“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.” Those are the words of Marcello Lippi, a manager who has won five Serie A titles, a UEFA Champions League, and who led Italy to World Cup glory in 2006. His gracious remarks show the reputation that Paul Scholes has earned from putting in stellar performances over the past 16 years, both domestically and on the European scene. Only two games into the season and the midfielder has already earned two man-of-the-match performances against Chelsea in the Community Shield, and against Newcastle United on Monday night, and there are even whispers of Ozil who?
Even though he is now 35, and his fitness and pace are not what they used to be, Scholes has evolved into a different player, something which is a remarkable achievement. During his peak he would make trademark late runs into the box, which resulted in eight seasons where he was in double digits for goals. He was in many ways the second striker, playing just off Ruud van Nistelrooy, and was a footballer who would cause havoc to opponents. However, since 2005, setbacks such as knee ligament damage took their toll on a man who was already approaching his 30’s, and meant he could not be the athlete he once was. Since then Scholes has turned into a defensive playmaker. He will sit around the half-way line and spray majestic passes behind the oppositions defence. His pass ratio is consistently high and it is rare to see him lose the ball. If you take into account somebody like Michael Owen, who since losing his pace is not half the player he was, Scholes has shown just how good he is by being able to adopt a different style of play.
It says a lot about Scholes that England manager Fabio Capello wanted him to come out of international retirement for this summer’s World Cup, despite the fact he has not played more than 40 games in a season since 2006/07. Although this might say more about the problems England have in the centre of midfield, one thing the ‘ginger prince’ would have brought to the team would have been ball retention and composure. Unlike his allies who rush when on the ball and often misplace passes, the number 18 would have been like the Spanish players, more than happy when in possession and not wasteful.
His career is coming to an end, and whether he signs a new contract extensive this summer is very much in doubt, but if he is playing as well as he has started this campaign, then his manager Sir Alex Ferguson will not let him retire when he still has more to give to Manchester United. The good news for English football is that he is taking courses to achieve his coaching badges, something one might not have expected from the shy star. The experience and help he can pass onto the next generation of stars, however, will be something no one will take for granted.