Tag Paul Scholes

Tag Paul Scholes

Scholes: 20 years as a pro

January 24, 2013 Tags: Opinion 41 comments

There was little fanfare from the maestro on Wednesday; it would, in all honesty, be more surprising if Paul Scholes actually knew the significance of the date: 23 January, 1992. Remember it, for these moments come by but once in a lifetime – two decades on from Scholes inking a signature on his first professional contract with Manchester United, alongside David Beckham, Nicky Butt, and Gary Neville, the midfielder is still making a mark at Old Trafford.

The little ginger kid with magic in his feet, who’d rather disappear into the shadows than listen to the inevitable plaudits on another anniversary. No celebrity for Scholes; no VIP restaurants, overpriced nightclubs, billboards or TV adverts; no post-match interviews with flowing man-of the-match-champagne; none of the hyperbolic media, nor the lingerie models hanging off his arms and on his every word. To Scholes everything bar playing has always been bullshit.

Instead there have been goals. Lots of them. And quality almost without peer in any midfielder of his generation. The flicks, tricks, 60-yard passes to feet. The 25-yard volleys, flying headers and ever-so-late tackles. The time and space on the ball that is such a rare commodity in modern football.

It has been 20 years of joy for those following. Not solely for the success that Scholes has been part of at Manchester United, but the unique brand of entertainment he fostered too. In 20 years’ time, 50 surely, Scholes will be remembered as one of the United greats. Player or not next season, United should never let this gem go.

After all, the reverence shows no bounds at Old Trafford – supporters, players, management.

Yet, remarkably, Scholes is not appreciated in the same way in the country – the cost of playing for the nation’s biggest club. Scholes played more than 60 times for England as well; it would have been more than a 100 but for Sven Goran Eriksson’s negligent abuse of the midfielder’s role. Ironic, perhaps, that a Swede should sum up the English reticence towards the technically gifted that the Scot Ferguson has always embraced.

“If he was Spanish,” said Barcelona’s maestro Xavi Hernández, “maybe he would have been valued more.” Had Scholes’ birth come in Salamanca not Salford he would surely have been nominated for the game’s greatest personal honours.

Either way, Scholes is unlikely to look back with any regret.

The midfielder has always been valued by his fellow pros though; from Zinedine Zidane, to Pélé, always a players’ player. No more so than Andreas Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Xavi, who on the conclusion of Barcelona’s victory over United at Wembley in 2011 sought out the wee man. Scholes took home the match ball; the opponents his shirt.

After all, Scholes has always been the embodiment of the United spirit that has long been ebbing away from the game. There is unlikely to be another quite like him.

Yet, here is a player who chose not to leverage his status as United’s finest – Scholes has never been Old Trafford’s highest earner, nor anything more than a reluctant participant in the marketing machine.

Like all the greats there is an enigma to Scholes too. The ‘dark side’, as Arsène Wenger so crudely put it. “A dirty little git,” Scholes’ former colleague Butt once said. The kid with asthma who conquered the world owed no little part to his steely resolve. It has served United well through 715 pre and post-retirement games for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.

Of the cohort only Beckham is still playing, although the midfielder’s future is yet to be decided after leaving LA Galaxy in November. One more mega contract surely awaits in a career that is now more advertiser’s tool than playing resource.

Meanwhile, Butt finished his career abroad, playing three times for South China in winter 2010/11. An ignominious end. At least Neville retired into punditry with Sky TV at just the right time.

In that Scholes stands peerless.

Yet, it is likely to be Scholes’ last season at Old Trafford, before he slips off into retirement for a second time and, presumably, into another coaching role in Ferguson’s staff. The Scot will waste not more than 700 games experience even if a brief sojourn into coaching United’s kids last season brought Scholes more frustration than satisfaction.

Retirement may not have worked for the 38-year-old first time round, but, in the modern parlance, the legs have certainly now gone. Increasingly on the periphery, Scholes has started just nine games in all competitions this season – as many as the perpetually injured Anderson.

None of that will distract from an admirable comeback and a celebrated career. Now more than two decades as the professional’s professional.

Scholes in Numbers
715 appearances for United
155 goals scored
66 caps for England
10 Premier League titles
5 Community Shields
3 FA Cups
2 League Cups
2 European Cups
1 Intercontinental Cup
1 FIFA Club World Cup

On Scholes’ career
“He is the best midfielder of his generation. I would have loved to have played alongside him.” – Pep Guardiola

“In the last 15 to 20 years the best central midfielder that I have seen – the most complete – is Scholes. If he had been Spanish then maybe he would have been valued more.” – Xavi Hernandez

“I tell anyone who asks me – Scholes is the best English player.” – Laurent Blanc

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

“The best? Without any doubt it has to be Paul Scholes. He knows how to do everything, and he is the one who directs the way his team plays. On top of that, he has indestructible mental strength.” – Thierry Henry

“There isn’t a player of his mould anywhere else in the world.” – Glenn Hoddle

“If you ask footballers to pick out the player they most admire, so many of them will pick Paul Scholes. He’s the most consistent and naturally gifted player we’ve had for a long, long time.” – Alan Shearer

