Tag Paul Scholes

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Becks: the romantic’s choice as Scholes’ successor

Awaté Suleiman July 18, 2011 Tags: , Opinion 46 comments

This week, Sir Alex Ferguson said that he is finding trouble filling the chasm vacated by Paul Scholes this summer. Who wouldn’t? Many class Scholes among some of the greatest midfielders in the history of not only English football, but the world game.

Hinting at further spending, the Glaswegian manager noted that “If we can get a player along similar lines in terms of the quality of his passing and vision, then yes, we’d have to do something.” But if the United manager cannot land Luka Modric, Wesley Sneijder or Samir Nasri this summer, is there another short-term option? Football romantics might think so.

Watching Gary Neville’s testimonial against Juventus in May, one could not but think about the number seven. Not Manchester United’s Michael Owen but David Beckham, world superstar, one of the biggest brands in football and – many people forget – still a very good player. World class? Maybe. But Becks retains all the attributes and characteristics to sort out one of United’s biggest problems – midfield.

Many will write this off as the fantasy ramblings of a fan – it is – but that does not hide the fact Beckham has the class that could really benefit United.

One of Beck’s characteristics was on show at Neville’s testimonial. Scholes’ retirement at the end of the season means that Beckham is now the best long passer in the world. The 36-year-old’s display during the match included a range of pin-point 80 yard passes for fun. The player also lasted the full 90 minutes and obviously feels that he is in good physical condition.

Beckham’s past speaks for itself; a United legend, helping the team to six Premier League trophies, two FA Cups and a Champion’s League trophy as part of the treble wining side of 1998-99. Beck’s is a set piece specialist and arguably the greatest crosser in the history of the game. At Neville’s testimonial he took the best corner of anyone in a United shirt for years.

Tactically, Beckham could be just as good an option as Modric. After all, the player has always fancied himself as a central midfielder and allegedly engaged in many heated debates on this point with Ferguson who saw Becks’ crossing ability as the player’s key weapon. The Los Angeles Galaxy player has lost most of what little pace he had in his youth and is finally been able to thrive in his preferred position, where he can dictate play with either short or long-range passing from the ‘quarterback’, regista or deep-lying playmaker position.

In fact Beckham is a more feasible option than Inter Milan number 10 Sneijder, whose natural position on the pitch encroaches on Wayne Rooney’s stomping ground in the ‘hole’. Beck’s control and touch also make him a very good central midfielder; more attack-minded than Michael Carrick.

The stats speak for themselves. Becks has made 16 appearances since March for the LA Galaxy and has notched up two goals and seven assists. In the player’s time in the ever-improving MLS, he has made 65 appearances while scoring 12 goals and has made 24 assists. It’s a similar game-goal-assist ratio to Ryan Giggs over the same period.

Another reason for Beckham’s arrival is experience, offering his boyhood club a year of service while allowing rising talents Tom Cleverley, Ravel Morrison and Paul Pogba an earlier chance to break-though into the first team than if the 25-year-old Modric or 27-year-old Sneijder were to join. Beckham’s influence in the dressing room around these young player would also be an invaluable asset to a club which has lost five senior players in recent times.

Beckham has also played in La Liga and his knowledge of ball retention could be a great help to United’s crop of talented youngsters. He might also be able to teach Bébé how to cross! Importantly, Beckham’s relationship with Ferguson has seemingly healed over the years.

Beckham, in the final year of a £135 million contract, would be happy to take a wage cut at the club closest to his heart. He offered to take a wage reduction when trying to secure a loan deal to Tottenham Hotspur earlier this year. After all, the economics of deals for Modric or Sneijder deals are eye-watering; Beckham’s is potentially lucrative for the club. When Real Madrid signed him from United for £25 million in 2003 the club claimed to have made the fee back in shirt sales inside a week.

This is a fantasy of course but there is also a good argument for Beckham’s return, stepping into the shoes of his good friend, Scholes.

