Paul Parker is recounting one of Jim Smith’s legendary half-time eruptions at QPR when the old-fashioned notion of respect for the boss prompts him to address the predicament at Manchester United.
‘Today, it’s different,’ says Parker. ‘If players decide they don’t like the manager, they don’t play. They tell their agents and the agents run to the owners. And we’ve got owners listening to people who’ve seen something on social media.
‘And players sitting there, looking at the manager going, “I know you’re not here for long because upstairs they don’t like you” so when Man United have an interim management consultant in charge, what chance have you got?
Paul Parker has never been afraid to offer an opinion as he talks exclusively to Sportsmail
The former Manchester United man spoke with passion about the Red Devils’ predicament
‘It’s become a conveyor belt. Certain players are just waiting for someone different to come in to see what happens next. Without the stability of someone in charge who everyone knows is the boss, teams are a mishmash.
‘United are a mishmash. I can’t see that changing. You’d have to change the owners and you can’t change the owners, can you?’
Parker has never been afraid to offer an opinion, flying into debate with the same fearless tenacity that was a hallmark of his impressive career with Fulham, QPR, Manchester United and England.
Sir Bobby Robson once said he ‘tackles like a ferret’, an epithet Parker liked so much he used it as the title of his book, published in 2006. These days, it is Premier League owners and executives who need to beware his bite.
Parker has criticised United’s players, calling for Harry Maguire to lose the captaincy, but he lays the blame for the club’s plight squarely on the Glazers for a lack of leadership since Sir Alex Ferguson. ‘This is the fifth manager since Sir Alex and they’ve never been backed by the people at the top,’ he says.
‘David Moyes was let down, although I don’t think the club was right for him. Louis van Gaal’s football wasn’t the best but he was let down. Jose Mourinho, maybe the same but he was his own entity.
‘Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did really well except he was bullied by the players, dictated to by players playing average or worse. Signing a player (Maguire) for over-the-top and then making him captain wasn’t the best move.’
Now, United have Ralf Rangnick in charge until the end of the season. ‘Some of them have played for at least three managers,’ says Parker. ‘Yet the same things are going on. You can see there’s something wrong. It’s not individuals, it’s the collective.
Parker insists the Glazer owners need to sell up in order for United to progress as a club
‘It’s reminiscent of replacing Sir Matt Busby. You had Frank O’Farrell, Wilf McGuinness, Tommy Docherty, Dave Sexton and Ron Atkinson. Sir Alex was the sixth, and that was when the club was run by a family of butchers.
‘Now we have people from outside picking and choosing when they take money out. All United are, really, is the highest-profile ATM machine in world football. Not bad is it? Come in, tap a few numbers and take out millions in dividends.’
Parker is relaxing with a cappuccino after spending the morning in the gym, working on his fitness to cycle with Football to Amsterdam for Prostate Cancer UK, from London to the Dutch capital, determined to improve on his performance three years ago.
Parker is working on his fitness to cycle with Football to Amsterdam for Prostate Cancer UK, from London to the Dutch capital
‘I turned up without a clue,’ he admits. ‘I had to borrow a wet-top, without that I’d have been dying of hypothermia. I had no gloves. My hands were frozen. I couldn’t use the brakes properly. I knew nothing about riding on roads, following a crowd. I’d always thought I was quite fit and there were people of all shapes and sizes going past me. As soon as we set off I questioned my decision.’
Soon after completing the ride, however, his father was diagnosed with prostate cancer and Parker has become closely bound to the charity.
At 57, he is in the vulnerable age group and is participating in tests and research for the PROFILE study at the Royal Marsden Hospital to find out more about the illness and, in particular, why one in four black men develops it.
Training fits around grand-parenting and media work, which keeps him close to football. Of all his former clubs, he feels the strongest connection to QPR, where he became an England international and won all but three of his 19 caps.
