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The Wonder Of Scholes

Manchester United's Paul Scholes

By Guest Writer Jonathan Hall.

You would think that Sir Bobby Charlton knows what he’s talking about on the subject of football. He’s Manchester United’s and England’s record goalscorer, held the appearance record for 35 years and is now a director of the world’s greatest club. He’s got United running through this veins and he knows a thing or two about what makes a good footballer and what doesn‘t. Especially for a player to be able to crack it at Manchester United.

He has been quoted in his book to say that Duncan Edwards was ‘the only player to ever make him feel inferior.’ That’s some going considering he’s played with George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Moore in his time. Big Dunc must have been an absolute beast of a footballer. From what I gather about potentially the greatest player United never got see the best of, you could probably put him in any era of football and he’d make mincemeat of the opposition, such was his fierce talent. My Grandad saw Edwards play and in today’s game, draws comparisons to Wayne Rooney. What the world of football missed out on…

Also in Sir Bobby’s Book, My Manchester United Years, the only word to describe the way he enthuses over one other player is ‘gushing.’ He talks like a 9-year-old boy would go on about the way Ronaldo bamboozles defenders with effortless lollipops. It fills you with as much joy when reading it as it no doubt enriched United’s director when he wrote pages 319 to 321. The chapter is called the ‘The Very Best of Manchester United.’ The subject matter of his footballing pleasure is revealed in one sentence: ‘I have no hesitation in putting a name to such an embodiment of all that I believe is best about football: Paul Scholes.’ As I said, United’s knight knows a thing or two about football.

I’m 21 years-old and sit in the Stretford End and have been going to Old Trafford with my Dad since I was 7. A mate of mine, also 21, tells me one day that Paul Scholes is the weak link of United’s team. WHAAAAT?! This was around January when he said this, before we played City in the 2nd leg of the Carling Cup Semi-Final at Old Trafford. His main points were as follows (you may laugh):

  • He never moves out of the centre-circle.
  • He’s too old.
  • He gets caught on the ball too much (told you you’d laugh).
  • Not intelligent enough because he makes bad tackles.
  • United are a better team without him.

Now my mate is quite stubborn so he‘s not easily swayed. He’s a good player himself but doesn’t go to games, therefore, he doesn’t see what Scholes actually does in comparison to just seeing him on TV.

Let me just share with you what I said to him. My personal opinion of Scholes is that he is the most quick-thinking footballer in the country. And the best at what he does in his current role by a mile. I’m no statistician so I can’t tell you what Manchester United’s success is rate with or without him in the team. However, Scholes still forms the platform upon which United’s possession play and attacking force is based and is still integral to the way we play.

As for never getting out of the centre circle, complete and utter tosh that it is, is actually true in some part. Ten years ago, you would normally see the Ginger Prince supporting the attack with his ghosting runs while Keano or Nicky Butt sat back. Nowadays, its Scholesy’s job to pick up the ball deep from the defence and distribute to all areas of the pitch like only he can. Carrick can often be too casual, as demonstrated when he was robbed of possession which led to Torres’ goal in the Liverpool game. As good a midfield player he is, he needs Scholes alongside him to make him tick and prove why Fergie spent £18.6 million him. After all, we’ve not been without success since his arrival and he’s more than played his part in our quest for silverware.

Anderson has been hit and miss; when he’s good, he’s very good but he often tries to go for the Hollywood ball a tad too much which is detriment to the talent he has. Obviously, we can’t rule out Hargreaves either as, when fit, he’s one of the most efficient midfielders in Europe. And Fletcher has developed his game to such an astonishing level that he is now covering every blade of grass for the cause. Deploying him in front of defence would be a waste of his abundant energy and industry.

I can recall a few occasions where Scholes has been on the bench for games and we’ve struggled to build up a fluid passing game. Where Carrick, Fletcher or Anderson, try as they might, haven’t been able to pick the lock of the opposition, Scholes has been able to settle straight in and we’ve created a handful of chances within 2 minutes of his introduction to the game. Again, it’s no coincidence. Not one player in United’s squad seems to have Scholes’ knack for getting his head up and hitting the wings with a pin-point pass – similar to how a golfer can hit 220 yards every time. He can do it with his eyes closed.

I used to play for Deans Sports (Giggsy’s Sunday League team in Swinton) and the coaches and manager used to tell us to watch Scholes as an example of how to pass and move and keep possession. There is no other midfielder in the league with a quicker footballing brain. That can be attributed to that little owl-like glance over his shoulder before receiving the ball and his first touch always being away from his marker to ensure he’s never caught in possession. In late September this season I read a stat that said Scholes’ pass completion was at 97%. Sheer brilliance.