Scholes looks to future as silly season gets into full swing

Ed June 15, 2011 Tags: , Opinion 21 comments

New Manchester United coach Paul Scholes says that the club will rebuild this summer but only if Sir Alex Ferguson deems it necessary. Scholes, who retired at the end of last season, says he is as excited as the fans, with a string of names linked to United in the press over the past fortnight. Reports suggest that United will embark on the largest spending spree in the Glazer family’s time in charge of the club as Ferguson aims to bridge the gap between the Reds and Europe’s best.

Ferguson has already committed United to the £16.5 million acquisition of Blackburn Rovers’ teenager Phil Jones, while Ashley Young and David de Gea will arrive at Old Trafford in early July for an additional £34 million. Meanwhile, United’s 69-year-old manager continues to search for an elusive ‘world class’ central midfielder to replace Scholes in the squad.

“The manager will know what he needs and if he needs to buy players or he’s happy with what he’s already got,” Scholes said on Wednesday.

“Over the last couple of years he’s not really added that much to it, and if he feels the need to do it now, he’ll do it. He’s built three or four teams now and if he needs to do it again, I’m sure he will.

“I don’t know where the answer lies about a replacement. That is up to the manager and his staff. There is no doubt there is a lot of talent at this club. You only have to look at the youth team this year and what they have done. There are some great players.”

Most supporters and pundits have identified central midfield as United’s primary area of weakness and Scholes’ retirement, along with Owen Hargreaves’ departure, has depleted Ferguson’s resources. Darron Gibson will shortly move to Sunderland while youth team players Paul Pogba, Ravel Morrison and Ryan Tunnicliffe are considered too inexperienced for first team duty next season.

However, primary targets Wesley Sneijder and Luka Modric seem unlikely to be available this summer. Sneijder has remained non-committal on his future at Internazionale but a £4 million net wage and a £30 million plus transfer fee could put the Dutchman out of Ferguson’s reach. Meanwhile, Tottenham Hotspur playmaker Modric is wanted by both Chelsea and Manchester City, pushing the price to exorbitant levels.

Given the weaknesses in central midfield Ferguson’s apparent pursuit of Alexis Sanchez, the Chilean utility-forward who current plys his trade at Udinese in Italy, is perhaps surprising. Sanchez primarily operators on the right-side for Udinese but has played from the left and as a shadow forward for club and country; positions in which Ferguson is well stocked. After all, Young will compliment Antonio Valencia, Park Ji-Sung, Nani and Wayne Rooney in those positions. Youngster Tom Cleverley will also return to the club this summer.

Sanchez would be a frighteningly expensive acquisition too as City and Barcelona also bid for the 22-year-old’s services and Udinese demand more than £30 million. Moreover, when the European champions Barça comes calling, few players turn the Catalans down.

Still, with high quality names oft-repeated in the press, Scholes says he has high hopes for this summer’s transfer business; a window he will watch as both fan and United employee.

“The ones we have been linked with are great players as well,” said the 36-year-old former player.

“I am sure the manager will buy or bring through the right players and will be just as successful and hopefully get towards the Barcelona level as well. Even when I was a player you see all these top players around the world that you’re linked with, and you’re excited about maybe playing with them. As a fan now, just like my son is, we’re hoping we buy the best players in the world and that they make us even stronger for next year.”

Whether United secures the star names is very much dependent on money of course. Quality, even when completely inexperienced as demonstrated by Jones’ capture, comes at a very high price. Indeed, if United truly is competing at the top end of this summer’s market then the club is in an élite group. While City and Chelsea enjoy the patronage of huge private wealth, Barça and Real Madrid monopolise La Liga media rights money.

It is fact that United fans may well bare in mind when browsing this summer’s red tops. After all, talk is cheap and while the noises emanating from Old Trafford suggest a splurge – and around £180 million in cash sits in the club’s bank account – recent history might suggest otherwise.