“Scholes is one of the most complete footballers I’ve ever seen. His one-touch play is phenomenal. Whenever I have played against him, I never felt I could get close to him.” – Eidur Gudjohnsen

“Every one of us is just trying to become as good as him. Everyone can learn from Paul Scholes. I’m not the best, Paul
Scholes is.” – Edgar Davids

“He is the one whose level I aspire to. He is the best player in the Premier League.” – Cesc Fabregas

“The player in the Premiership I admire most? Easy – Scholes.” – Patrick Vieira

“I can’t understand why Scholes has never won the player of the year award. He should have won it long ago. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t seek the limelight like some of the other ‘stars’.” -Thierry Henry

“He’s almost untouchable in what he does. I never tire of watching him play. You rarely come across the complete footballer, but Scholes is as close to it as you can get. One of my regrets is that the opportunity to play alongside him never presented itself during my career.” – Zinedine Zidane

“Paul Scholes would have been one of my first choices for putting together a great team – that goes to show how highly I have always rated him.” – Marcello Lippi

“Good enough to play for Brazil. I love to watch Scholes, to see him pass, the boy with the red hair and the red shirt.” – Socrates

“I’m saddened because I think we as spectators, not only in this country but right through out Europe and the rest of the world, will be missing one hell of a footballer.” – Ray Wilkins

“Paul Scholes is my favourite player. He epitomises the spirit of Manchester United and everything that is good about football.” – Sir Bobby Charlton

“Without question, I think Paul Scholes is the best player in England. He’s got the best skills, the best brain. No one can match him.” – Sir Alex Ferguson


April 11, 2012 Tags: Opinion 9 comments

Easter is the time of resurrection; a movable period in the Gregorian calendar when followers of the Christian faith celebrate the death and rebirth of a savior. Apt then, perhaps, with Easter just past that Manchester United’s own resurrection this season should be catalysed by the return of a fallen son, Paul Scholes.

Indeed, on Easter Sunday, with United beating Queens Park Rangers at Old Trafford and Manchester City losing at Arsenal, the club’s renascence this season was almost complete. Almost. Eight points clear by the day’s end, with just six games remaining, there seemed little City could do to prevent United claiming a 20th domestic title.

Until a Scholes-less United lost in hugely dysfunctional fashion at Wigan Athletic on Wednesday night, of course.

Yet, Scholes’ return to Manchester United in January was, to many an observer – astute or otherwise – a marker for the Glazernomics era. Patrick Vieira’s poorly timed attack two weeks ago has been rightly dismissed as one of the most feeble attempts at late-season ‘mind games’ ever enacted. But the Manchester City executive’s point was reflected by many on both sides of the Manchester divide when first announced in January.

After all, here was Sir Alex Ferguson, robbed of Anderson and Tom Cleverley for the opening months of season, desperately in need of central midfield resources that were never going to be provided in the open market.

It was a viewpoint hard to counter when Ferguson called on 37-year-old Scholes who, despite a mountainous collection of medals over a glorious United career, had only months earlier admitted that his “legs had gone.”  Scholes’ performances in the second half of the 2009/10 season were an embarrassing shadow of the player United fans adore, let alone the Ginger Prince’s efficacy during the current campaign.

But the veteran, refreshed and hungry after six months off, has this season been twice the player last seen in Red, both in terms of influence over games of all types and his productivity. In 12 Premier League games Scholes has appeared in this season, the former England international has made 813 passes with a pass completion rate of over 92 per cent.

To put it another way, Scholes has made 813 passes in just 769 minutes of football, with a pass completion rate significantly better than Yaya Toure, Frank Lampard, Mikel Arteta, and Luka Modric. Ryan Giggs, so poor against Wigan on Wednesday, rarely exceeds 75 per cent pass completion.

Passing stats are, of course, just one pointer to performance; good then that the veteran midfielder also has three goals and created 15 chances for his team-mates. More importantly, Scholes’ 12 games have also brought United 11 wins, with points dropped only at Stamford Bridge, where Ferguson’s men fought back to snatch a late draw.

That Scholes did not feature in United’s loss against Wigan at the DW Stadium on Wednesday night says much for the Reds’ disjointed performance in central midfield absent the 37-year-old. His replacement, Giggs, lost possession more than a quarter of the time.

“He has been a massive impact,” said midfielder Michael Carrick, who has partnered Scholes to such great effect post-Christmas.

“We all know how good he is and what he brings to the team on and off the pitch and around the training ground. His performances, to come straight into the team and play like he did was amazing, really, and he’s just carried it on. He’s got a lot of games left in him.”

Scholes is likely to sign up for an extra year at Old Trafford, taking the midfielder past his 38th birthday. The question of how much the player will be used next season is open of course, with Fergie unlikely to be afforded the luxury of one game a week, unless United once again fail in all cup competitions.

After all, Scholes’ worst performances – or least effective to be more accurate – for United in recent years have been against physical opponents who deny time and space with a high tempo pressing game. Scholes, refreshed after six months off, can find space better than almost any other player on the planet. Six months into next season will be a far sterner test of those ageing legs.

