Paul Scholes is a former Manchester United midfielder who came up through the ranks of the United academy. A one-club man. He was declared the best midfielder in the history of the Premier League, and it is no wonder why. He was a maestro of the pass, dictated the tempo of a game like a symphonist, had the shooting technique of a centre forward and was a master tackler of the ball. Well, not really but he knew how to get stuck in.
Born in Pendleton, November 16, 1974, the Scholes family would move from Pendleton to Langley, Greater Manchester. From a young age Scholes excelled in both cricket and football while at school. His first team that he played for was for Langley Furrow. Fortunately, a scout saw the talent in him and signed him up to the Manchester United Academy.
He first trained with Manchester United at the age of 14, signing for them as an apprentice on leaving school in 1991 and turning professional in 1993. He was one of the best trainees at the academy. Scholes played for the youth team of the club and was part of the FA Youth cup squad that made it to the final, they were just unlucky to have gone all the way. His senior debut came against Port Vale at Vale Park (fondly called Wembley of the North back in the day) on the 21st of September 1994 in the League Cup. He scored two goals on that particular occasion, which would end up strengthening his place in the starting line-up.
Fun Fact: Interestingly enough, Scholes started his career as a centre-forward/striker.
“You can’t win anything with kids”. I do not know if many of you remember that quote by Alan Hensen. This was said after United lost 3-1 to Aston Villa. I was not even an idea in my parents lives when this was said, but I have seen the backlash he has faced and with good reason. Alongside the class of 1992 (Beckham, Giggs, the Neville brothers), Paul Scholes would later go on to claim the Premier League title at the end of the season. A first of many for the Ginger Genius.
He started off by playing just behind the striker with deadly effect, but an injury to Roy Keane in September 1997 forced Paul Scholes to move to the centre of midfield. This is where he would lay down his mark in United folklore. Although he had the ability to score cracking goals by playing as an attacking midfielder, his vision was better used at the base of the midfield to help start and finish attacks.
Many will remember the Champions League final of 1999 as one of the best comebacks in a final in the competition’s history (Liverpool fans will argue that the night in Istanbul was more memorable). Sadly, Scholes had to receive his medal in a suit as he had received too many yellow cards in the run up to the final. But he still managed to score against Inter Milan in the quarters and scored two goals in the FA Cup final that was part of the treble winning season. It seemed as if winning had become a part of his DNA and having one of, if not the greatest, the best managers in the world certainly did help.
Suspension from a Champions League final is temporary, treble and drip are forever
Later on in his playing career he would play a more central defensive position or “regista” (director) in order to spray the passes and retain the ball like it was his to play with only. The only trouble, as his age caught up to him, with this is that his mobility would make it easy for opposition if they had quick midfielders who could hassle the ball off him. Thankfully, he had an excellent first touch and ball control to rival many a player to be able to escape out of sticky situations.
This does not mean that he still he stopped scoring goals, it only meant more of them came from outside of the box. His iconic goal against Aston Villa that rattled the bar before going in, his dinked chip against Panathinaikos, the belter against Chelsea in 02/03 or who could ever forget the rocket against a great Barcelona side in the semi-final of the Champions League in 2008. His technique to score scorchers was revered and it helped in him scoring over 150 goals in his illustrious career.
His international career was short-lived, which shook many when he announced retirement from the international game in 2004. Especially for someone of his calibre. He had his first international debut against South Africa, coming on as a substitute. Scholes played a total of 66 times for the Three Lions, where he was often deployed on the left of a midfield that consisted of Gerrard and Lampard, both legends in their own right.
His ability to find players on a tee was impeccable. He not only had the vision to pick out players, but he also had the technique to give diagonal cross-field balls that switched up play quicker than today’s possession-based game (Thank you Pep?). He could even find your missing wallet. This is for me the one talent that will forever remain embedded in my mind. Yes, he could score. Yes, he could control the ball with grace, but for me what made him a genius was the ability to relieve pressure or start attacks with his long balls. I do not like comparing legends with one another but think of how Pirlo was able to distribute the ball and you have a picture of what Scholes could do. Truly, a generational player.
Remembered for his accurate passing, powerful shot as well as technical skills, he is indeed a legend of the game. The following are a few quotes from the greatest of players that have graced the beautiful game. Regards.
Pele: “If he was playing with me, I would have scored so many more.”
Lionel Messi: “At La Masia his name was mentioned a lot. He’s a teacher.”
Zinedine Zidane: “My toughest opponent? Scholes of Manchester. He is the complete midfielder.”
Cristiano Ronaldo: “When we were in training, I used to do a lot of tricks which hardly any players at the club could do. Once I was showing my skills to Scholes. After I finished, Scholes took the ball and pointed to a tree which was about 50m from where we were standing. He said, I’m going to hit it in one shot. He kicked and hit the tree. He asked me to do the same; I kicked about 10 times, but still couldn’t hit it, with that accuracy. He smiled and left.”
Thierry Henry: “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’.”
“Paul Scholes, He scores goals”