Capturing just one of Sanchez, Sneijder or Modric remains a big ask. But like Scholes, fans may well have fun watching the summer’s drama unfold.

Magic and marketing for Scholes’ testimonial

Ed June 10, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 1 comment

So Eric Cantona returns to Old Trafford, not this time as player, nor matinée idol but manager of a team with no talents, a club with no stadium, the New York Cosmos. And with Cantona’s newly reformed Cosmos will come a tranche of ringers, drawn from some of the finest recent football talent to be found in the Frenchman’s contacts book, in celebration of Paul Scholes wonderful career.

Scholes’ testimonial, to be played at Old Trafford on Friday 5 August, will be an occasion for the midfielder’s fans and contemporaries to put the notoriously media-shy former United player in the spotlight. However, with United facing a team that is little more than a marketing exercise, some will question whether the match is a fitting end to Scholes’ playing days. After all, the Salford-born midfielder always placed loyalty to the club and time with his family ahead of cash in the bank.

Still, with more than 20 years at the club, 17 of them in Sir Alex Ferguson’s first team, Scholes deserves nothing less than the shower of accolades and praise he has received since retiring 10 days ago, whomever the opposition.

“It’ll be fantastic for the fans to be able to bid farewell to this exceptional footballer,’’ Ferguson told ManUtd.com in a statement.

“The accolades he’s received have been well deserved, but for me, Paul is one of those players who turns up, plays his football and it’s that natural ability that makes Paul unique and revered by many, including myself. Now from one great player to another, Eric Cantona. I am going to relish this touchline showdown, one Gaelic mind to another. Neither of us will want to lose this one, it is sure to be a great night and a well-deserved recognition for Paul.”

Scholes slipped away on a family holiday before retiring, leaving the official announcement to United’s PR department on 31 May. How typical of the man, who spent a career avoiding the media glare, marketing campaigns and trappings of celebrity, which the 36-year-old has always considered nonsense.

Yet it is marketing that will bring the Cosmos to town with, one can expect, a rash of star names joining Cantona’s team. After all, those who have lauded Scholes the player have included the greats of the European and world game from the past 20 years: Zinedine Zidane, Francesco Totti, Xavi Hernández and many others.

Scholes’ last appearance as a United player will guarantee a full house at Old Trafford, with United having restricted initial ticket sales to season ticket holders only. The 75,000 sell-out crowd will generate more than £3 million in revenues, with Scholes’ Testimonial Committee as yet not having declared whether the midfielder will pocket the cash or, as is now customary, donate to a range of good causes.

“This is going to be a big night for me and my family, but one which I intend to enjoy and I will savour every moment,’’ said Scholes, presumably from a beach somewhere in the Caribbean.

“I have spent my whole footballing life at Manchester United, so this will be an emotional farewell. This club is special in many ways, but the fans are the best and I have always appreciated their support throughout my career. I hope they enjoy the night, especially seeing the Boss and Eric battling it out in front of the dug outs.”

Fans will, of course, come to see Cantona as well. The 45-year-old took up a position as Director of Soccer with the Cosmos in January. The newly reformed outfit is hoping to win a place in Major League Soccer in the coming years but in the meantime is little more than a logo and a youth team.

Cantona was last reunited with his former club in Spring 2010, touring Carrington and taking in United’s fixture against Liverpool. The Frenchman had previously returned for the Munich Testimonial fixture in 1998, leading an all-star European XI at Old Trafford.

But it is Scholes’ night, and Cantona, who played with the flame-haired midfielder in the late 1990s, will do nothing but add to the glamour, which will also include Cosmos’ Honourary President, Pélé.

“I wish to congratulate Paul for such an incredible career at Manchester United,” said Cantona, who played 185 games for United before retiring in 1997.

“I am looking forward to returning to Old Trafford in my new role with The New York Cosmos. This will be a significant and memorable match for all.”