But Scholes’ enduring influence will be felt, even if Ferguson is able to bring in new central midfield talent, or Tom Cleverley manages to stay fit. Neither is guaranteed, although it will ask a lot of the veteran to play more than 30 games next season.

“A lot’s been said about him coming back, whether it has been good or bad for us,” adds Rio Ferdinand.

“But you can see in the results we’ve had since he’s been back, the influence he’s had. He’s a fantastic player. Not only on the games you see out here but in training and around the training ground. He’s an example for all the young players at the club.”

One of those younger players – Cleverley – has seen his progress back into the United side blocked by Scholes’ outstanding performances. The 23-year-old has suffered an injury-affected season, but is unlikely to feature heavily during the run-in despite returning to fitness.

Cleverley’s time will come, but the contrast is another interesting side effect of Scholes’ return. After all, Cleverley’s pass-and-move style brought a vibrancy to United in the late summer not seen in Ferguson’s team for some time. Post new year, United’s outstanding results have come through an altogether less exciting ball retention style, based around Scholes dictating the Reds’ tempo.

In a results business Ferguson’s decision to reign in United’s open attacking early season style was a no brainer. But with the word now out that Sir Alex wants to pack his side with pace and attacking verve next season, Scholes’ place in the system is not necessarily obvious.

For the moment though United fans will probably celebrate Scholes’ return with silverware, poor result at Wigan notwithstanding. With the Reds five points clear with as many games to go, the smart money is still on Scholes being an instrumental cog in United’s 20th domestic title triumph.

And whether fans consider Easter a deeply religious experience, or simply an excuse to eat too many chocolate eggs, nothing will taste sweeter than beating City to the Premier League title. For that, supporters will have Scholes’ Second Coming to thank.


March 23, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 14 comments

When Patrick Vieira, this week, labelled Paul Scholes’ return to Manchester United “desperate,” the former Arsenal midfield struck a chord. After all, Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to re-recruit the 37-year-old midfielder came just months after Scholes had retired, with the player’s admission that his ‘legs had gone’, firmly front-of-mind.

Almost three months after the midfielder’s return and the Manchester City staffer, along with fans of all persuasions, have been left to ponder their mistake. Indeed, so strong have Scholes’ performances been that the veteran has been instrumental in United’s run of eight wins in the past nine Premier League fixtures.

Vieira has a point, though, in raising the question of – for want of another word – the scale of United’s ambition. Classy though Scholes will always be, the 688-game United player would have found little room in Ferguson’s squad had it not been for the lack of funds for new recruits. Or, indeed, injuries to Tom Cleverley, Anderson and Darren Fletcher.

Scholes may have pushed for a return in January, as is now the customary party line, but there are few leading clubs in Europe that would have planned for a major star’s departure by doing, well, absolutely nothing. By the New Year United needed Scholes more than the player needed a return. It is a line that Vieira followed on Wednesday.

“Paul Scholes is a player that I really love and admire. But for him to come back just shows a little bit of weakness in United, because they had to bring a player back who was 37,” said Vieira on Wednesday.

“I think it shows that, in the next few years, it will be really difficult for United to cope with other teams because, with all the respect I have for Scholes, him coming back shows that they don’t have talent in there to replace him.”

What Vieira didn’t count on, of course, is picking a foe as formidable as Ferguson, whose defence both of Scholes and his own transfer policy was always going to be robust. There is rarely any quarter given by the Scot; certainly never when it comes to questions of United’s weaknesses.

Little surprise then that Ferguson chose his Friday press conference to hit back at Vieira and City manager Roberto Mancini. With just nine games to go in the Premier League title race, a relaxed Ferguson is clearly in his element, ready to work the media ‘mind games’ once again.

“If it’s desperation bringing the best midfielder in Britain back for the last 20 years then I think we can accept that,” said Ferguson.

“I think he (Vieira) was programmed for that. Roberto had a wee dig a couple of weeks back. We’re all going to play our hand that way. There will be plenty of ammunition for that. If you talk about desperation, they played a player the other night (Tevez) who refused to go on the pitch, the manager said he’d never play again and he takes a five-month holiday in Argentina. What is that? Could that come under the description of desperation?”

Indeed, Carlos Tevez’ return to City’s side during Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over Chelsea at Eastlands comes at a delicate time in the race, with United having recently taken the lead the Blues recently held by five points.

Mancini’s willingness not only to countenance the Argentinian striker’s return to the squad, but to play the 28-year-old, says much. After all, here is a player who refused to play for City – or warm up – and then spent an extended unpaid holiday on various golf courses, with the manager loudly proclaiming Tevez would never play for City again.

Pressure does strange things though, and United’s determined erosion of the Blues’ league lead has nerves jangling in east Manchester. Though the Eastland’s crowd departed happy on Wednesday night those fans who bothered to turn up did so after more than a few nervy moments. With Mancini sporting a rabbit-in-the-headlights look in recent weeks the early season bravado has certainly disappeared from Blues both on and off the field-of-play.

So then to Tevez’ return, which may add additional firepower to a goal-shy City side. While the Blues’ home record is impeccable in the league, form on the road has, for some time, threatened to derail Mancini’s attempt to construct a title-winning side.

