Is Redknapp Right For Wanting Scholes At The Euros?
With England-manager elect Harry Redknapp talking up United midfielder Paul Scholes returning to the England set-up, we look at what he could bring the side.
Harry Redknapp may not yet have touched buttock upon the seat unofficially bearing his name, but the England manager-elect was already hypothesising on team selection this week. In amongst the expected platitudes, the references to messrs Lampard, Gerrard and Parker as “top players”, was a more leftfield selection possibility. When the name of Manchester United’s 37 year-old ginger wizard Paul Scholes was brought up, the current Spurs boss surprised many by indicating an intention to include the midfielder in any England squad he presides over.
“Let’s be honest, you would love to have Paul Scholes in the Euros this year” (source: Daily Mail) noted the Spurs manager in a recent press engagement. As recently as England’s previous major championships, World Cup 2010, Fabio Capello attempted to make a similar play for Scholes’ services. In fact the player himself seemed open to reneging on his international retirement, which began post-Euro 2004, but told the BBC that the timing was wrong.
“I wasn’t given enough time to think about it. It’s a big decision.” said Scholes, adding “If they’d asked me earlier, I probably would have accepted.”
If Harry Redknapp does land the England position which, barring a seismic event, looks as certain as anything can be in modern football, he has laid a good groundwork for himself through some deft PR work. Redknapp has already trumped his predecessor by making Paul Scholes feel wanted by England. Capello suffered one of his characteristic communication breakdowns when asking his deputy, Franco Baldini, to complete the all-important phone call to the United man asking him to return to the Three Lions two years ago. This lack of respect, however unintentional, looked likely to have rankled the veteran midfielder as much as any misgivings over the timing of the tournament. In setting his stall out early in terms of wanting to involve Scholes, Harry Redknapp has avoided both the timing issue and the oblivious lack of thought that infected Capello’s offer.
But if Harry does manage to land the services of Paul Scholes for the European Championships, will it actually improve the nation’s distant hopes of success?
On the one hand Paul Scholes is 37 years-old, and was retired from the sport for 7 months. In a game where the terms “match fitness” and “ sharpness” are lazily regurgitated on a weekly basis by television pundits whenever a player has been injured for more than a week, is it realistic to expect the player to complete this season’s Premier League campaign and have enough left in the tank for a Euro tilt?
While he will only have completed half a season with Manchester United, that could still amount to a lot of games should the club’s Europa League campaign catch fire. United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has not been shy to use his returning old-stager, and the devoted Scot will likely give little thought to the needs of the England team during what looks to be a tantalisingly close title run-in with their local rivals Manchester City.
However Paul Scholes has hit the ground running since returning in January, featuring in the majority of the team’s games in this period. His fitness appears not to have dropped in any noticeable way, with Scholes’ job coaching United’s youth giving him an excuse to keep in fighting fettle.
Most encouragingly, his form has been top-class. This past weekend he once again pulled the strings in the centre of a Red Devil’s midfield that gave Liverpool nary a sniff of the game for the most part, and even his somewhat rusty return against City in the FA Cup saw him manage a 97% pass completion rate. It seems in footballing terms at least, Scholes is worthy of an England place.
But with squad numbers limited, where would Paul Scholes fit in? Redknapp even mentioned three other central midfielders during the same press conference in which Scholes’ name was brought up. Add Gareth Barry into the mix, coupled with the possibility of deploying Phil Jones in the centre of the park as was done so effectively against Spain and it is soon clear there is an embarrassment of riches in this position. However none offer quite the same sophistication and ball retention as the United man.
Scott Parker is a polished version of the “midfield enforcer” of yore, Barry and Jones are also more comfortable in deeper-lying roles. This leaves Scholes to duke it out with Lampard and Gerrard for the more attacking berth. Neither of his rivals have shone for their club this season, and while it is difficult to foresee Scholes overturning them for a starting place he would be an intimidating option on the bench. He offers a more continental flavour to an England team who, to put it charitably, are “traditionally English” in style. Harry Redknapp even noted this in his praise for Scholes stating in the Daily Mail:
“He plays like the Spaniards, like Xavi [Hernández] or [Andrés] Iniesta. He does not give the ball away.”
England certainly look likely to benefit if Paul Scholes is involved, as he offers something tactically different from what is already on offer, and is clearly still capable at the highest level judging by recent United displays. While there are a lot of “ifs” attached to the possibility of both Redknapp and Scholes being involved with the England setup at the European Championships, the nation’s fingers should be crossed that both manager and player make it to Poland and Ukraine.
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