Much like Sheringham and Bergkamp in the autumn of their respective careers, Scholes is maturing in very much the same fashion. The footballers mentioned never really had any pace; more so in their mid-30s because they had the intelligence and quickness of thought to know where the ball was going and where the next pass was going before the ball even reached them. The words ’the first 2 yards are in his head’ were never more suited to Sheringham and Bergkamp. The same can now be said for Scholes.

Having said that, sitting as deep as Scholes does these days, he consistently shows that he should be in the starting XI. His role is not glamorous but he has that important ability to be able to start moves with his knack for finding a pass no-one else can. The sort of passes that ultimately result in goals.

It’s also worth mentioning that Ryan Giggs didn’t escape the wrath of my learned friend that night either. His criticism of Scholes and Giggs came at a right time because over the next few games, Scholes in particular proved him wrong. The next game against City in the Carling Cup semi-final, the Ginger Prince scored our first goal and was central to everything we did that night.

Ryan Giggs also played a big part in that win, not least by setting up the winner with a great cross and making sure Micah Richards didn’t have the easiest of nights. I got a text at half-time from my mate who said something along the lines of ‘Giggs terrible. Scholes has been s***.’

I didn’t see that text I got until full time because I never answer calls or texts while the game’s on. Superstition. Once I got out of the ground I rang him up and told him everything I’ve mentioned here. I mean it beggar’s belief as to what game he was watching! He still wouldn’t have it. He thought we wouldn’t stand a chance with both Scholes and Giggs in the team.

I made it my business to watch them both that night and I can honestly say that I didn’t notice a stray pass from Scholes until at least an hour into the match when he tried a lofted through ball which ran through to the ‘keeper. No word of a lie, that is what I saw. Giggs had a good game and was a threat when he on the ball considering he faced a tough physical battle with the athletic Richards.

I haven’t heard much from my mate since that game. Scholes’ ears must have been burning because he’s played a lot of football recently, anchoring our midfield to perfection. He had the shot against Hull that led to Rooney’s opener and turned match-winner against Wolves in what could be one of the more important results of the season. Not bad for someone who doesn’t get forward any more…

Oh and another thing, my mate said (I bet you’re wondering why I consider him a mate after all I’ve said!) he’s been playing too long so it makes him look daft. In his words: ‘They did the same with Bobby Charlton. They played him too long.’ Oh yeah, because you were around at the time to notice. Tell me old friend, did you invade the pitch in ‘74 as well?

Giggs has no doubt ripened with age, playing some of his best ever football. There truly is no such thing as being ‘too old’ these days. Especially to be able to still have an impact on a starting line-up of a team like United. The experience of our elder statesmen Giggs, Scholes, Neville and Van Der Sar have helped galvanise a United team blessed with young talent and has proved vital in our 3 (hopefully 4 come May) consecutive title wins.

It’s not a coincidence that whenever a Manchester United player gets interviewed in the ‘Team-mates’ section of Soccer AM that they say whichever team Paul Scholes plays on always wins. Simply because they can’t get the ball off him. He is the most deadly exponent of passing triangles and ‘boxes’ known to man. And he puts it into practice on the pitch where it matters. Better than no other.

I have no doubt that the Lampards and Gerrards of today’s game will in 4 or 5 years have to alter the role they play for their respective teams in order to prolong their careers and bring the experience they have accumulated to fulfill the same role as Scholes. By that time, Scholes will have retired and people will be marvelling at the transitions Messrs Lampard and Gerrard have made to their game. And I bet my mate still won’t appreciate the jobs they do! But those two midfielders will point to Scholes as one of the best in the business at the ripe old age of 35.

I haven’t spoke to my mate for a while. But as a Scholes enthusiast (who bears his name and number on his United shirt), I felt I had to defend the Ginger Prince. And when he brought that up about Sir Bobby I stopped listening because in his last statement he indicated to me that he didn’t know what he was talking about. Surprising there wasn’t a chapter in Sir Bobby’s book about the heartfelt reaction to his harsh criticism…

There’s a design on a United t-shirt website and it says ‘Get up, go to work, play the game, get showered, go home’ alongside a graphic of Scholes. That pretty much sums him up. He’s still going. Still as good as ever. And still in the team which is testament to the man for how relevant and valuable he remains in Fergie‘s eyes.

Just a shame he can’t tackle!

Leave you tributes to Paul Scholes below……..

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