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