Yet, the former United striker’s integration back in the Eastland’s fold is unlikely to be universally popular, despite all the right noises. He is, after all, a player who walked away from the cause five months ago.

Moreover, the striker’s return only serves to expose Mancini’s personal weakness; as if the manager is now beholden to his errant star’s wishes. Not long ago Tevez was ostracised, now Mancini, with no little hint of ignominy, publicly praises the striker. It is a large chink in the Italian’s armour that Ferguson is sure to exploit in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, if United does go on to collect a 20th domestic title come May then Scholes will have played an instrumental part in the glory. Few, aside from Ferguson at least, could have predicted just how important the Salford-born midfield would again become to United’s cause. Scholes’ ability to dictate games has shone through in recent weeks, with the flame-haired midfielder repeatedly exceeding a 95 per cent pass completion rate.

“He’s useless,” joked Ferguson of Scholes on Friday.

“What he does is he can dictate the tempo of a match. That experience helps, of course, and he has a terrific football brain which helps him. The amazing thing is he made the decision he made at the time simply because he didn’t want to play 25 games. He wanted to play 50 games, that’s the reason he wanted to retire. I said to him at the time, you can play 25 games no problem but he didn’t want that. He felt he didn’t have enough appreciation but what I was trying to do was look at it sensibly and what you can get out of a 37 year-old.”

Change is always round the corner though. In the coming summer Mancini will likely, and finally, rid himself of the Tevez problem, signing an expensive replacement in the Argentinian’s stead. Menwhile, Ferguson will seek to sign Scholes on for another season in the knowledge that United will not – cannot some might add – replace the veteran with a player of equal quality in the market.

The contrast is stark even if the motivation behind both players return is from a similar concomitance. Ferguson, hamstrung by his paymasters, and Mancini on the precipice of failure, has each sought to gain one final advantage this season. Neither was a move born of certainty.

And with nine games to go, it is not long before either Ferguson or Mancini is proven correct. History and 12 Premier League titles suggest where fans should put their hard-earned money; it is a lesson Vieira would do well to learn.

Legends prepared as squeaky bum time approaches

February 27, 2012 Tags: , , , Opinion 7 comments

There were many remarkable aspects to Manchester United’s victory at Norwich City on Sunday: Ryan Giggs’ goal on his 900th appearance for the club; a last-minute winner; the combined age of the Reds’ goalscorers; that United had, for so long, been under the cosh.

Yet, there is a reason United score so many late goals, and win plenty of seemingly unwinnable games. Call it the ‘United way’ if you will; a spirit that is driven by Sir Alex Ferguson’s indomitable gambling ethos. The 70-year-old manager may have softened as the years rolled by, but there are few in the game prepared to risk all for win in quite the same way.

Once again this paid dividends at Carrow Road in the past weekend.

This spirit is replete in United’s weekend goalscorers – Giggs and Paul Scholes. On his 900th appearance for the club Giggs danced around the Carrow Road pitch like a 17-year-old freshman after slotting home with seconds to go. Youngster Phil Jones and then the rest of United’s players joined in the wild celebrations. This was a win, as Ferguson put it after the game, that could be very special indeed.

The players’ celebration reflected both United’s escape and the victory’s importance. In a season when Manchester City seemingly do not want to win the title, three unlikely points gained at Carrow Road could well be central to a 20th domestic title come May. Indeed, Norwich are not comfortably safe from relegation by accident – this is a solid Premier League team that has troubled top clubs more than once this season. In the context of a game in which, by all accounts, United again demonstrated its fallibility, victory will provide a significant confidence boost.

Not for the first time in Ferguson’s 25 years at United’s manager, victory came without justification. But what was lacking in quality on the day, was recovered in spirit. Scholes’ late run into the box to score United’s opening goal was reminiscent of the midfielder 15 years ago. Meanwhile, Giggs’ last-minute goal was reward for United piling forward in search of the winner in the last five minutes.

“There is no point drawing games so we were throwing everyone forward going for that goal, and I am sure we will do the same thing again,” 37-year-old Scholes told MUTV.

“Of course, three points instead of one is a big difference. That is what we are here to do. We realise we may have to win every game to win the league, but we are ready and prepared to do that.”

United’s victory keeps the gap at the top of the Premier League to just two points with 12 games to go. Given United’s horrendous injury record this season, together with no small measure of inexperienced players in Ferguson’s side, it is a remarkable position. City’s sovereign wealth and undoubted talent should, all things being equal, take the Blues to a first title since 1967.

But, with Ferguson at United’s helm, all things are never equal. Norwich’s deserved equaliser provoked a response like no other, with United throwing six or more players forward with every attack.

“We know how important a time it is, City put pressure on us yesterday and we knew we had to win,” said Giggs, whose goal came not only on his 900th appearance for the club but almost 19 years since he scored against the Canaries in 1993.

“Right through the squad – for all the time I’ve been here – we’ve always had that ability to not give in and score late goals. To play 900 games for this club, who I’ve grown up supporting, is special – it’s a great day for me. I am sure there will be more twists and turns in the title race and I expect more drama and late goals.”

