Exclusive: Scott Parker on changing the culture at Fulham - "We went from a team that lost most weeks to being expected to win the league by Christmas"

Rookie Fulham boss Scott Parker reflects on an eventful 18 months in the job as he prepares to take on Arsenal in the Premier League season opener, exclusively live on BT Sport.

By Robert Cottingham Published: 11 September 2020 - 3.02pm

As Scott Parker prepares to take charge of a Premier League game for the first time as permanent manager, the 39-year-old can reflect on an eventful 18 months in the job.

Following Claudio Ranieri’s sacking in February 2019, Parker was promoted from first team coach on a caretaker basis to become Fulham’s third manager of the campaign with the club 13 points adrift with nine games to play. 

Relegation inevitably followed despite Parker winning three times in the run-in. Yet in those nine doomed matches the former midfielder learned valuable lessons about himself, his players and what he wanted from his team.

With mounting expectations and a Covid-19 interrupted season to content with, Parker brought Fulham back at the first time of asking. His reward? A home clash with Arsenal in the first match of the new Premier League season broadcast exclusively live on BT Sport.

“All of last season, all of our struggles were to get back into the Premier League and face the best teams,” Parker says in an exclusive interview with BT Sport pundit and former team-mate Joe Cole.

“That is no more evident than in our first game. The quality we will face against Arsenal and the array of talented players with experience they have… it’s a challenge, but there will be some big challenges and we need to embrace them.”

On the step up Fulham are making, Parker adds: “We are going in against world class players and we realise we aren’t always going to be able to match that. But we have got to be better than them with our togetherness.

“Look at Sheffield United. At times they could not match the quality they faced but the mentality Chris Wilder created showed they could outwork and outfight other teams with their cohesion and they got some big results.

“We have quality but first and foremost, we need to have that bit of togetherness.”

Parker’s first game as caretaker boss was also a London derby – a west London derby in fact – against rivals Chelsea that ended in a 2-1 defeat as the disjointed Cottagers slipped closer to the trap door.

Having tasted relegation twice as a player, with West Ham and Fulham, Parker saw similar ingredients in the situation he inherited.

“I saw the same things in those relegations in this team that season,” the 39-year-old says. “You often find there’s a disconnect among some of the players, there’s sections of a squad rather than that togetherness and fans suddenly drift away.

“[After relegation] I quickly realised we’d gone in the space of one summer from a team that lost most weeks to one that was expected to go and win the league by Christmas.

“My main focus had to be changing the mentality. I had to get people together and the balance is tough because as much as I’m trying to create an environment, as a younger manager, I know I need to win games.

“Ultimately you can bang the drum as much as you want, but at times you need to have success to get you there.

“I hope the [Championship Play-Off] final at Wembley was a wake-up call to the players who were wondering ‘Why am I being asked to come in early?’ ‘Why am I being asked to do extra work?’… it’s those key moments that help players get it.”

The key moment culminated in an emotional interview following the 2-1 win over Brentford on the Wembley turf. Parker spoke candidly about the strain being a manager puts on his family and the relentless nature of the job.

“The emotion just comes out,” Parker says of the post-match interview. “It came with the family, staff, my team and the way I saw all the struggles along the way with the journey.

“I realise the fine margins in football and how one moment is the difference between success and failure. I see a team who developed so much last year and that’s what ultimately came out of me.

“I realise the struggles you see when the people closest to you at times suffer because of what you are trying to give. And you hope those moments [like the play-off final] repay their support just a little bit and make them see why they might be worth it.”

Given the disruption to the 2019/20 season caused by Covid-19, Parker was afforded even less time to celebrate promotion before his attentions turned to the Premier League.

The club splashed out in excess of £100million on players two years ago, with the side that won promotion under Slavisa Jokanovic disrupted by a series of new faces.

Parker believes the club have learned lessons from the summer of 2018 and stresses how crucial it is for Fulham to get the right blend of talent and character at Craven Cottage.

“We need the right players, the right type of players,” Parker says. “It was £100m last time but I don’t think it was about the sum of money – it was the type of player…

“The jump in expectations of transfers can sometimes be so big it adds pressure but you need to know where you are as a club at that moment in time.

He adds: “Of course we need to bring players in, that’s evolution to have the challenge of someone pushing you, but the most important thing is for players to understand what they are going to face and what will be expected of them.”

The challenge starts against Arsenal on Saturday and BT Sport also have Fulham’s second match of the season against Leeds the following Saturday as part of our seven Premier League games in September.

Watch the full interview on the BT Sport app or BTSport.com from 11.30am on Saturday 12 September.