Sublime Scholes

The greatest English midfielder of his generation as the majority of Manchester United fans would describe him. The player, whose quietly spoken professionalism during his playing career, was at complete odds with the talent and skill that procured him a plethora of accolades and trophies.  Paul Scholes was so vitally integral to Manchester United’s success that Sir Alex Ferguson helped to convince him to revoke his decision to retire in 2012 because he knew that the ginger master would be an integral part of him finishing his managing career a winner. Additionally, Scholes himself was having difficulty coming to terms with his retirement and felt just as keenly that he could contribute amidst the injury crisis.  Whilst Scholes’ inability to tackle was legendary he more than made up for this defect by excelling in all other areas. He had a rocket shot, unrivalled passing ability and indeed, his rarest attribute, the ability to dictate the tempo and rhythm of an entire football game. This prodigious talent was harnessed by an incredible football brain which enabled him to extend his career for years beyond his peers at the top level and retain his immense effectiveness.

Scholes is undoubtedly a Manchester United legend, someone who was a one club man and who won many honours during the greatest era of the club’s history. When you think about the 11 Premier League titles, the 3 FA Cups, the 2 Football League Cups, the 5 Community Shields, the 2 Champions Leagues, the Intercontinental Cup and FIFA Club World Cup he amassed, you begin to get an understanding of the sheer volume of medals which he accrued during his decorated time. Scholes, unlike Giggs, was not an early bloomer and had to wait for his chance to shine whilst other members of the class of 92 broke through slightly earlier. However, the old rhyming adage, that Paul Scholes scores goals, was proven correct almost immediately as the youngster bagged a brace on his debut in 1994, in the Football League Cup 2-1 victory over Port Vale. Over the next couple of years he worked hard, scoring a few goals and in particular showing great fortitude in stepping in to complement Andy Cole in a strike force devoid of the suspended Eric Cantona. In 1996, it was reported that Blackburn Rovers would only allow Shearer to move to United if Scholes was offered in part exchange but luckily, for all United fans, given how Scholes’ career went, Shearer joined Newcastle instead.

By the season of the unprecedented treble, Scholes had begun to flourish fully and was part of arguably the greatest midfield four that the Premier League has ever borne witness to, Beckham, Keane, Scholes and Giggs. Keane, who was often grudging in his praise, knew the value of his midfield partner, offering this glowing tribute to him.

“An amazingly gifted player who remained an unaffected human being.” Roy Keane

Scholes would score many important goals during the campaign. In particular the equalising and crucial away goal against Inter Milan in the San Siro, Scholes showing incredible composure to finish the Italian giants off. Additionally, Scholes was further able to swallow his disappointment that like Roy Keane he was suspended for the Champions League final and scored the decisive second with a sweet left footed drive to score a decisive second in the 2-0 victory over Newcastle in the FA Cup Final.  Scholes disciplinary record was something which hounded him throughout his career, in total racking up many yellow cards that symbolised that although he was quiet, the fire and fervour to win were indubitable. Furthermore, in the 99-2000 season Scholes scored an incredible screamer against Bradford City, a goal of such immense quality and class it beggared belief.  David Beckham’s inch perfect corner against them was met with a full blooded rasping drive that almost burst the net. It was a goal which epitomised the natural talent which Scholes exuded and the almost supernatural gift he had for the superlative.

By the 2002-03 season, Scholes had well and truly established himself, scoring his best ever total of 20 goals in all competitions, goals of all varieties such was his creativity and attacking verve. In the following season, Scholes was to win the last FA Cup medal of his career scoring a winning goal against Arsenal in the semi final. However, against the same opponents in the FA Cup Final the following year, Scholes sadly missed the decisive penalty in the shootout. It was a rare aberration for a player who was usually exemplary and faultless during most games.

At this time, Scholes made the decision to retire from international football, which perhaps provided him with the extra recuperation period he needed to prolong his United career in the forthcoming years. It was well documented that Scholes was often placed on the left wing to make room for a Gerrard and Lampard axis in the middle.  England’s loss of course was his club’s gain, as it meant Scholes didn’t have the added burden of international duty to tire him over the following seasons.

In the following 05-06 season Scholes was subject to a health scare where he was experiencing blurred vision which may have ended his career prematurely. Thankfully, he recovered and in the 2006-07 season was shortlisted for PFA Player of the Year as well as getting a spot on the PFA Team of the Year. Perhaps, his finest moment of brilliance that year was his audacious flicked assist for Wayne Rooney’s equalising goal against A.C. Milan in the Champions League semi final. It was a moment of pure brilliance which encapsulated Scholes superb reading of the game and his ability to execute a perfect pass. Rooney, another of Scholes’ legion of fans, admired this visionary aspect of Scholes immensely.

