Over the past seven years, the touch and passing of midfield maestros like Andrea Pirlo and Xavi have taken the game to a new level – from AC Milan’s two Champions League finals in three years to Barcelona’s stranglehold both in La Liga and in Europe. Suddenly, a deep-lying midfielder was a playmaker rather than simply a defensive shield.

But with this magic came neglect for the grafting, ball-winning defensive midfielders who have been – and are – the driving force behind successful teams. Think Graeme Souness, Lothar Matthaus, Frank Rijkaard, Roy Keane and Claude Makelele. The art of the position has almost been forgotten amid the understandable obsession with touch and technique.

And so there is something refreshing about the praise being heaped on Tottenham Hotspur’s Scott Parker, who epitomises the true meaning of a defensive midfielder.

Dating back to last season when he won the Premier League’s Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year award, the 31-year-old has been flavour of the month. In an era that focuses so intently on the creative midfield “quarterback”, Parker has provided a timely reminder that a tireless work rate, a team first attitude and fearless tackling, mixed with careful ball retention, will never go out of fashion.

Tottenham are flying at present, with a chance to establish themselves as the closest challengers to leaders Manchester City by Christmas. Harry Redknapp has pieced together the perfect mix of graft (Parker), creativity (Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart), pace (Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon) and predatory instinct (Emmanuel Adebayor) – and, despite a sluggish start to the campaign, the North Londoners look an excellent bet to finish in the top four.

So much of their success can be attributed to the addition of Parker this summer for the bargain price of £5M from relegated West Ham, perhaps the missing piece in the jigsaw. Even Redknapp still struggles to believe his luck. “When you think about it, he was sitting there (at West Ham) all summer,” the Tottenham boss commented. “He could have been nicked by anybody. I don’t know how somebody else didn’t sign him. It took three or four months to get him but we got him in the end and we are delighted to have him.”

Tottenham are Parker’s fifth club, excluding a loan spell at Norwich, in a career packed with ups and downs. Anyone who watched him burst onto the scene at Charlton could see that he had all the qualities to play for title contenders yet, in hindsight, his move to Chelsea came too soon. It is hard to criticise Parker for being lured by the glamour and money on offer at Stamford Bridge, but just 15 league appearances in 18 months tells its own story. It was the wrong move at the wrong time – though he is not the first player to make this mistake. Nor the last – just ask Shaun Wright-Phillips or Steve Sidwell.

As a result, Parker’s career took a step back as a fan favourite in struggling teams at Newcastle and West Ham, delivering performances full of spirit despite difficult circumstances. After relegation with the Hammers last season, Redknapp rode to the rescue, giving Parker another chance to be a key cog in a trophy-chasing squad.

And Parker’s form has not only made him one of the first names on Redknapp’s teamsheet – he has also become a key part of Fabio Capello’s plans for Euro 2012. In England’s recent 1-0 win over Spain, the Tottenham midfielder put in a Man of the Match display, full of relentless tracking, tackling and pressing. Few players are able to shackle Xavi, Andres Iniesta and the rest of the fluent Spanish side, but Parker’s “pest value” ensures that no opposition midfielder finds time and space.

Performances such as the display at Wembley make it all the more perplexing that Manchester United and Arsenal – two teams in dire need of an energetic, proven midfield force – did not move for Parker over the summer. Their loss has been Tottenham’s gain.

Everything is set up for 2012 to be the biggest year of Parker’s career, both for club and country. He has worked as hard as anyone to get into this position and the rewards are moving into view.

Tottenham are certainly a team to watch over the second half of the season and, with a true defensive shield in Parker, Redknapp’s men might just overhaul Chelsea and Arsenal as London’s number one team.