As we come closer to the conclusion of the 2021/2022 season, we caught up with former Manchester United, Fulham and England ace, Paul Parker. He discussed the upcoming player departures at Manchester United, Djed Spence, Erik Ten Hag and much more.
Nemanja Matic announced that this is his last season at Man Utd. How would you define his time at the club? He did have his moments for the Red Devils.
He did. It was a bit strange. You could just see that he had something about him that made him such a good player at Chelsea. And I just don’t think he had a good enough of a run at Manchester United, and the team didn’t really suit the way he wanted to play. Because Manchester United are not a ball retaining team. And he is one to play in a manner to just keep the possession going, and keep moving the ball, and kept the ball from the back.
I always felt that he kept the ball, he always kept possession, and taking the ball from the back and took it into the midfield and then played off the front. But he never really got the role.
I think a lot of United fans will say that he was a good pro. He has been honest, he hasn’t been shouting and screaming in the press, he’s just been getting on and trying to do his job. And the way he has been treated, being put in and left out for long periods, you could see he was really professional in going on about it. Personally, I liked him as a Chelsea player, and I liked him as a Manchester United player. The way he wanted to play, he just couldn’t get the consistent best out of him because of the players around him. They weren’t up to his standard of him sometimes.
The Paul Pogba saga seems to be over. Looking back, did both parties, i.e, Pogba and Man Utd, fail each other?
I think the way it all started with Paul Pogba was all wrong. Because Manchester United made an emoji of him and that was going around the pitch. And I just think that sent a wrong message. It was so American and just so wrong for our game and everything that they’ve went and done. Straight away you just made a player into this big thing. Yeah, everyone knew about Paul Pogba, and what he had done in Juve. But they should have still treated him as just a new player coming in rather than making this big emoji of him.
And I just think it pulled off a few players. A few players were kinda like, “hold on a minute, what’s going on here, who are you and why are you getting all of this?” So I think the club failed on that point, I think they got it wrong. I think they were just looking for a quick return on the investment, by trying to get the money back. Rather than trying to get the best out of him on the football pitch. So imagine a player of his age, coming back for the second time, and seeing all that, it could have affected his head in the sense that he suddenly felt that ‘I am there, everything is built around me’ and it wasn’t. Football is built really around the eleven outfield players on the pitch at any given time.
I think Paul Pogba after everything he had done with Juve, maybe he is one of them that looks at the player around him and just in his head saying ‘You are not as good as him, you are not as good as (Andrea) Pirlo, you are not as good as him’. And I think that’s just the way that he is because there is a big difference to when he plays for his country. There he is incredible, but when he comes back to his club, and you are looking for him to grab hold of a game and a lot of fans expected him to show the other players in the Manchester United team how good and how professional he was as a footballer. But he didn’t do that.
Never saw him grab a hold of a game quite enough. We saw him hold on to the ball for too long, get caught in possession too often, he gave away so many penalties. So many times he got caught in possession and held the ball for too long, maybe because he felt that the one he was gonna give it to wasn’t good enough and that he was better. Sometimes he played the game like a spoiled child.
Erik Ten Hag to Man Utd is official. In your opinion, what exactly is he getting into by taking up the Man Utd job? Is this the toughest managerial job in football?
It’s definitely tough if you take on any of the so-called big sides in Europe. I think there is always pressure on you. Especially at the moment, you are in Manchester United and the petals are falling off the flower. And people have just been trying to glue them on. And what he has taken on is incredible. It’s like trying to climb Everest with flip-flops on. I don’t know, is he brave or is he stupid? You know, we will find out in time, but he is the sixth person that is in charge since Sir Alex.
I am hoping that all that he wanted since he waited so long before he signed is actually going to happen. They’ve gone out and bought players for so long for what they are worth on the commercial side, rather than buying them as footballers first. So hopefully, that’s what he’s gonna be allowed to do, cause Manchester United need footballers not marketing tools.
Is there any other Premier League clubs that Ten Hag can use as a blueprint or inspiration for the eventual Man Utd rebuild?
