Five points clear at the top of the Sky Bet Championship and 14 games unbeaten.
In footballing terms, everything is going swimmingly under Scott Parker at Bournemouth this season.
But to paraphrase the legendary Italian coach Arrigo Sacchi, ‘football is the most important of the unimportant things in life’, and recent events at the club have only served to confirm his famous words.
The only real place to start is with David Brooks – the 24-year-old winger who was diagnosed with stage two Hodgkin Lymphoma earlier this month. It is one of those events that drives the game we love into perspective, but the support shown from all quarters for the Welshman also shows how powerful it can be.
Watch the full interview with Scott Parker here…
“Of course when you hear the devastating news of this happening to someone so young, and you see how loved he is amongst the group, there was only one reaction and that is to pull together for him,” Parker says.
“Football is a game that can unite people, no matter what colours you wear or who you support, and it’s times like this that the football community come together. At Bristol City and Stoke it was incredible to see the emotions of the game pushed to one side to support him.
“For us and the players to show support during games and outside of them too is so important. He’ll need the strength of people rooting for him and to show they are right behind him.
“We’re right behind him, we’re supporting him and putting things in place for the challenge he has. He has begun his treatment and that journey has started for him. We are looking forward to having him back.”
Brooks had been a regular in the side right up until the end of September, and would have been as delighted as anyone to have seen them win both games since his diagnosis.
They currently have the second-most points of any Championship side after 14 games since 2004/05, and only three sides in that time have ever started the campaign with a longer unbeaten run.
The team has been brilliant under Parker, who at this stage appears to have fully justified what had in parts been questioned as an odd step in moving from Fulham during the summer.
“It was a big decision to leave Fulham, but it was the right decision. And I think both sides realised that as well,” says Parker. “I think we both understood something would need to give a little bit for me to keep improving the team and to take the team to where we needed to get to, but Fulham thought differently. I think that’s part and parcel of this game, and we both decided it was probably best that we parted.
“For me I was fortunate enough to be in a position that Bournemouth were keen for me to come in and take over, and I’ve come into a club where my initial thoughts of how it was going to be run are exactly how things have turned out, in terms of how the club is managed, what my role is and how much control I have on certain things.
“I’m very pleased with that. This is a club that ultimately want to get back to the Premier League, and we’re working relentlessly to achieve that. Overall it’s going well at the moment.
“I’m delighted with where we are. It’s been a very good start, but we need to remember it’s just a start. Although it is helpful, no season is defined at this stage. We need to keep on improving and getting better, and nailing down the fine details of what we are trying to do.
“I have a very good group of players that are engaged, want to improve and get better. They want to strive to be part of a top team and become top players, and that makes my life a lot easier.
“When you go into clubs, and I had it a bit at Fulham, where there are players that are a little bit resentful or certainly not as willing as others, it is a challenge to convince them of where we need to get to. Some you manage to convince, others you need to get rid of.
“But if there is one thing I have had from the minute I stepped in here it is a group of players with eyes wide open and ears pinned back. They want to get better and they’ve bought into the processes we’re trying to put in place here. It wasn’t a challenge, those challenges come when the players have a different view to what I currently have.”
Two players in particular who have caught the eye are a pair of 21-year-olds in Jordan Zemura and Jaidon Anthony – who currently make up the left side of Parker’s team.
Both have enjoyed a breakout season, bringing a freshness and a zest to a side that had for so long struggled to evolve away from the team that had brought them their initial success, rise to and stability in the top flight.
“I was aware of them when I arrived, but I would be lying if I sat here and said they were two players I was looking at on a bit of paper before I joined, because they just hadn’t played much football,” says Parker.
“But when I came in it was a fresh start for them both, and they impressed me, got their opportunities and they took them. They’ve both got real quality and they represent everything we are trying to do here in that sense.
“Gavin Kilkenny and Mark Travers were in a similar situation in that they were both probably fringe players who didn’t get a lot of minutes, but they have both earned the right to get into the team but what they do in training and with their performances. The next challenge for them all is to achieve that consistency.
“There was an energy when I arrived obviously because of a new manager coming in, but they’ve all brought an energy and a freedom which happens when young players come into a team. We have a good balance of young, enthusiastic players paired with some experience.”
Some of that experience that Parker refers to comes in the shape of Gary Cahill, the former England centre-back – and international team-mate of Parker – who turns 36 in December.
Arriving at the end of August, Bournemouth have won eight and drawn one of the nine Championship games in which Cahill has appeared, conceding just three goals in that time. Had he joined before the start of the campaign, you feel Bournemouth would likely be even further clear.
“He was a big coup for us,” says Parker. “I knew with his experience and quality he could be massive for us, and really add to what we’ve got in terms of our other players. In that position he can really help and develop the likes of Chris Mepham and Lloyd Kelly, and just help us as a team. And you’ve seen that from the games he’s been involved in.
“I had to make a few calls to get him in! He had options and he needed to hear exactly what we were trying to get from him and how I saw his role here. He got the answers he wanted and felt comfortable to commit and come to play for us.”
And at the other end of the pitch Parker has a striker in Dominic Solanke who is continuing to thrive and build on his performances from last season. He turned 24 last month, and is looking more like the striker now who showed so much promise at Chelsea and England as a youth player.
His tally of 10 goals so far is bettered only by Aleksandar Mitrovic in the Championship this season. But it’s his all-round play that has proved so important to Bournemouth this season as well.
“I’ve honestly not got enough words to praise Dom,” says Parker. “He’s probably a bit more of an old-school centre-forward in that he has this relentless work ethic in everything he does. We couldn’t set up the team without him as a No 9. He’s the one who sets everything off for us in terms of the press.
“He’s showing he’s at the level where he can regularly score goals now. The difference between good strikers and top strikers is consistency, and he’s backing up last season with his form this season.”
All the cogs are working, and all the statistics suggest that Bournemouth are well on course to return to the Premier League. But Parker, much like any manager in this situation, is refusing to take his eye off the ball and look too far ahead.
“We just want to keep improving,” he says. “I know it sounds cliche, and I know you want me to say we want to go and win the league and get promoted. Of course we do and that’s the aim, but that can’t be the main focus.
“The main focus needs to be nailing what we do on a daily basis, committing to our processes and never letting up in terms of our work ethic and our desire to improve when things aren’t going well. If we stick to that I know we’ll be successful.
“If your aim is the end goal then you end up losing sight of what gets you there, and what will get us there is what we’ve talked about from day dot – effort, desire, hard work and players wanting to get better. That’s not changed to this point, and at this point we’ve had success with it. It’s my job to make sure that doesn’t change, and so far it hasn’t.
“Everyone at this football club is doing everything to they can to get to the Premier League. And if we manage to do it, it will be because of a lot of hard work from every single one of us.”