Ferguson was understandably delighted with the win and Giggs’ contribution on the Welshman’s big day. More importantly though, the Scot knows that United’s ability to win, despite the performance, is a quality that could still secure the title. For all Roberto Mancini’s resources, City cannot yet make a similar claim.

“For a player to play for one club for 900 games is exceptional and it won’t be done again,” added the United manager.

“He deserved that goal for his service to the club. He’s had an amazing career and he’s an amazing man. It could pove very special, but for Ryan to score the winning goal with the last kick of the ball on his 900th game, well, he probably deserves that for the career he’s had.

“We won’t get nervous, that’s for sure. We’re used to being in this situation. You saw that when we conceded an equaliser. How did we react? We started playing again and got the winner. Everyone knows we never give in. No matter who plays us, they know they will have to battle right to the death.”

United was lucky against the better team perhaps, but there is no accident in the Reds’ ability to drags results out of frustrating performances. And while much of the talk post game centred on the apparent ‘complacency’ of Ferguson’s side after Scholes had nodded in the game’s opening goal, focus must surely be laid on the Scot’s ability to build something greater than the sum of its parts.

This is a United side shorn of too much stardust, but still able to create a result out of nothing; to turn poor performances into points on the board. And in Scholes and Giggs – combined age 75 – Ferguson has two players that demonstrate this if nothing else.

This is far from Ferguson’s greatest United side, but two of his finest players will once again perform a major part in the season’s dénouement.

“Scholes and Giggs are the best players this club has ever had,” concluded Ferguson post match.

It is a sentiment that is hard to counter.

Legendary pair offer inspiration for youthful future

February 2, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 12 comments

Twenty years ago, almost to the day, Ryan Giggs was helping Manchester United’s youth side into the quarter-finals of the FA Youth Cup. As the current youth crop beat their Swansea counterparts 5-1 on Thursday night, Giggs, alongside that other doyen of the United squad, Paul Scholes, is almost incredibly preparing to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this weekend. One, if not both, will surely line up alongside Michael Carrick in United’s midfield.

If twenty years at the very top is not enough, the legendary pair is each likely to sign new contracts with the club before the season concludes, taking Scholes and Giggs to the end of the 2013 season. If careers both that long and laden with trophies cannot inspire United’s new breed of youngsters, who are now through to the FA Youth Cup quarter-final after a crushing win at the Liberty Stadium, then surely nothing will.

Paul McGuiness’ new intake, many of who are even younger than 2011’s cup winning outfit, stormed through the fifth round after a convincing win over the Welsh. Goals from Jack Barmby, Gyliano van Velzen, Tyler Blackett and Sam Byrne were enough to send the youth through to a meeting with Tottenham Hotspur or Charlton Athletic in the next round.

It was a generation ago, perhaps, but to those who remember the cup winning 1992 side, with Giggs floating so gracefully on the wing, or the outfit a year later, with Scholes flitting around in attack, two trophy filled decades have flown rapidly by. Tears will flow when the pair leaves Carrington, in a playing capacity at least, for the final time.

Yet, it is a show that shows no signs of an upcoming curtain call. Scholes may have retired once, but judging by his outstanding performances against both Liverpool and Stoke City this week, the flame-haired midfielder is in no mood to do so again. Meanwhile, Giggs will certainly be offered a new deal before the season ends.

“We’ll sit down pretty soon and see what we want to do but, at the moment, I feel good and I want to carry on,” admitted Giggs, who turns 39 this year.

“I feel like I’m still an influence on and off the pitch so I’ll carry on. When that changes, then that’s when I’ll want to stop.”

It is the same argument Scholes made when hanging up his boots last May, only to realise that not only is the veteran still better than most, but he can still have significant influence at the top level. Indeed, Scholes, who could pass 700 games in all competitions for the club before the season is out, managed to out-pass and think his opponents with such ease this week that it barely feels 20 years since the ginger Mancunian burst onto the scene.

“I thought he’d retired too early – a lot of people did,” says Giggs of his long-time team-mate.

“Scholesy probably thought he’d made up his mind and when you’ve done that, you can’t really change it. But he was still the best in training with the reserves, so he obviously felt he could still do it. Nobody was going to disagree with that and it was a massive boost when we found out he was coming back before the Manchester City game.”

Neither man holds on to the mobility of youth, but experience, as the cliché goes, replaces so much of the physical deterioration. On Saturday in Liverpool Scholes rarely wandered far from the safety of the centre-circle, but was able to dictate play and tempo so successfully that Anfield received a palpable boost when Ferguson hauled the 36-year-old off.

Meanwhile, Giggs can no longer “bomb up and down that bloody wing,” as Ferguson once put it, but the Welshman’s ability to play his part in central midfield still ensures that the 22 season veteran has a crucial role in the United squad. The now former winger is likely to come back into the United side for the trip to Chelsea, adding another digit to the 897 appearances the Welshman has achieved for the club to date. Sir Alex is unlikely to allow the winger to retire even if he wanted to.

And with United having achieved such poor results at Stamford Bridge over the past decade – European fixtures aside – the Welshman’s experience could be vital this Sunday.

“We have shown reasonable form and if we can get good results in those kinds of games, confidence will be sky high,” Giggs told Inside United, with United preparing to face Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs in coming weeks.