We can even talk about Brighton, about the way they go out into market price and where they get their players from. We are talking about different levels and people say different standards but, when you look at the Brighton team, and you compare what they do to Manchester United, Brighton is ahead. The only thing Brighton can’t do is score goals. Brighton has conceded fewer goals than Manchester United. This is the worst Manchester United. Goal difference, everything has been poorer.
There are a lot of sides you can look at. There are sides below Manchester United in the league which are better than what they are. So there are a lot of things he can look at. But, at the end of the day, if he looks at what he’s got in front of him, it’s a horror show. It’s as simple as that. And then he won’t able to find out the ones that want to play for him. The most disappointing thing is that there are going to be a few players who are suddenly going to change their approach. They are gonna be doing everything that they weren’t doing before. And you have to accept it because you know at the end of the day what they’ve done. They are not only cheating themselves, but they are also cheating their teammates. That’s one of the little things you see when there has been a change of manager.
Which player does Ten Hag build around in this Man Utd squad?
I ask the question why did Manchester United give (Bruno) Fernandes a new contract? I still don’t understand, they still had plenty of time left on his present one. I don’t know if you can build a team around him, cause there is a reason why he had spent so long in Portuguese football, and not in any of the other so-called big clubs. Could he do anything with Harry Maguire, simply by altering Harry Maguire’s game, and turn around and say ‘you are a defender, you are not really a footballer?’ Cause English media have told about Harry Maguire, he is good on the ball. I really don’t know who he could look to. I don’t know.
He is going to want to bring people across who he knows. He is gonna bring a couple of players, two or three players maybe from Ajax or from Holland. Players that he could never have got to Ajax because they might be from Feyenoord, or might be from PSV. But he is gonna bring in players who he knows. He knows them maybe personally, he knows their strengths, he knows they are better than what Manchester United has at the time.
And sometimes, it’s about bringing in players that other players suddenly see, and those players will be doing stuff, and the other players will follow by example. Something like that will change it. The thing about is that United don’t need to go and spend 70, 80, 90 million on each new player, just to say we are having a rebuild. I just don’t think it works that way. I don’t think he is looking to manage that way, because he has never managed that way before. You don’t go and spend that amount of money on players in Holland.
The respect Ajax gets from all over the world is because of the players that they bring in, and those players move on to big clubs, and those players establish themselves at bigger clubs in football than Ajax. That’s what I am looking for. And that’s what I think the Manchester United fans, the right ones want. The ones that have seen the good, seen the bad, seen the good, and then seen the bad again are gonna want really, rather than spending ridiculous, trying to catch Liverpool or Man City. When you look at those two clubs and United, the difference in what they spend isn’t much. One of the three has done it badly.
David de Gea, some say that he’s not a ‘modern’ goalkeeper in the sense that his ball distribution isn’t up to scratch and that this could be a roadblock for United’s progress. What is your take on that?
We are seeing a lot of plastic journalists who are coming out saying that Henderson is going to be the new goalkeeper, that Henderson should be the new goalkeeper. They are calling David de Gea part of the problem. He’s kept United in the game. The reason why United are still in the European spot is because of David de Gea. So there are ten outfield players as far as I can see, surely you don’t want your goalkeeper being the best football player on the pitch, do you?
But, David de Gea, people have gone in his head, because he’s not like a modern-day goalkeeper, he is like a goalkeeper from my era. But goalkeepers from my era were unbelievable. They made good saves. Peter Schmeichel, would Peter Schmeichel fit in today’s football? Yes, he would have, cause Peter was a great goalkeeper. And you want to play beyond someone who can get you out of trouble, and that’s what he can do, like Peter Schmeichel.
And that’s the problem, people know your strength, but they put you under pressure to get themselves out of trouble. A goalkeeper becomes a backup tool to get you out of trouble, and that’s what players use them for. Alisson (Becker) has made a lot of mistakes, (Santana de Moraes) Ederson has made a lot of mistakes. David de Gea just keeps the ball out of play sometimes, and they can’t score if the ball is out of play. So to cut a long story short, I am a fan of David de Gea, because he is a goalkeeper first and foremost.
