SCOTT PARKER is stunned by the trivia question I pose: “Can you name the only three Englishmen to have managed in the Champions League knock-out stages?”
The 42-year-old former Fulham chief is genuinely surprised that, when his Club Brugge side take on Benfica on Wednesday night, he will be joining such an exclusive group.
Harry Redknapp with Tottenham, Frank Lampard at Chelsea, and Craig Shakespeare when he took over from Claudio Ranieri at Leicester, are the only English bosses to have competed at the sharp end of the world’s elite club competition.
On Wednesday, that number will swell to five, with Chelsea’s Graham Potter also making his debut in the last-16 away in Dortmund.
Parker was last seen in an English dugout when his Bournemouth side suffered a humiliating 9-0 defeat at Liverpool in August.
But in late December he took over the Belgian champions, who sacked his predecessor Carl Hoefkens despite impressive Champions League wins over Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen and Porto.
Bournemouth’s then-owner Maxim Demin had dismissed Parker with a curt statement, following that Anfield drubbing, after the manager claimed his squad was ‘under-equipped’.
The former England captain and Footballer of the Year admits his sacking caused deep pain.
And he wants to challenge the widespread belief managers often have a ‘c’est la vie’ attitude to losing their jobs.
Parker said: “It was the first time that I had been given the sack and it’s a tough position. The fear of failure is what drives me — the fear of not being successful, the fear of losing.
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“When you are in a job and lose, I’m rational enough to understand why we may have lost and I have an opportunity on Monday morning to do something about it.
“When you get the sack, that opportunity is done and the reality is you failed in someone’s eyes. The fact is you are no longer in a job that you devoted so much time to. For that to disappear is tough.
“I’m not one to accept how everyone sees football management. ‘Yeah, managers just get the sack’. I think that’s extremely harsh.
“Everyone seems to accept that if you don’t win two games you’re three games away from losing your job. That’s pretty normal now. I don’t think it should be like that.”
In his only two seasons in the Championship, Parker won promotion with both Fulham and Bournemouth — but on both occasions a lack of investment stymied him.
He said: “When you come out of the Championship and up into the Premier League the gap is absolutely humongous. You need to change a lot of things.
“So as quick as I’ve had success — two promotions in the two times I’ve been in the Championship, I’d say that’s pretty successful — the problem I’ve faced then is that leap from the Premier League maybe without huge investment.”
When I suggest Parker wouldn’t have been sacked, four games after leading the Cherries to promotion, unless he had publicly criticised the club, his response is: “I don’t know . . . we had Aston Villa, we won. We then had Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool.
“I don’t regret it (speaking out). I’m just someone that wants success. I’m highly committed. That’s why I get out of bed every morning, practically live here until the night, make the sacrifice of moving away, I want my football club to be successful.”
Parker’s intense nature means management provides only limited pleasure.
He admits: “The more experienced you get, the failures and losses last even longer.
“Early on in my career a win lasted a week, you’re on the crest of a wave but the scars, as you get cut along the way, start to dampen it.”
After 25 years as a player, coach and manager, Parker said he appreciated the ‘oxygen’ of spending more time with wife Carly and his four sons during his brief, enforced, break.
He turned down offers, believed to be from Championship clubs, but when Brugge came calling he knew it was the right job.
We meet at the club’s elite-level training base, after a frustrating run of draws have hampered his first six weeks in Belgium’s Jupiler League.
And Parker, whose side were held 1-1 at home by Union Saint-Gilloise on Friday, insists: “Managing in the Champions League is the pinnacle of the world we’re in but it wasn’t the main driver in coming here, although that will mean a lot, there’s a much bigger picture.
“I wanted to challenge myself in a different culture. I wanted the experience of coming abroad to a top club like this.”