Scholes is set to take up a coaching position with United when pre-season training begins in July, although it is not yet confirmed exactly what role the former player will take on. Warren Joyce has been working alone with the reserve team since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s departure for Molde last November.

That is for the future though. Today, fans will clamber to get hold of the most sought-after testimonial ticket in recent memory. Magic.

One from 10 to replace Scholes

Ed June 4, 2011 Tags: , Opinion 60 comments

Paul Scholes retirement at the age of 36 has heightened Manchester United’s already acute need for a midfield playmaker. Anderson’s inconsistency, Darron Gibson’s likely departure and Tom Cleverley’s youth means that Sir Alex Ferguson’s is desperately short of central midfield creativity. Rant offers 10 potential options, should Ferguson dip into the transfer market this summer, listed roughly in predicted transfer market value.

Javier Pastore, 21, Palermo > £35 million
Argentinian Pastore is in much demand on the back of a wonderful season in Italy. Firing the Sicilian club Palermo to eighth in Serie A and the Italian Cup final, El Flaco – “skinny” – has scored 11 goals in 34 appearances for Palermo this season. 21-year-old Pastore offers a beguiling blend of silky passing and dribbling skills and is comfortable in central midfield or at ‘number 10’. Pastore was included in Argentina’s 23-man squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup by Diego Maradona, making two substitute appearances. The midfielder is well within United’s typical age bracket but with a host of European clubs interested, including Chelsea, the asking price is now reportedly beyond £35 million.

Wesley Sneijder, 26, Internazionale > £30 million
Dutchman Sneijder failed at Real Madrid but has risen to the very top of the world game with Inter in the past two years. Sneijder was pivotal both in Inter’s Champions League win in May 2010 and Holland’s run to the World Cup final later that summer. Despite a muted season with Inter in the past year Sneijder’s price is near the very top of the market and the player earns more than £4 million net with the Italian club. Age and price appear to preclude a move to United, although Ferguson is a known admirer of the 26-year-old former Ajax player.

Luka Modric, 25, Tottenham Hotspur > £25 million
When Sir Alex talks about a player there’s a fair bet that he’s interested. Deeper-lying than either Pastore of Sneijder, Modric is the real star of the Tottenham side despite all the media plaudits for Gareth Bale. And while Rafael van der Vaart’s introduction to the Spurs side has seemingly reduced the number of assists recorded by the Zadar-born midfielder this season, Modric has become more pivotal to the Londoner’s play. Not likely to agitate for a move and Daniel Levy’s notoriously hard-nosed negotiation ensure that the midfielder will be expensive.

Marek Hamšík, 23, Napoli > £20 million
Napolitan hero Hamšík has taken the southern club to a Champions League placing this season, scoring 10 goals in 31 matches. Hamšík’s ability to break ahead of the ball is a reminder of Scholes’ youth, although the young Slovak lacks the former-United midfielder’s defensive discipline. And while the 45-times capped international falls within United’s age range Napoli’s qualification for the Champions League ensures Hamšík’s transfer is unlikely to come cheap.

Jordan Henderson, 20, Sunderland > £15 million
Named Sunderland’s Young Player of the Year for the second season running and capped by England this season, Sunderland-born Henderson is a man much in demand. Offering pace and composure, Henderson has shown maturity beyond his years, and although Sunderland is loathe to cash in on the youngster this summer a bid in excess of £15 million may force the Wearsiders’ hand. Liverpool is also reported interested in the player.

Eden Hazard, 20, Lille > £15 million
Star of Ligue 1 this season, Belgian Hazard has driven the northern French side to title glory. Creative and comfortable in a range of midfield positions, Hazard is likely to leave this summer even though the lure of Champions League football has been earned with Lille. The player’s goalscoring record is far from impressive for an attacking player but the fleet-footed player has impressed with his skillful use of the ball this season. Attitude and work-rate have been questioned though, which led to a period on the sidelines this season.

