By Ross Dunbar
Shawn Parker prefers not to say much. His performances for FSV Mainz 05 have spoken enough – and now he could be the next star in the making for either the United States or Germany.
Turning 20 last week, the forward rose to prominence in the Bundesliga this season having made the breakthrough in late 2012. The sharp man-management skills of trainer Thomas Tuchel offered Parker a new lease of life, which meant he worked with the first-team, whilst playing in the Regionalliga Südwest with the reserve team.
It reversed a slump in form in the second team and a glimpse of the prosperous Bundesliga status sparked the teenager into life. “He told me that I need to change my approach to the game and I do not want to rest on my talent,” he said.
Parker was at the heart of an international debate for his dual-nationality and his self-imposed media silence kept him out of the spotlight for a while. "That was my decision.” He told Allgemeine Zeitung in their winter camp in Marbella. US National Team boss Jurgen Klinsmann was quick to make contact with Mainz to inquire about the intentions of the young forward.
His father was an American soldier stationed at the US Air Force base in Wiesbaden – the city of his birth - that held around 14,000 servicemen from the States and was largely used as an airfield for flights to the German capital, Berlin. Shawn is second oldest of four brothers and the younger two are also highly-rated stars in the FSV Mainz 05 academy system. Devante – who turns 17 this week – is a German U17 international and Jermaine is part of the U13 side.
Parker’s modest, unassuming character is at ease with his apprenticeship in the Bundesliga at the Coface Arena. The teenager made his top-flight debut as an 89th minute substitute against Hoffenheim last October. His solitary league goal this season could hardly have come at a better time. Parker crowned Mainz’s 3-1 win over local rivals Eintracht Frankfurt with a clinical right-foot finish to hand the Eagles their first home defeat of the campaign.
His excellent work-rate, self-motivation and purpose aren’t uncanny to his teenage Mainz team-mates and his honest up-bringing correlates with an enthusiastic playing style. The humble Mainz training ground – before their move to the Coface Arena in 2011 – stood in the shadows of the compact Stadion am Bruchweg, in the framework of a few metal containers.
According to Spox.com, who gained unprecedented access, the facility – intended to be a temporary facility - has “the charm of a building site” without the same modernity as other German youth centres. In keeping with the workman-like philosophy of Mainz, products of their youth academy share the same appetite to learn from head coach Tuchel and Youth Development chief Volker Kersting.
It might have been the scorn of clubs in Germany, but their success came down predominantly to hard-work and it was rewarded by the DFB three years running for their service to the German youth sides. From a three-month period in 2011, the U15 to U21 development squads contained 16 Mainz representatives, including the likes of Jan Kirchhoff, who’s set to join FC Bayern in the summer; and Shawn Parker.
The Mainz forward still lives with his parents in Wiesbaden and football has taken up most of his teenage life. An issue with his school meant Parker left without qualifications to progress with his career as a footballer. "Just because you’ve played a couple of times, you cannot say: I’m in there and I’ll stay there. You need to stay tuned.”
Parker is adept across the front-line and is finely tuned to deal with Mainz’s tactical adaptations from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-1-2. The forward is direct in possession, looking to catch opponents on the back-foot and with a clear-eye for goal, eager to shoot at the earliest opportunity. In 44 youth international appearances, Parker has scored 24 times and a regular scorer in the regional divisions.
With a strong frame and powerful running, Parker has an explosive turn of pace to work in the channels and is eager to track-back and press opponents into mistakes. His fledging appearances in the Bundesliga have largely come as a centre-forward to the side of Adam Szalai in recent weeks, but featured as a supporting-attacker against Hannover in December and was the architect of a goal for the Carnival Club.
A commitment to the US national team would likely guarantee regular games at international level but the possibility of opportunities opening in the German attack might be more appealing for the youngster. Sooner or later Shawn Parker will reach a crossroads, and the choice will be his.
This article is written by Ross Dunbar, an AFR Senior Writer and Bundesliga specialist. You can follow him on twitter @rossdunbar93. Comments below please.