The news of Paul Scholes’ return to Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad shortly before the FA Cup Third Round tie against Manchester City seemingly provoked a wave of optimism among Manchester United fans, with polls across the web supporting the Salford-born midfielder’s re-integration. Manager, players, pundits and former Reds were all universally upbeat about the 36-year-old’s return to action too.
Indeed, following United’s 3-2 victory at Eastlands, former Red Nicky Butt drew attention to the psychological blow dealt by his former teammate’s return. “It was a smart move by the manager,” said Butt. “It took all the attention off [City’s] home record and switched all the attention to Paul Scholes.” In this respect, Scholes’ return certainly achieved its goal as a devastating first-half performance by United left the derby rivals looking shell-shocked before half-time.
“Paul is going to be a real positive addition to our squad,” claimed centre-back Chris Smalling, who lauded the longer-term effects of the midfielder’s return. “It gave the young lads a lift just to see him preparing for [Sunday’s] match.” These were sentiments shared by striker Danny Welbeck, who scored a smart volley to help ensure that Scholes’ return would be a happy one. “Seeing him in the dressing room just gave me a lift straight away.,” added the 20-year-old Mancunian.
For two other United hopefuls, however, the veteran midfielder’s return will have been far less encouraging. Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison displayed terrific potential when helping the Academy team to FA Youth Cup success last year, and many supporters believed that this would be the pair’s breakthrough season. It was even hoped that Ferguson’s refusal to sign a central midfielder in the summer transfer window was due to youth team talent available. Certainly, the manager intimated as much.
Following long-term injuries to midfielders Darren Fletcher and Tom Cleverley, together with Anderson’s indifferent form, many believed that United’s young guns would be offered a chance in the first team. It was not to be, as Ferguson instead deployed 38-year old Ryan Giggs, defender Phil Jones, winger Park Ji-Sung and even Wayne Rooney in the heart of midfield.
But the final blow to Morrison and Pogba’s hopes this season has been delivered by the decision to recall veteran Paul Scholes, who despite not having played professional football for over seven months, is now firmly above the pair in Ferguson’s pecking order.
It has long been rumoured that contract talks have broken down with Pogba, who has once again been linked with a move to Manchester City or abroad in recent weeks.
“He [Pogba] has got an agent who’s obviously become a bit difficult, but we’re negotiating with this agent and we want the boy to stay,” Ferguson said recently.
“If he doesn’t want to stay, then there’s not a lot you can do about it. We have an option on his contract that takes us into a year-and-a-half away, so in that respect there’s not a great emergency about it. But we’d like the boy to sign a contract and, if he’d like to be a Manchester United player, then he knows what to do.
“You hope he gets the right advice, but it’s down to the individual also. Matt Busby summed it up perfectly, that you don’t need to chase money at a club like Manchester United, it will eventually find you. If you’re good enough, you will earn money and become rich playing for Manchester United. It’s one of these situations that they can chase the money early in their career, but at the end, it’s not the same as if they’d stayed here. He just needs to look round about him to realise that.”
Meanwhile Morrison Tweeted on Wednesday that he has not been offered a new contract to stay at Old Trafford beyond the summer. Thursday’s Telegraph reported that Morrison’s exit from Old Trafford “seems certain”. The only remaining question is seemingly whether the 18-year-old will stay until the summer, with Newcastle United reportedly having bid £500,000 this week.
“[Ravel's] agent has been working hard to get him another club,” said Ferguson on Friday, contradicting the player’s claim.
“We’ve offered him terms which he has refused. His demands are unrealistic as far as we’re concerned. We’ve rejected an offer from Newcastle. It’s all down to how that progresses.”
Followers of United’s youth and reserve teams will have noted the exceptional talents on offer, even though reserve football is not always a reliable barometer of a player’s ability. After all, there is reason why interest in this pair of United starlets has come from across Europe. It leaves fans wondering whether Ferguson will let these talents slip between his fingers without giving them a chance in the first team.
Few will need reminding of previous departures either. Gerard Piqué, who left Old Trafford having failed to gain first-team football, has subsequently won almost everything in the game, including the World Cup, two Champions Leagues and three La Liga titles. The recently compiled FIFA World XI award saw Piqué line-up alongside former teammate Nemanja Vidić, leaving United fans pondering what could have been.
The same could be said of Giuseppe Rossi, who made it from United’s reserves to the top of the La Liga scoring charts and into the Italian national team.
To let one world-class prospect leave before his time was careless. Two was a mistake. Fans will hope that Ferguson knows something about Morrison and Pogba that they do not. For to let two central midfield stars of the future follow Piqué and Rossi out of the exit door would be unforgivable.