News through today that Paul Scholes has decided to retire from football. This was not unexpected and – in my view – is probably the right decision. There was some talk that he had become dissatisfied with only playing a bit-part role for United towards the end of the season, but the reality was that having started the season brilliantly, Scholesy became increasingly less effective as time went by. The legs had gone, really and the number of times he was late for tackles was rising exponentially.
My first awareness of Paul Scholes, like many other United fans, came when Sir Alex Ferguson began the trend for playing younger players and fringe players in League Cup games. The first televised evidence of this came in the first leg of a LC tie against Port Vale played at Vale Park in September 1994. Fergie played so many of our young/fringe players that a Potteries MP allegedly tabled a House of Commons question about it and there was talk of sanctions against United. Seems quaint in these days where playing ‘weakened’ teams in all the domestic cup competitions has become commonplace for Premiership teams.
Anyway, United essentially destroyed the MP’s argument by winning the game 2-1 with 2 sharp finishes from Scholes. To reinforce the fact that this was no fluke, he came on as a sub to make his League debut against Ipswich the following Saturday and scored again.
It wasn’t exactly a case of ‘a star is born’ because like his peers – Beckham, Butt, Neville, Davies, Walsh and Gillespie – all of whom played against Port Vale, Scholes was having to compete with a formidable array of experienced title-winning stars – Mark Hughes, Eric Cantona and Brian McClair, shortly followed by Andy Cole – for a place in the United team. It was a measure of the impact that he made that Scholes ended up making 25 appearances in that 1994-1995 season, scoring 7 goals.
As has been well-documented elsewhere, it was the obvious quality of Scholes, Beckham, Butt and Gary Neville, along with the already-established Ryan Giggs, that was a major factor in Ferguson’s decision to offload Mark Hughes, Andre Kanchelskis and Paul Ince at the end of that season. From that point onwards, Scholes became a first-team stalwart and his goals and appearance numbers began to climb rapidly.
Looking back on his stellar career since then, only Giggs can boast a more impressive record. Scholes could start a foundry with all his winners’ medals – 10 Premiership, 2 Champions League, 3 FA Cup, 2 League Cup, 2 World Club Championship. In total, he made 676 appearances for United and scored 150 goals.
Like Ryan Giggs, Scholes has had something of an ‘Indian Summer’ to his United career, though his form dropped off quite appreciably in the second half of the season just ended. The enduring quality of these 2 players has to some extent relieved Sir Alex Ferguson of the need to rebuild United’s midfield, something that will now surely have to happen in the wake of the Barcelona defeat. He will, apparently join the club’s coaching staff next season and it’s to be hoped that he is able to transmit a few pearls of wisdom to United’s youngsters as they begin their careers. It has even been mooted that Scholes might co-manage the Reserve team alongside Warren Joyce.
We will miss him for sure – his apparent immunity to the trappings of football ‘stardom’, his infrequent, gnomic comments to the media, his frequent misjudgement of tackles, his glorious passing skills and his spectacular trademark long-range strikes on goal.
Everyone will have their favourite Scholes goal – many will cite the goal against Bradford City where David Beckham lofted a corner to the edge of the area for an unmarked Scholes to volley home, but here’s my favourite; scored at The Riverside against Middlesbrough in 2000.
Thanks, Paul, for this and many other wonderful memories.