wanted to sign him when he took over as Chelsea manager in 2011.

"I guess I had that in the back of my mind that he wanted me," says Parker, who missed the first half of the campaign because of the aggravated Achilles problem he had at the end of last season and which he took into the Euros. "But it's difficult when you are injured. My main focus was still to show him what I can do. I was eager to get out there and get a relationship going with the manager."

Parker is full of praise for Villas-Boas's decision to come back to the Premier League despite his bruising experience at Chelsea. "Even our fans were a little bit 'is he the right man?'. But he's turned everyone around. He's very open, his man-management is very good, he speaks to the players very well, he's very well organised. As a player the one thing you want above all from a manager is that he's straight with you and he's very honest."

With nine league games to go - and a Europa League quarter-final - and Spurs in third place, that Champions League place is highly attainable.

Last year's experience, finishing fourth but missing out because of Chelsea's triumph, is a spur for Spurs. "What happened last season is spurring us on, I can't deny that," Parker says. "And as a professional I do realise from the outside that people are also maybe asking the question as to whether we can do it. We need to use that and say: 'You know what? We can't fold like we did last year or get a couple of bad results.' I

"I'm sure we will be OK. In football you go on runs and ours came to an end at Liverpool so we need to go on another one now."

 




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