Fulham are playing in the Premier League next season. They’ve already lost Fábio Carvalho to Liverpool. How big of a blow is that going to be? He played 33 games for them this season.
I think (Fábio) Carvalho is definitely gonna be leaving, he is gonna go to Liverpool and he could get swallowed up in it for a little while. He is not gonna go anywhere near their first team for a long while, cause you still got Harvey Elliot. He got a bad injury, and he has just come back and he at the moment still hasn’t got a regular place.
So at the moment he physicality-wise gotta be better himself and get stronger as a runner. You can see that that is what he might need. I don`t mean in the sense of bouncing off people’s shoulders and stuff, because that does not happen in the Premier League. They just fall over after being touched. It is just that presence and stature that I think he needs just to be in the Premier League, which he will find because he is a gifted player.
I just think they (Fulham) will get someone who will do a job for them to keep them in the league. So, he will be missed entertainment-wise. Football-wise? Yes, because they produced him, the fans will be a little bit gutted that he isn’t playing for them in the top division.
It’s a challenging move. It’s a brave move, but, in the end, if it comes your way you’ve gotta grab it, if it doesn’t work out you can always come back. That’s the thing about it. There is no point staying, maybe becoming a big fish in the small pond, when you get a chance of going to the big pond where if it works out you really sell yourself to your country and to the world.
Harry Wilson will sign a permanent deal with Fulham after this season, moving away from Liverpool. What does that say about him? Leaving LFC to play for Fulham.
I just think he had no real choice, Liverpool did not want him, because all he has done is bounce around the Championship. I think he’s enjoyed his time in London, he’s kinda made more than a name for himself with Fulham. After a while, you’re kind of like a foster child (laughter), just bouncing around. He is a foster child and sometimes you just want a home.
And I think he found a home because Fulham is a nice iconic ground in London. It is maybe one of the best places in London. So he looked at all that around him and he just thought, ‘No, I need a home.’
It is easy to say, ‘I am a Liverpool player’ when actually in theory you are not really because Liverpool doesn’t want you because you`ve been bounced around. Where has he been?
So, Harry Wilson has been a good player for Fulham in the Championship, now he’s gotta move on and become a good player in the Premier League.
Djed Spence apparently dreams about playing for Manchester United. Should he be a target for the team?
He is a really, really good athlete. Serious athlete. Incredible athlete. I think he was a winger, just by some of the bits he does with the ball that says to me that he was actually a winger who’s come back, but he is a good defender as well. He wants to defend, rather than just keep running forward. He is looking to score goals, instead of constantly crossing. He is looking to make the play and run at people. So if you are looking for someone dynamic, he is the person to do it.
Is Manchester United looking for a right-back? I think they are, maybe, looking for that, but I don’t really know enough about (Erik) ten Hag. But if you are looking for a defender, a hundred per cent defender, Aaron Wan-Bissaka is the best in the league. But if you are looking for a mix, then you might not be getting what you want with him.
Do you think that Juan Mata ended up wasting his prime years at Man Utd? He had a blistering start at Chelsea and his Man Utd tenure had great moments but could we have seen more of him?
Yeah, he could have done more. I mean, he was a brilliant player at Chelsea. A number one of who I don`t think (José) Mourinho was a fan of. And with Mata’s ability you can see why, because, technically, very good footballer, he was a fan`s favourite and I think that everyone knows (José) Mourinho had to be the favourite.
Every time he’s come off the bench at Manchester United, or when you see him, he doesn’t kick the ball away. He knows what he’s doing and what he’s looking for, and I think Manchester United made it difficult because you just can’t play in a team like that. Because you cannot just keep the ball. I’ve seen him play a few times, and he clicked with (Bruno) Fernandes a few times.
It just never materialised for him, because he got used wrongly. It was just such a shame, really, he was incredible. Passing, his speed of thoughts, everything about him. He was a pass ahead of everyone else.
I don’t know him. I`ve never met him. I’ve listened to him on the TV, I’ve watched him play, I’ve seen him talk to people. He is gonna be a coach or something like that because he’s got such a nice manner in a way that reminds me of a Spanish version of Ray Wilkins and the way he played.
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