Samir Nasri, 23, Arsenal > £15 million
Contract-rebel Nasri may seem an unlikely transfer to United, especially Arsènse Wenger ruled out the prospect. However, with Nasri available on a free-transfer in a year’s time and pushing for a contract in excess of Arsenal’s typical structure the creative French midfielder is an option. Patrice Evra has openly courted the Marseille-born midfielder who can play centrally or in any wide midfield position. Missed out on last summer’s World Cup in South Africa but has performed admirably in a campaign that ended with nominations for both the Nasri PFA Players’ Player of the Year and PFA Young Player of the Year awards.

Mario Götze, 19, Borussia Dortmund > £15 million
German international Götze has the world at his feet after playing a leading role in Dortmund’s Bundesliga win this season. Lauded by Matthias Sammer as “one of the best” to have come through the German under-21 set-up, Götze is rated by some as a better prospect than compatriot Mesut Özil, who has performed so well for Real Madrid this season. Six goals in 29 Bundesliga matches attests to the player’s ability to score from midfield, while 11 assists points to Götze’s creativity.

Shinji Kagawa, 22, Borussia Dortmund > £12 million
Dortmund’s other attacking midfielder has grown into the role following the move to Germany last summer. The Japanese international, who has scored eight goals in 18 Bundesliga appearances this season, has impressed with running from midfield, pace and an ability to beat his man. Kagawa’s rise this season is all the more remarkable for being left out of Japan’s World Cup squad last summer. Dortmund may be an unlikely seller but the chance to make a large profit by ‘flipping’ the 22-year-old may still be attractive.

Charlie Adam, 25, Blackpool > £10 million
The former-Rangers midfielder is certain to leave Bloomfield Road this season after Blackpool’s relegation from the Premier League. The player’s outstanding left-footed delivery from set pieces had Ferguson lauding the Adam’s corners as “worth £10 million alone” – it led to an inevitable rash of speculation. However, the Scot’s lack of pace and a tendency to over-elaborate are serious defects in the player’s game.

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World salutes the great, the incomparable, Paul Scholes

Ed May 31, 2011 Tags: Opinion 31 comments
featured image

How apt of Paul Scholes to slip away on a family holiday while the world of football mourns his retirement. The little ginger kid with magic in his feet, who’d rather disappear into the shadows than listen to the inevitable plaudits. 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. No hanging around to hear his praises sung. To Scholes it was always bullshit.

Just 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. And a humility that belies his ability. In 20 years, probably i50, Scholes will be remembered as one of the greats. Time, it is hoped, erases the vacuous and self-absorbed, but will always remember Scholes.

Sure, defeat to Barcelona at Wembley was not the high on which Scholes deserved to end his career, 17 years after his début in an low-key League Cup victory over Port Vale. But then there’s the suspicion that Scholes was equally at home in a park kick-about as the pinnacle of the world game. He retires on his own terms, one of the finest ever produced by United or anyone.

“I am not a man of many words but I can honestly say that playing football is all I have ever wanted to do and to have had such a long and successful career at Manchester United has been a real honour,” Scholes said today.

“This was not a decision that I have taken lightly but I feel now is the right time for me to stop playing. To have been part of the team that helped the club reach that 19th title is a great privilege.

“I would like to thank the fans for their tremendous support throughout my career, I would also like to thank all the coaches and players that I have worked with over the years, but most of all I would like to thank Sir Alex for being such a great manager, from the day I joined the club his door has always been open and I know this team will go on to win many more trophies under his leadership.”

Like all the greats there was an enigma to Scholes. For all the beauty there was, of course, the ‘dark side’, as Arsène Wenger so crudely put it. “A dirty little git,” Scholes’ former colleague Nicky Butt said, with more than a hint of tongue-in-cheek. The kid with asthma who conquered the world owed no little part to his aggression and steely resolve.

