|Gary Neville's passionate defensive displays have been missed by United but it will not be clear how much until the end of the season [GALLO/GETTY]
Two months after his abrupt move to announce his immediate retirement, former club captain Gary Neville said this week that he still thinks he made the right decision. But his ex-teammate and fellow defender Paul Parker isn't so sure, given the personnel predicament at Old Trafford.
"It's a very serious situation and United could have really done with someone like him right now," Parker said.
"I think personally he should have waited until the end of the season to retire, which would have seemed right to him as a United fan."
Playing in his specialist position of right fullback, Neville pulled the plug on his professional days on February 2 after struggling to cope with much younger, speedier opponents. In two previous games, he was very fortunate not to be red-carded after over-compensating for his fading, athletic prowess with clumsy challenges.
But Parker says that Neville would have had fewer concerns playing as makeshift central defender over these crucial, final weeks of the season.
"I don’t think Gary could have foreseen what's happened with all the injuries so maybe deep down, he's asking himself whether he maybe made a mistake," Parker said.
"Given where United are at the moment, they could have really done with Gary Neville in centre defence where he's done well before. He could have made United's run to the Premier League trophy that little bit easier."
Parker knows from personal experience about the need for versatility in defensive positions. In August 1991, he was recruited from Queens Park Rangers primarily as a centre back, yet ended up playing as a fullback as Steve Bruce found a way to prolong his career to partner Gary Pallister.
"I thought I was going to play in the middle because that was what I'd been doing for the past six seasons at QPR and Fulham," Parker said.
"But Steve Bruce wrapped bandages around his bad knee, pulled his belly up, threw tablets down his throat and had pain-killing injections to last another five years at United."
"For the first 12 months, I had to learn to play fullback again where I'd played more regularly for England than at club level."
Parker's adaptability was crucial as Manchester United broke a drought of 26 years to win the English league title in 1992-93 to begin a golden era under Ferguson, which has stretched almost two decades.
During Parker's five years at the club, Manchester United won seven major trophies including three league titles. Ironically, it was the arrival of a young Gary Neville that limited his opportunities and saw the compact and speedy defender depart for Derby County in 1996.
Parker says that a fit-again Nemanja Vidic will be crucial for the Red Devils, especially over the two legs of Champions League quarterfinal against archrivals Chelsea, as he partners less seasoned central defenders in the absence of Ferdinand.
"United's biggest strength over the years in winning the league has been a stable back four but that's not the case anymore"
Paul Parker, ex United defender
"United's biggest strength over the years in winning the league has been a stable back four but that's not the case anymore," Parker said.
"The moment someone is allegedly fit, another goes down injured.
"There's an opportunity for the rival clubs but we have to see how strong managers are mentally and if they're willing to have a go at Manchester United to test their frailties. Historically, one of United's biggest strengths is that other teams have been fearful of them."
Parker was amused by the fact that his name was mentioned in the same breath as Gary Neville when Sir Alex was questioned about the possibility of the veteran coming back to bolster the club's playing stocks.
"Gary Neville? He's retired!" Sir Alex barked. "Shall we see if Paul Parker is fit too?"
Actually Parker is still in pretty good shape and close to his playing weight, even as he turns 47 on April 4th.
However, instead of strutting his stuff before 75,000 fans in the Theatre of Dreams, he's playing at a rather slower pace in a social league on the Padang in the centre of Singapore, where he bases himself for his TV pundit work in Southeast Asia.
And while he looks back with justifiable pride on his Man United days, Parker is more of a fan of Queens Park Rangers who are poised to re-join the Premier League after a 15-year absence next season. During four seasons at Loftus Road, the London-born Parker played 125 league games and earned the first of 19 England caps.
QPR are runaway leaders of England's second tier, the nPower Championship, but face a nervous wait as the Football Association considers a possibly devastating points deduction for an alleged breach of third-party ownership rules with Argentine midfielder Alejandro Faurlin.
"They're the team whose results I look for first although almost everyone associates me with United," Parker said.
"I think as it stands, United will win the league but it will go down as one of the poorest squads to be Premier League champions. Lesser sides have stepped forward and top clubs like United haven't progressed because many of the top foreign players didn’t come to England this season."
Jason Dasey (www.jasondasey.com) is an Asia-based international broadcaster, corporate emcee and media trainer.
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