In the first of my new Living Legends series, I take a look at the softly-spoken, mistimed tackling Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes.
As time wears on and age gets the better of most players, members of United’s famous 1992 FA Youth Cup winning team play on. Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Nicky Butt, Robbie Savage and Keith Gillespie are all still going, but one member of that team stands out more than most: Paul Scholes.
A member of the illustrious Manchester United 500 club, of which there are only the legendary names of Sir Bobby Charlton, Bill Foulkes, Denis Irwin and current team-mates Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville, Scholes has been underrated by many, but revered by his peers.
“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. He would have been one of the first players I’d have bought, given the chance”
World Cup winning coach Marcello Lippi
He has been the understated star of United’s contemporary golden generation. David Beckham took the limelight with his superstar ability to exploit his appeal, whereas Paul Scholes merely got on with the job quietly and, more often than not, with great efficiency.
The lifelong Oldham fan got his debut, as most youngsters at United do, in the League Cup. He bagged two against Port Vale in late 1994 in his original role as a striker. He played in this role for the first few years, but soon his amazing vision for a killer pass pushed him back up the pitch to provide a crucial link between midfield and attack. In this role he thrived.
He had some magical moments for England. Scoring on his debut to beat South Africa, scoring a winner against Italy in Le Tournoi in 1997 and scoring a wonderful turning effort against Tunisia in the opening game of France ’98. He was an important pin for the 2000 and 2002 England teams of major championships, but retired in 2004 after scoring, finally ending his three-year international barren spell.
It is a testament to the respect and high esteem his peers have for him that England managers have twice asked Paul Scholes to return. Much to Manchester United’s delight, he refused.
He continues to play as if he was a youngster vying for a place and, although his great ability to pick up yellow cards out of nothing still remains, he will surely go down as one of United’s legendary players. Not at least for being an integral part of the team that won the famous treble and finally getting to play in a Champions League final in Moscow last May.
United fans have always been fond of Paul Scholes’ efforts and loyalty to United, and he is seen as an unsung hero around Old Trafford, not least for his inability to talk about his own efforts and his down-to-earth approach. When asked his favourite player in the world by journalists at the 2002 World Cup he replied, not Brazil’s Pele, not Argentina’s Diego Maradona, not even England’s own David Beckham, but Oldham’s striker Frankie Bunn. “He scored six times for Oldham in a League Cup tie against Scarborough you know”. Not a hint of wit or comedy about him.
It is this attitude, to hold things close to him whoever the audience, and of course his loyalty and footballing abilities, that make him more than worthy of joining Charlton and Foulkes in United’s 500 club. It also makes him a big hero for United fans.
For I know he is mine.