Scholes played more than 60 times for England; it would have been more than a 100 but for Sven Goran Eriksson’s negligent abuse of the midfielder’s role. In that the Swede sums up English reticence toward’s the technically gifted. “If he was Spanish,” said Barcelona’s maestro Xavi Hernández, “maybe he would have been valued more.”

If he was Spanish, one wonders, might he have been nominated for the world game’s greatest personal honours? Scholes is unlikely to care.

The Salford-born midfielder was always valued by his fellow pros though; from Zinedine Zidane, to Pélé, to Ronaldinho, United’s number 18 has always been a players’ player. No more so than Andreas Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Xavi, who on the conclusion of Barça’s victory over United at Wembley sought out the wee man. Scholes took home the match ball, the opponents his shirt.

United will miss Scholes. Not solely for his contribution, although the midfielder’s brain still works faster than his legs, but for his ethic. He was, as Sir Alex Ferguson put it today, the embodiment of the United spirit.

There is unlikely to be another like him.

The Tribute Videos

1 – he scores goals galore; 2 – he passes the ball, a lot.

Scholes in Numbers

676 appearances for Manchester United
150 goals scored
66 caps for England
10 Premier League Titles
5 Community Shields
3 FA Cups
2 League Cups
2 European Cupa
1 Intercontinental Cup
1 FIFA Club World Cup

On Scholes’ retirement

“What more can I say about Paul Scholes that I haven’t said before. We are going to miss a truly unbelievable player. Paul has always been fully committed to this club and I am delighted he will be joining the coaching staff from next season. Paul has always been inspirational to players of all ages and we know that will continue in his new role.” – Sir Alex Ferguson

“He’ll be missed greatly. I just heard the news this morning. We knew he’d make a decision but didn’t think it would be this quick. We’re all sad to see him stop playing. He’s been great for United and England and he’ll be missed by all of us. But he’ll be a big miss for us. He’s the best I’ve played with and against. He’s only small but it’s so difficult to get the ball off him. Every United fan will miss him.” – Wayne Rooney

“It is very sad day for Manchester United fans around the world. We all know that Paul was one of the players that came through the ranks of the academy system in the 1990’s and has established himself as one of the greatest players to ever wear the United shirt. It is very important that the club keeps its association with these great players and we are delighted that Paul will join the coaching staff.” – David Gill

“All I can think of is what an absolute tragedy that we have to be without him – he is such a fantastic player, a beautiful player to watch – and we will miss him certainly at Manchester United. But I think more from the game’s point of view that he was just priceless – he had vision, he could see instantly where people were and I used to sometimes hear people gasp when he made a pass that was just so pinpoint. “He’s just a fantastic player – a beautiful, beautiful footballer – and at Manchester United we’ve been very proud that he played for us.” – Sir Bobby Charlton

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

Scholes ante Xavi

Ed January 11, 2011 Tags: , Opinion 54 comments

Xavi Hernándexz, a truly outstanding player over the past decade, picked up second place at the FIFA Ballon d’Or tonight. Yet, the Spaniard’s award is little more than a reminder of the preeminent talent displayed on English shores for the past 20 years; a talent that has received no international recognition – Paul Scholes.

Like Xavi, Scholes could do anything with the ball. He still can; ageing legs there may be, but the brain still very much functions. It is Scholes’ ability to dictate the flow, tempo and quality of a match that is equalled by perhaps only half a
dozen players over the past 15 years. And, arguably, by nobody on these shores.

It is, of course, a grotesque crime that Scholes failed to pick up either domestic, European or global a global honours during an outstanding career. That the Salford-born midfielder has received not so much as a nomination is surely a reflection only of the player’s deliberate low-profile where advertising riches and the media circus are avoided religiously.

Indeed, during a career that began as an 18-year-old and may end this summer after more than 650 games, Scholes has impressed his peers – the élite of world football – far more than those in the media. That surely is a lasting honour.