“We know that it’s a tough run, but those are the games you want to be playing in. We are not quite at the make-or-break part of the season, but it is an important time, and we know that if we win those games, then we’ll be in good shape and good form going into the run-in. We know what’s ahead of us and what we have to do.”

That know-how is exactly why there will be little surprise if Giggs and Scholes both play a major role in the coming weeks, with Ferguson always likely to call on experience as the season runs into its dénouement.

“There has been no discernable deterioration in his play whatsoever and, in that sense, why shouldn’t he stay on another year?” admitted Sir Alex of Giggs’ future. “Obviously, it’s entirely up to Ryan himself but I don’t see any reason why he can’t continue.”

What better role models could there be for the kids storming to victory in Wales on Thursday night.

Scholes’ return points to end for young Reds

January 13, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 25 comments

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.

Poll: will Scholes’ return be a success?

January 9, 2012 Tags: Polls 16 comments

Paul Scholes has signed up for a (second) final season at Manchester United, with the club having registered the 36-year-old until May. It’s a surprise turnaround for a player who retired after United’s loss to Barcelona in the Champions League final last year.

Fans and pundits have questioned whether Scholes will be a success second time around. After all, the veteran midfielder admitted in May that his ‘legs had gone’. Some have pointed to the player’s return as evidence that Sir Alex Ferguson is being restricted in the transfer market.

Yet, player, manager and team-mates expressed delight at Scholes’ decision to return, after the midfielder made a 31 minute cameo against Manchester City on Sunday.

Do you think Scholes’ return will be a success?

Will Scholes' return be a success?

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Scholes’ plaster for a gaping wound

January 9, 2012 Tags: Opinion 31 comments

So the rumours were true and Paul Scholes’ retirement is on hiatus for the season’s conclusion. The former-cum-current Manchester United midfielder’s 31 minute cameo in the FA Cup derby on Sunday concluded a week’s fevered speculation. Indeed, with United’s midfield depleted by injuries to Tom Cleverley and Darren Fletcher Scholes’ turnabout comes at an opitune time.

But as the transfer window opens, does the 36-year-old’s return simply whitewash a wider problem? One that has been known for at least two years: United’s midfield is desperately short of genuine class.

Not that Scholes’ return is unwelcome for supporters of course. The player, given an emotional farewell during a pre-season testimonial against New York Cosmos, is an enduring hero for a generation of United supporters. He is, after all, one of the finest midfielders of his age, lauded by peers, and has played nearly 700 games for the Reds

But the truth in Scholes’ return is also a stark reminder of United’s deficiencies. Had Sir Alex Ferguson been afforded the funds to buy in additional midfield quality last summer the Scot would, quite obviously, be less in need of the veteran’s services.

Yet, says Ferguson, it was the player and not staff that instigated Scholes’ return this week, with the squad told – according to Wayne Rooney – just minutes before United kicked off against Manchester City at Eastlands on Sunday.

“He came to see me and said he wanted to come back, he was missing it too much,” United manager Ferguson said.

“There were no negatives as far as I’m concerned. The players were fantastic about it, the fans I’m sure will be happy and I’m happy. The last few weeks, Paul has been training very hard with the reserves and doing a lot of work in the gym. He came to see me and said ‘I regret retiring’.

“There are no negatives for me. The players have been delighted. I am delighted. The fans are delighted. The last few weeks he has been stepping up his training and been taking part in our training sessions during the week. It is a terrific addition to our squad at a very important part of our season.

“It’s fantastic that Paul has made this decision. It’s always sad to see great players end their careers, but especially so when they do it early. But he has kept himself in great shape and I always felt that he had another season in him. It’s terrific to have him back.”

Indeed, in 30 minutes against City Scholes passed the ball more than any home team player did in the full 90; a reminder of the player’s enduring quality on the ball. On 71 occasions the flamed-haired midfielder passed long and short to colleagues in familiar fashion. Once, as a reminder of a time long now gone, Scholes strode up to the opposition penalty area and lashed in a shot from 25 yards. Vintage. Almost.

Yet, in modern football parlance, Scholes’ legs have gone; the player was blowing hard by the end, and not just because of eight months on the sidelines. The midfielder’s inability to physically compete in a two-man midfield had become obvious by the time the boots were hung up last May. It was the player, not manager, who deemed last summer the right time to go, with Scholes unable to influence the biggest games in the fashion he had become accustomed to over a plaudit-laden 20 year career at the very top. If Scholes is to contribute this season it will be in half-hour bursts from the bench or within the safety of a three-man midfield. Possibly both.

In this there is a risk that Scholes’ return is simply obfuscation of the real issue. Worse, that the player is making a comeback for selfish reasons, while the manager, so desperately short of quality, will take anything that comes his way. “I’ve been pretty clear since I stopped playing that I miss it,” said Scholes on Sunday. It is a missive that, to borrow from another sport, so many boxers will recognise. Nobody wants see Scholes to fight against the dying of the light.

That is not to say Scholes cannot add something to United’s campaign, such is the paucity of quality available. And, of course, the plaudits came from his team-mates on Sunday. That says much for the respect Scholes has garnered over the years.

