Paul Scholes says the coming season may not be his last despite Sir Alex Ferguson begging the flame-haired midfielder to put off retirement this summer. With his teammate Ryan Giggs still running up and down that wing, Scholes could yet play beyond his 37th birthday. Why not, for while the legs have gone the 600-game star’s brain has not.
Yet talk of Scholes continuing in the Premier League brings a wince to the face of many Manchester United supporters. The most technically gifted Englishman of his generation, Scholes’ performances have deteriorated markedly in the past year.
Not that the player cannot still perform of course, such as scoring the winning goal in the Manchester derby last season, but when the physical side of the game passes him by the Bury-born goalscorer has at times become a liability in the centre of United’s midfield.
It’s a concern Scholes’ recognises, promising to re-evaluate his situation next summer before making a decision on his future.
“If I am feeling OK and doing the job the manager wants me to do, then we will see how things are at the end of next season. Hopefully next season will be another good one for me,” said the midfielder, who has played 643 times for the club.
“I don’t know if it will be my last season. I will take every game as it comes.”
The statement was widely reported as leaving the door open to an 18th season at Old Trafford. But maybe – and it’s a painful statement to make – just maybe, Scholes should protect his legacy by making this season his last. Take a leaf out of George Foreman’s book, and don’t fight the fight one time too many.
Scholes’ problem in the Premier League normally comes against physical opponents prepared to press in the United half, with the midfielder now deployed in a more withdrawn role than in his heyday. His manager, Ferguson, often compounds the problem by deploying two defensive-minded midfielders alongside the ginger genius – Anderson, Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher – leaving United short of creativity in midfield.
But as Scholes is pushed ever deeper, with defensive positional play and tackling not among the player’s strengths, he risks becoming peripheral to United’s play. It’s a problem Giggs has suffered too, with the Welshman’s brilliant form of two years ago not replicated last season as Ferguson shifted the 37-year-old from ‘the hole’ back to the wing.
That is not to denigrate the pair, whose service and performances for the club elevated both Giggs and Scholes to the pantheon of true club greats. Yet there is more than the hint of suspicion that had Ferguson not pressed Scholes so hard this summer, the midfielder would have already called it a day this summer.
United’s lack of transfer funds for a top-class midfielder, and no real alternatives from the youth ranks yet ready, forces the Scot to eek every last mile out of his squad’s ageing legs. It is to Scholes’ credit that the player will do almost anything asked of him in United’s cause.
It will be a shame then if the final seasons of his wonderful career are spoilt by poor form or the inevitable decline that comes with age. Fans will remember the great times; there is no need to prolong the setting of Scholes’ sun.