“The other 23 teams in this league,” says Scott Parker, breaking into laughter, when asked what the biggest challenge is facing him at Bournemouth. “I believe in what I’ve got, I believe in my staff, in my players but there are 23 other teams in the most competitive league there is. I say 23 and not lightheartedly but with pure honesty: that is exactly going to be our biggest challenge and we need to be ready for that. There are going to be bumps along the way – they will always present themselves, probably throughout the rest of my career – and we need to be ready for a relentless season.”
Parker is an impressive character and it is easy to see why Bournemouth were keen to make him their manager. The club have long been admirers of Parker, whose brother-in-law Harry Arter was central to Bournemouth’s rise through the divisions under Eddie Howe. Last summer he was out of reach after guiding Fulham back to the Premier League at the first attempt but now the 40-year-old, in a cream cardigan, is in the red-and-black corner, talking about his first six weeks in the job, the rigours of pre-season, learning curves and building an environment that can help Bournemouth achieve. He has introduced music to training, with R’n’B soundtracking some sessions.
The longevity of Howe’s reign, Parker says, was part of the lure. “He did a fantastic job and I’m sure what I’m seeing and what I’m around is due to the work that Eddie instilled and what he has left behind, really. For someone to be at the helm so long and be given that time and that freedom to build, of course it is appealing.”
Promotion is the explicit aim but the same goes for the three relegated sides, including West Bromwich Albion, whom they host in the season opener on Friday, and many more. Leif Davis and Emiliano Marcondes have arrived from Leeds and Brentford respectively and although Arnaut Danjuma, who has returned to light training, could exit this month, the shell of the squad remains a talented one, including Lloyd Kelly, captain in the absence of the injured Steve Cook, David Brooks and Dominic Solanke.
But Parker knows ability only counts for so much. “We need to be humble. We need to understand where we are at this present moment. Whether we think we have got the quality individually or as a team to not be in this division, that’s irrelevant because that’s exactly where we are. We need to prove that is different by our actions, not by our perception, our ego or what we think. We need to go out there every week and show it.
“I’d never want a player in my team that didn’t want to be here or didn’t feel that they deserved to be in this division. The players are at this club and in this division because they have not done well enough last year to get out of here. I always say to my players, you have to look at yourself – hard – first and foremost. If you’re at this club at the end of the transfer window, you’re either here on the train and you’re going to be fine and I’ll see that in people’s actions on a daily basis, or if not, you probably won’t.”
Parker used a psychologist as a player and knows mentality is crucial if a team defeated in the Championship play-off semi-finals last season is to succeed. At Fulham Parker commissioned an external company to assess his squad’s personality and plans to do the same at Bournemouth. “This is a relentless league, 46 games, very different to the Premier League. I think we see the difference in quality at times but what you need to bring to a Championship campaign, and what is going to stress you, is very different to the Premier League. The margins in the Premier League are much, much smaller but what stresses you in this league is the psychological [side].”
Parker feels he squeezed everything he could out of Fulham and departed by mutual consent after relegation. “I took over that team when the chips were really down, in the sense it was the last 10 games of a Premier League campaign when we were practically a relegated side and the club was pretty fractured. Coming back this year I felt that it was best that the club and that team needed a new voice. Unless things were going to be different, which they didn’t seem like they were and I understood why maybe it could not have been – finances or how people perceive certain people – I understood that that meant that we differed in our opinions. It was probably best for myself, my staff and for Fulham for someone else to take that and try and push on.”
Parker’s focus is on trying to guide Bournemouth back to the big time, even if it means the odd bike ride from his hotel is the only chance he has had to sample the scenery since arriving on the Dorset coast. “I’m engrossed in what I do,” he says. “I was still playing at Spurs when I decided this was the route I wanted to take. I’ve spent long hours, long days, doing my coaching badges and putting myself in a position where I can give myself as much knowledge as I can. My sole aim is for us at this club to be successful.”