“Seeing him in the dressing room just gave me a lift straight away,” said striker Danny Welbeck.

“Before the game he was on the bench and everyone knows what Paul Scholes can do. He just dictates the gameplay and it is fantastic to have him back. It was a great day overall and everybody was happy to get through it and I’m delighted for the whole club and the fans as well.”

Indeed, Welbeck hits the positive tone echoed by other members of Ferguson’s team. Scholes is rightly held in awe by his once former, now current, team-mates. United’s squad loses nothing with Scholes’ return, and the veteran is unlikely to force, say, Cleverley to the sidelines when the younger man regains full fitness.

But there is also a collective cognitive dissonance amid the euphoria. Quality counts. Not that displayed in the past, but that offered today. Scholes has a great future behind him. There is a truism at work: the player cannot and will not make a title-winning difference on his own.

In this there is also a question to answer. Has Scholes returned to underpin the genuine strength and quality already present; or is a United legend back, desperately seeking a temporary fix a potentially terminal problem, a sticking plaster for a near-fatal wound?

Reds offer a little charity as season looms large

August 2, 2011 Tags: , , , , Opinion 15 comments

It has been more than a little busy for Sir Alex Ferguson this week, whose squad arrived back in Manchester after a successful tour of the United States. No sooner had the squad checked in at Carrington than it split in two, with seven players and Ferguson heading towards Marseille for a charity match on Tuesday night. Many others will join up with Edwin van der Sar in Amsterdam for the great Dutchman’s testimonial on Wednesday.

Tuesday’s game, which a Manchester United XI lost 8-2 to the home side, was held in aid of former Marseille goalkeeper Pascal Olmeta’s charity “Un sourire, un espoir pour la vie” – a smile, a hope for life. Patrice Evra, Park Ji-Sung, Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones started for the visitors, while reserve teenage midfielder Paul Pogba was a second half substitute.

That United’s players were joined by former Red Fabian Barthez, David Ginola and even a local pop-star said much about the relaxed nature of the game, which at best offered Ferguson’s players additional minutes on the park ahead of Sunday’s Community Shield fixture with Manchester City at Wembley. Goals from Cleverley and Welbeck brought United back into the tie at 2-2 before Marseille ran away with the match in the second half; a relaxed Ferguson worried not a jot.

On to Amsterdam then for an afternoon of games in honour of van der Sar, who retired this summer. It promises to be an emotional occasion for the former Ajax goalkeeper, who returns to face the side with which the 40-year-old began his career in 1990. More than 800 games for Ajax, Juventus, Fulham, United and Holland have followed for one of the all-time greats in his position and a gentleman to boot.

van der Sar is staging a unique occasion at the Amsterdam Arena, which comprises not a full match but a series of games. First, van der Sar’s son Joe will play for United Under-13s against Ajax’ age-group team. Then the European Cup winning Ajax side of 1995 takes on Cup of Nations’ champions Holland from 1998. Finally fans will see ‘Edwin’s Dream Team’ take on Ajax in an hour-long encounter.

United first teamers Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney have joined the party in the Dutch capital, while former Reds Gary Neville and Louis Saha will also be in the team.

“Hopefully it’ll be a great night,” van der Sar told official rag manutd.com.

“It’s a chance for fans to see some top players and some of the current up-and-coming stars for Ajax. It’s 12 years since I left Ajax, so I’m really looking forward to going back and seeing old friends. I’m grateful for their support with the event. This is the perfect way to say goodbye.

“And I’m delighted the manager, Rene [Meulensteen] and the players are coming over for the game. I’d like to thank fans and staff at United for six great years. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I see you again.”

Then on Friday United takes on New York Cosmos at Old Trafford in Paul Scholes’ testimonial. Cosmos is a club without a team, a franchise sans stadium. Little more than a badge, a marketing ploy, a rich man’s wet dream. For Scholes, all style and substance during a truly wonderful 20 year career at Old Trafford, the opposition is, of course, an oxymoron.

The opposition does possess something United does not though: Eric Cantona. The 45-year-old is not a man, he is… a brand ambassador and Cosmos’ Director of Soccer. Even if the title sounds incongruent it takes nothing away from the five years Cantona gave to United before walking away in 1997. He is remembered, as always, with undying affection by Old Trafford regulars, even if the make-up of the club’s support has changed beyond recognition since the Frenchman’s retirement.

For the expected full-house, whether fans come to pay homage to heroes old or more recent, the occasion will be no disappointment.

On to the real thing then: Sunday’s game with City – billed as a portent for the upcoming season at hype-obsessed Sky – marks the start of 328 days of continuous competitive football, ending with Euro 2012 in Ukraine and Poland. By the end of the coming season United may well be English Champions for a 20th time. Few will bet against it even if Ferguson is unable to land the additional midfielder than so many supporters crave.

Ferguson will likely use the tie as a final warm-up before the Premier League season begins on 14 August. One wonders whether City – the noisy cross-town neighbours – will be a little more circumspect. With genuine pretensions to the title Roberto Mancini’s men, now boasting £38 million Sergio Aguëro in the squad, will surely want to strike the first psychological blow of the season.

