The Ginger Prince of Salford

When the final whistle of the first game of United’s League campaign blew at Old Trafford on Monday night, United finished their job on the day by beating Newcastle United 3-0.  And as the other United players continued to stay on the field and applaud the fans, the architect of the victory raced down the tunnel, eager to get into the shower and go home after a job well done. Typical Paul Scholes.

While scoring screamers, pinpoint accuracy, the late runs into the box and the side-pass after a feigned shot will always remain Scholes’s trademarks, the three beautiful Scholes moments, apart from many others, that epitomize everything about Scholes and that will be remembered will be the flick to put Rooney through on goal against Milan in 2007, the Cantonaesque chip against Panathinaikos in 2000 and the fierce volley against Villa in 2007.

Born in Salford and having spent his entire 19-year footballing career at Manchester United, Scholes has not played at any level except the top and how! With him not getting any younger, he has adjusted to the modern game ever so well. Starting out as a striker and now playing as a mid-fielder, Scholes has transformed his game drastically, although not fundamentally, to suit his manager and the team. From playing upfront as a striker or an attacking mid-fielder, Scholes now sits just ahead of the defense and sprays passes all over the park, pinging the ball that lands onto the feet of his team-mates. Almost all the moves go through Scholes and apart from the odd tackle or two that make you cringe, he is a delight to watch and learn. But everyone knows all this. Why, then, he is still underrated?

One of the main reasons is that he’s a footballer’s footballer. No hogging the limelight, no endorsements or commercials, almost no interviews, no autobiographies that sportsmen write even before they’ve achieved anything of substance. Just pure love for the game. He is also the only player in the Premier League who does not have an agent to negotiate his contracts, he does it all by himself! In short, no celebrity-bullshit. Scholes, himself: “My ideal day? Train in the morning, pick up the kids from school, go home, play with kids, have tea, get them up to bed, and then come down to watch a bit of TV.” Some say that’s because he is shy. Really? A player who plays week-in and week-out in front of 70,000 people and countless on TV and expresses himself through his game cannot be shy. Being ever-so-modest, he says, “I’ve never turned down big commercials because I’m shy. It’s just the way I’ve been. I did get a boot contract once. But no, I haven’t earned much outside the game. Maybe it’s because I’m not good looking enough.” As Roy Keane said, “An amazingly gifted player who remained an unaffected human being.”

The 9 Premier League medals, 3 FA Cup medals and 2 European Cup medals tell only one side of the story. The other side of the story is read out by his fellow professionals themselves. Zinedine Zidane: “My toughest opponent? Scholes of Manchester. He is the complete midfielder. Scholes is undoubtedly the best midfielder of his generation.” Glenn Hoddle: “There isn’t a player of his mould anywhere else in the world.” Brian Kidd : “Paul Scholes had the best football brain I’d ever seen in a kid. Let’s face it. Paul Scholes is in a class of its own.” Gordon Strachan: “Paul Scholes has been the best England midfield player for 30-odd years. You’d probably have to go back to Bobby Charlton to find someone who could do as much as Scholes. When the ball arrives at his feet he could tell you where every player on that pitch is at that moment. His awareness is superb.” Peter Schmeichel: “People say he is a great player, but you have to define what a great player is. For me, it is a player who has a bottom level that means his worst performance is not noticed. If he is having a bad game, a team-mate might feel Paul Scholes is not quite on his game, but a spectator wouldn’t notice. Scholes, of all the players I have played with, has the highest bottom level.”

An early retirement from international football has been cited by many as the only blemish on his career. Some say he made the decision because he was played out of his favoured position. But Scholes thought it was too much time away from family and home and wanted to concentrate more on his club career. It’s been certainly fantastic for us United fans. George Best : “To be honest I think England have lost their best player. Certainly he’s the most consistent and naturally gifted player we’ve had for a long, long time.” Sir Bobby Charlton: “Paul Scholes is my favourite player. He epitomises the spirit of Manchester United and everything that is good about football.”

Fortunately, Scholes has managed to stay away from the big injuries. In between, he suffered from blurred-vision and would have been forced to quit the game altogether. But he has recovered from it and anyone watching him play now ought to shout, “Blurred-vision my foot!” Talking about retirement, he has said that he will continue as long as he is “doing the job the manager wants.”

It certainly will be a sad day when he retires, a sad day not only for the United faithful but also for the lovers of the game. He has been a credit to the game and is like a footballer that footballers once were and which we wish footballers will become again. Scholes is brilliance in itself. Typical Paul Scholes.

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