‘Jim Smith signed me and you couldn’t fail to love him,’ says Parker. ‘He was the life and soul, but he would shout and scream and when he got really angry there’d be a big, blue vein bulging in the middle of his forehead.
‘I’ve seen him destroy players but everyone would give everything for him, and then he’d put his arm around you and say, “Well done” in that South Yorkshire accent and you’d melt a bit because you knew he liked you and all he wanted to do was win. It was when he didn’t get after you that you had a problem.’
Of all his former clubs, the ex-England international feels the strongest connection to QPR
Parker recalled Smith launching into one half-time verbal assault on Alan McDonald only to discover mid-tirade that the centre half was nowhere in sight. McDonald had ducked into the toilet, further down the corridor, where he stashed his cigarettes behind the U-bend.
‘Jim threw open the dressing-room door and shouted, “Macca, can you hear me?” Macca said, “Yes boss”. Then Jim carried on shouting. Macca was in the toilet going, “Yes boss, yes boss”. This was my first season. I was too scared to laugh.’
In Smith, Robson and Ferguson, Parker counts himself fortunate to have played for three of the great managers of his era. ‘Sir Alex has an aura,’ he says. ‘You might not like him, you might hate him but you always respect him. I fell out with him in my final season and I’ve realised since it was my fault.
Parker was part of United’s first three Premier League titles but only has medals for two
‘Initially you blame him for everything and then you look at it differently, and when you see him it’s not a problem. Every year, up until he retired in 2013, he’d send a Christmas card. My boys loved it. When you go back, even today, he makes a point of going to see his players. I’ve got his number but would I ring him up? I’d be s*** scared he might say, “What you ringing me for?” and what I thought sounded good will be an incoherent mumble.’
Parker was part of United’s first three Premier League titles but only has medals for two. Injuries limited him to six appearances in 1995-96 when the threshold for a medal was 10.
‘I’m devastated I don’t have more,’ he says. ‘All players should be playing to win a medal, or win promotion. There should be an edge. I see too many players content to be squad players. Why? No one knows your name. You’re getting no accolades. Go and play regularly. Let everyone see how good you are.
‘Don’t sit there and say you’ve got a load of money because no one wants to look at your bank account. If I hadn’t achieved things with United and England, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking. Football is about winning.’
But no feelings of what might have been linger from the World Cup semi-final in Turin in 1990. Parker’s deflection on Andreas Brehme’s shot gave West Germany the lead before his cross set up Gary Lineker for the equaliser, but still England lost on penalties.
‘I could easily have not been there,’ says Parker. ‘I had cortisone injections in my groin before the World Cup because I was struggling with a hernia, and had only played 15 minutes of a competitive England game.
‘Bobby Robson was so loyal. I could’ve been on the bench for the whole tournament and it would’ve made a massive difference to my life. I’m invited to theatres to talk about it, I’ve done a dinner recently with Terry Butcher, all on the basis of something we did in Italy 32 years ago.
Parker was part of the England side which lost to west Germany in the 1990 World cup semis
Despite a crushing loss on penalties, no feelings of what might have been linger from Italia 90
‘Walking out in the semi-final, I couldn’t believe I was there. Looking at the Germans, they had the best-toned legs and most upright postures I’d seen in my life. Then looking at Peter Beardsley and Chris Waddle thinking, “Wow, you really can’t judge a book by its cover”. They’d get in any Premier League team.’
Italia 90 was the spark for the Premier League revolution although Parker is not caught up in thinking everything that happened since has been good. ‘In many ways it’s been great but in other ways it’s been a curse,’ he says. ‘It has made people forget about the foundations of football, built in the 1800s not in 1992.
‘It tries to preach to people about the greatest goalscorers in history without mentioning Ian Rush or Jimmy Greaves. That’s the biggest problem.’
One in eight men will get prostate cancer. Go to Prostate Cancer UK’s 30-second risk checker. Prostatecanceruk.org/risk-checker