Scholes, no doubt hampered in the search for global recognition by the failure of England’s national team over the past decade, didn’t even make the long-list for the European award in 1999, when David Beckham came second to Rivaldo.

Xavi’s fellow World Cup winning Spaniard, Xabi Alonso, today joined a long-list of pros lining up to praise Scholes. Too diffident to respond, Scholes may never collect an official prize but he will take a book of his peers’ praise into retirement.

“I’ve still got Paul Scholes’ shirt at home, which I swapped with him once,” said Real Madrid midfielder Alonso.

“When I was at Liverpool he was one of the players I liked most. Maybe he’s not valued as much as he should be in England because of the style of football there and because he keeps a low profile. Perhaps he would have been more valued in Spain, where midfielders like him form part of the ‘ideal’.

“He certainly has the talent to have adapted to Spain – or Italy, or Germany, or France. Fans in Spain rate him very highly and I admire him a huge amount.”

It’s not a pretty thought for Manchester United supporters of course. Reds value Scholes’ loyalty and sacrifice to the cause almost on par with his quality. But there is no doubt Scholes would have shone in a technical league every bit as much as he has in England’s top division.

Indeed, the player’s clarity of thought, outstanding close control and awareness of space would surely have marked out the United midfielder as a star in any team, at any time in history.

In Xavi, who placed behind Lionel Messi in tonight’s ceremony, there is much of Scholes. And much to be admired. The home-town boy who learned his trade in Barcelona’s academy and has – to date – played for only one club. Six years younger, Xavi should have many profitable years ahead, although a persistent knee injury has limited the player’s time on the pitch in recent months.

But there is at Barça a genuine determination to do the right thing by Xavi, where the club has not always parted company with its legends on mutually amicable terms.

Of course whether the 30-year-old midfielder remains at the Catalan giants until his career ends is as yet unknown. The player’s loyalty and brilliance, much like Scholes, deserves the fate.

Paul Scholes

“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

“My toughest opponent? Scholes of Manchester. He is the complete midfielder. Undoubtedly the best midfielder of his generation.” – 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

“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

Rooney misses three weeks

Ed September 28, 2010 Tags: , , , Shorts 9 comments

Wayne Rooney will miss three weeks and four games with the ankle injury that has kept the striker out of tomorrow”s Champions League game with Valencia. Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed that Rooney’s injury is worse than initially thought, with the striker out of games against Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion.

The striker will also sit out England’s Euro2014 qualifier against Montenegro at Wembley on 12 October, although Ferguson says that the injury is less serious than the one he suffered in March.

“Wayne has done quite well with his recovery from injury in the past,” said Ferguson.

“It is a straightforward ankle injury. And it is not the same one he did in Munich.”

Meanwhile, midfielder Paul Scholes, who also misses the Valencia fixture with a calf injury, will be on the sidelines for around 10 days, almost certainly sitting out United’s weekend trip to Sunderland.

Ferguson is also without Ryan Giggs for the next fortnight in what may prove a pivotal test of United’s midfield strength-in-depth for the testing double-header with Valencia and then the trip to the Stadium of Light.

The Scot also confirmed that he will make a late decision on the fitness of Rio Ferdinand, who travelled with the party to Spain but has featured in just one match this season.

Genius Scholes need not fight the fight one time too many

Ed July 15, 2010 Tags: Opinion 2 comments

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.

Three amigos bridge generation gap

Ed May 31, 2010 Tags: , , , , Opinion 16 comments

When Jose Mourinho takes charge of Manchester United in summer 2012 he will have on his coaching staff three recently retired club legends. That’s the scenario posed by the week’s events, with the Portuguese signing on at Real Madrid, while Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville were each offered coaching roles at Old Trafford.

With more than 2,000 club appearances between them, the trio has amassed a wealth of experience at the club that is only surpassed by the manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, himself.

Indeed, with the each now taking UEFA B and A coaching qualifications as the twilight of three magnificent careers approaches, the Scot believes that Scholes, Giggs and Neville will extend their stay at Old Trafford beyond two decades.

