In 2001, when questioned about being the best central midfielder in world football, Edgar Davids was heard to utter the famous quote: “I’m not the best. Paul Scholes is.”
Scholes has been an integral part of the Old Trafford engine room since he first made his mark in the mid-1990s as an attacking midfielder with a great eye for goal and a wonderful knack of timing late runs into the opposition penalty area. No one is disputing that, at one time, he was among the world’s best and his quiet influence upon Sir Alex Ferguson’s side over a 15-year career has been substantial. However, following a few injury problems and the onset of age his influence in recent seasons has not always been paramount to the success on the pitch. Despite this, in Saturday’s encounter with Spurs he looked like the Paul Scholes of old.
Following a below-par performance against Arsenal and the conceding of a Jermain Defoe wonder goal in the opening 38 seconds of the White Hart Lane encounter, United needed leaders all over the pitch. Scholes was among those who really took the game to the north Londoners. His passing was short and sharp into the feet of Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney and he always made himself available for the return ball. His ability to always have time on the ball no matter how frantic the pace of the game is was a real asset in what was a high-tempo game – he was the calming influence United needed. There is no doubt Sir Alex set his stall out to enable Scholes to be at his best with Darren Fletcher and Anderson either side of him providing the running all day. The fantastic Fletcher was the ideal foil for Scholes’s game as he put Spurs under constant pressure, won the ball back tirelessly and put in the kind of shift which even had Spurs manager Harry Redknapp singing his praises. No-one will have been praising Fletcher more, however, than Scholes as he constantly fed him the ball early and provided him with the time to wave his magic wand of a right foot. The first half performance in particular by the diminutive redhead was absolutely fantastic.
Unfortunately, the second half was short lived for the man from Oldham with his second booking on 58 minutes earning him a red card from referee Andre Marriner. The first booking was ‘vintage’ Scholes as he dived in on Defoe – it was a poor challenge, but one which we are accustomed to seeing from Scholes. His midfield interplay may be second to none but he has never quite mastered the execution of a well-timed tackle. The second booking was harsh as he slid in with Tom Huddlestone with both players seeming to catch each other. Sir Alex felt that “he was sent off because his name is Paul Scholes” and there was no doubt that Huddlestone made the most of it by holding his face.
There were many top performers for United on the day but the performance of Scholes will have pleased the United supporters no end because they all know if Scholes can get anywhere near his best then he will have a huge influence on the destination of much of this season’s silverware.
Another player who is having a greater influence on the United team this season is Wayne Rooney. Playing as a central striker consistently seems to be bringing the best out of Rooney with the England man having netted five times following his wonderful solo effort against Spurs. His partnership with Dimitar Berbatov appears to be flourishing which is something that much of United’s season will hinge on. Berbatov was unlucky not to grab a goal against his former employers when he forced Carlo Cudicini into an excellent first-half save. The Bulgarian was also unfortunate to see his afternoon curtailed early as he was substituted following the sending off to enable United to gain more midfield cover by introducing Michael Carrick.
A major plus point to come from the Spurs match was the return to action of Rio Ferdinand who played with the calmness and assuredness that has come to be expected from him. With United facing a tough trip to Turkey on Tuesday to play Besiktas, in what will be a cauldron of noise at the Inonu Stadium, they will need a calming influence, especially in the early part of the encounter. At 34 it may be beyond Scholes to provide this in such quick succession and so the return of Ferdinand will be key. With Fletcher, Anderson and Giggs also superb against Spurs and the rich vein of form being enjoyed by Rooney the United faithful will be expecting a strong performance against the Turks even if the match comes to soon for Scholes.
Manchester United Club Focus
Welcome to Manchester, Michael – July 29
Goals from midfield the order of the day – August 5
Respect the consistency – August 12
Injury plague piles pressure on forwards – August 18
Usual slow starters living up to their reputation but is there cause for concern? – August 22
Enter the Champions – August 25
Anderson and Vidic pledge their allegiance – August 28
Win fails to hide Rooney’s need for a wingman – September 1
Ferguson sticking to his guns – September 4
Fingers pointed towards Old Trafford – September 8
Legal issues and a tough trip to north London – September 11
The two sides of Paul Scholes – September 15