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.