“They are living proof for young players that the United system allows players to succeed,” Ferguson told French sports newspaper L’Equipe.

“When they stop playing they will stay. All three are taking their coaching diplomas. I don’t think the club will pass up that much experience.”

Should the amigos remain at Old Trafford beyond their playing careers it is likely each will outlast their manager, who at 68 many pundits feel is unlikely to continue beyond a further two seasons. They will also offer an important element of continuity during what is likely to be a tumultuous period at the club post Ferguson’s retirement.

The risk of turmoil following Ferguson’s walk into the sunset is already noted, with United”s chief executive David Gill promising bond investors that the club will – no pun intended – “manage” the process.  Still, there is little secret in the ceo’s preference for the Portuguese coach to take over at Old Trafford in Ferguson’s wake.

Indeed, while Gill this week claimed he will consult Ferguson on the Scot’s successor there will be few dissenting noises emanating from the manager’s Carrington office if his good friend Mourinho is offered the Old Trafford hot-seat.

“Alex is on a rolling contract. He is doing well, he is happy and he has a good staff who he works very closely with. When he decides he wants to retire he will have a word with me and say ‘The end of this season or next season’,” said Gill this week.

“We would work with him in terms of identifying a replacement. In terms of criteria we will sit down and say ‘What attributes must a manager have? Lots of things come into that. British or European? What experience they have, languages all that sort of thing as well as their track record.

“The final decision will be discussed with Alex, Bobby Charlton and the owners. I think Alex will be the key. He knows people. He will have a big role in advising and being a sounding board.”

Perhaps no surprise then that Mourinho – officially unveiled as Real Madrid manager today after the club concluded negotiations with European champions Inter Milan for the Portuguese’s services – has inserted a summer 2012 get-out clause into his new multi-million Euro contract. After all,  Mourinho’s desire for a return to England is no secret.

Whomever takes over at United – even a manager with Mourinho’s force of personality – will face not only the challenge of leading a huge organisation but Ferguson’s imposing shadow, which pervades every element of the club. Ferguson’s influence, although somewhat diluted through greater delegation, famously extended to every granular detail of the club.

Mourinho is different of course, rarely taking an interest in club matters beyond the first team squad, with little reputation for developing youth or indeed staying at any club for more than a few seasons.

Important then that the club retains a link with the past, with Mourinho’s winning track-record likely to prove attractive to Gill and his paymasters in Tampa.

If – some say when – the former Porto, Chelsea and Inter coach succeeds Ferguson in Manchester then it is United’s triumvirate of playing legends that will offer that crucial role.

Scholes: Manchester > England

Ed May 12, 2010 Tags: , , International 4 comments

Paul Scholes turned down Fabio Capello’s plea to join the England squad at the World Cup in South Africa this summer, preferring instead to stay in Manchester with his wife and kids. Capello wanted Scholes, who retired from international football aged just 29, to add quality to an England midfield desperately short of experience.

Still technically the best midfielder in the country, Scholes long hated traveling with the England squad before his retirement after the Euro 2004 tournament. Sven Goran Eriksson’s insistence on playing Europe’s finest central midfielder on the left-wing hardly helped.

Capello revealed he has tried to tempt Scholes out of retirement for the past two months. But Scholes, who once claimed that “Manchester is the best place on earth,” was never likely to reverse a six year-old decision.

“Yes but it was up to him,” Capello confirmed when he announced England’s provisional 30-man squad for the World Cup yesterday.

“He said no, he preferred to stay with the family in Manchester. But I tried.”

Capello is not the first to fail, Steve McClaren also tried to bring the Bury-born midfielder, who has won 66 caps, out of retirement.

Scholes scored 13 goals in his first 39 internationals before Eriksson began to tinker with the midfielder’s place in the England side, essentially preferring the failed Frank Lampard-Steven Gerrard axis.