Carrick’s midfield mission impossible

July 19, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 92 comments

With Manchester United’s bid for Wesley Sneijder seemingly run aground on the financial rocks Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted this week that the Reds may not bring in a direct replacement for Paul Scholes. With United’s sights aimed high, Ferguson told press gathered on the club’s US tour that only the very best will do for United. Not for the first time this summer supporters’ hopes that a high-class central midfielder will arrive at Old Trafford may have been dashed.

On a similar track, midfielder Michael Carrick believes that replacing Scholes is a shared responsibility among the players that remain at Old Trafford. It is, of course, an impossible task and not simply because in Anderson, Carrick and Darren Fletcher United does not possess the requisite quality to replace Scholes. Moreover, numbers are down after Scholes’ retirement, Owen Hargreaves’ release and Darron Gibson’s impending sale.

“I think losing a player like Paul is a big loss – he brings so much to the team,” admitted Carrick.

“He’s a world-class player. Scholesy was just brilliant – how he played the game, how he was off the pitch. He was loved by everyone. None of the lads have a bad word for him. He came in, did the business and then headed off again. He had genius ability that you can’t really teach.

“You have to compensate in other ways. We’ve done that in the past – we lost Cristiano Ronaldo a few years ago and people didn’t think we’d get over it. Different players step up – maybe not one player but we share the responsibility. I feel there’s more responsibility as you get older, too. Experience counts for a lot. I just want to improve again and have a good season.”

Nice words of course but essentially empty. After all history indicates that Carrick, while improving over the past 12 months, will remain passive in the face of the highest competition. The Geordie’s qualities are many – and still admired at Old Trafford – but Scholes’ replacement he is not.

Meanwhile, Anderson, of whom many supporters retain high hopes, has achieved little of note in four years at the club. Aged just 22 the Brazilian is arguably far from his peak; yet years into a disappointing career in England to boot. The man Ferguson identified as Scholes’ heir apparent is arguably fortunate to remain at the and benefiting from Ferguson’s considerable patience with players he believes may come good.

Then there is Fletcher, whose 2010/11 campaign was spoilt by a mystery virus that effectively ended the Scot’s season 12 matches early. That the Scotland captain is not fit enough to join United on tour says much, leaving Ferguson with just two recognised central midfielders in the States plus 38-year-old Ryan Giggs.

Yet the United manager has once again sought to cool talk of Dutchman Sneijder joining the club this summer, with Internazionale reportedly asking for £35 million and the player seeking wages over £200,000 per week. The impasse leaves United looking at alternatives, with the club now dismissing the notion that Samir Nasri will join after Arsenal simply ignored a £20 million bid.

“Forget it. We are looking at some things but I am not so sure Sneijder will be easy to get,” Ferguson said.

“I could pick three or four players to come in but they wouldn’t be good enough for us so there is no point. I would be happy enough [with no new signings]. Maybe I am a bit overloaded in the strikers’ positions. The alternatives in midfield are not nearly as strong. But I have a good squad.”

It is pointed then that Ferguson chose to praise young Tom Cleverley as “an intelligent modern-day footballer,” with the 21-year-old joining the United squad, along with Danny Welbeck, at Nike’s headquarters in Oregon this week.

“Welbeck’s an England international, an exceptional talent. Cleverley will play for England. His movement and understanding of space is really good for a young player. We are happy both of them will stay with us. Because of the experience they have had, keeping them now benefits us.”

Although Stuart Pearce used Cleverley  mainly in wide positions for England Under-21 team this summer – as did Wigan Athletic last season – many believe that the youngster has the natural talent to compete centrally. It is clearly a huge ask for the Basingstoke-born midfielder, who scored four in 25 appearances for the Latics, to step into Scholes’ shoes with immediate effect.

Could the answer to Ferguson’s dilemma lie elsewhere? Certainly United’s failure to add proven quality in central midfield has led many – supporters included – to speculate that Wayne Rooney could drop even deeper in the coming season, away from the ‘number 10’ position occupied to such great effect over the past six months. It’s a notion dismissed by Ferguson, who admirers the Scouser’s on-the-field intelligence but is unlikely to deploy the former Evertonian in a more limiting central midfield role.

“Wayne could play centre-midfield, but not the way that Scholesy played it. They’re too different,” added the 69-year-old United boss.

“The way Wayne would play as opposed to Scholesy is that he would be more dynamic and all over the place, using his energy to run everywhere, challenge and hit those cross-field passes that he’s terrific at. Scholes was more calculated. He always had that control about him, controlling the speed and pace of a game, which is pretty difficult to do. He was an absolute one-off.

“You can’t replace players like that. You hope you can get something approaching it, but you’ll never replace Scholes. We’re all searching for that. Everybody is searching for the special player who makes the difference to his team.”

Indeed, this summer has left Ferguson facing the very real prospect of entering the new season with solely Anderson, Carrick and Fletcher as the Scot’s front-line central midfielders. It’s a sobering thought despite Carrick’s promise to exert greater influence in the coming season. One in which the Geordie’s shared responsibility is unlikely to bring much comfort.