“The best I’ve played with, no question. His touch, passing, vision, composure is outstanding. I try to copy him.” — Wayne Rooney

Similarly, he scored an absolute peach against Aston Villa where the ball came to him on the edge of the area and he struck it fully and quite wonderfully to strike fabulously. It was perhaps the best goal of Scholes’ United career which featured many priceless gems to cherish.

In the 2007-08 season Scholes fulfilled his dream of playing in a Champions League Final thanks to his incredible long range, lashed shot which provided the only goal in the semi final against Barcelona.  It was a sumptuous strike deserving of winning any tie and exemplified Scholes’ integral role in the team, even at the age of 33.   Barcelona’s Xavi, one of Scholes contemporaries at the time was undoubtedly a fan of the ginger magician:

“In the last 15 to 20 years the best central midfielder that I have seen – the most complete – is Scholes. I have spoken with Xabi Alonso about this many times. Scholes is a spectacular player who has everything. He can play the final pass, he can score, he is strong, he never gets knocked off the ball and he doesn’t give possession away. If he had been Spanish then maybe he would have been valued more.” — Xavi

Although Scholes was substituted in the 87th minute and did not participate in the penalty shootout he had secured a 2nd Champions League winners’ medal, thoroughly deserved for the orchestrator in our midfield.  In the Super Cup Final against Zenit St Petersburg, Scholes got himself sent off for deliberately handling the ball into the net to try to equalise. It was a moment of cheeky exuberance which highlighted the playfulness and inventiveness that flowed through Scholes’ veins. There is often talk that in training sessions no one was safe from Scholes attempting to hit them from long range with one of his laser sharp football missiles. Rather than attempting to curb this overenthusiastic side to Scholes, which may have contributed in part to the disciplinary issues, Sir Alex understood fondly that these antics were an essential part of Scholes’ makeup.

In the 2009-10 Champions League season, Scholes scored against AC Milan in the San Siro becoming the first player to score against both Milan clubs at that stadium in the Champions League.  Scholes also possessed an unerring heading ability for one so diminutive, often timing his run and leap to perfection. This was given further credence by a last gasp winner against Manchester City that year, where Scholes directed his header quite beautifully into the corner to send the United fans into absolute raptures along with Sir Alex and the coaching staff on the touchline.

At the end of the following season, Scholes retired for the first time but motivated by an injury crisis that winter returned and spearheaded a trademark United surge towards the title in the summer of 2012. When City won the title on goal difference, he signed another one year contract, perhaps like Sir Alex, he wished to end his career on a title winning high and by scoring in his 700th game for United he scored in his 19th consecutive Premier League season, 2nd in magnitude only to his Welsh wing wizard team mate Ryan Giggs (21 consecutive PL seasons).

When Paul Scholes finished his career he had amassed 718 total appearances and scored 155 goals, placing him at third and tenth respectively in the all time lists for these respective hallmarks.  In my opinion, the greatest footballer in the Premier League never to have won an individual Player of the Year award, Scholes perhaps did not receive the personal accolades which his success and commitment on the pitch merited.  A part of me feels glad since Scholes shunned the limelight at all times whilst playing but at the same time it still feels like a most egregious oversight on the part of the powers that be, especially when you consider the sheer weight of top players who held him in the highest esteem.  Whilst Scholes has become more outspoken as a pundit you can tell he has retained his insatiable desire to see Manchester United succeed and his criticisms are done with the best intentions to see his beloved club returned to the glory days which he was an integral/vital component of.

As a member of the Class of ’92, he and his contemporaries seemed to spur one another on to greater heights and the unity and respect between this particular group of players is very obvious to see, not only in the way they played for one another showing the indomitable United fighting spirit but also how they spoke and encouraged one another, the mutual respect and admiration for one another. We were supremely lucky that such a group of players came through the youth at one time as individually they were excellent, but unified could achieve greatness. Of those members, Gary Neville perhaps summed up the general consensus among them that Scholes was the most talented of them all:

“I wouldn’t swap Paul Scholes for anybody. He is quite simply the most complete footballer I have ever played with. He is the best.” — Gary Neville

It was a true privilege to be alive during Paul Scholes time at Manchester United, a man who could do anything with a football and then some. He was a genius whose contribution was invaluable and who firmly deserves his place in the pantheon of United legends.  Prodigiously gifted off both feet, blessed with composure, dribbling talent, skill and made to measure passing, United were incredibly lucky that we had a man who gave the one club he played for such an immeasurable amount. His retiring personality only heightened the contrast with his football which spoke volumes that will echo through the annals of Manchester United’s illustrious history. When you juxtapose his influence and impact with that of our current crop of midfielders there could not be a starker contrast.  As Sir Alex Ferguson foresaw when he eulogised about him:

“I think Paul Scholes is the best player in England. He’s got the best skills, the best brain. No one can match him. There isn’t a player of his mould anywhere in the world. Paul is irreplaceable.” — Sir Alex Ferguson

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