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.
“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