Scholes is simply the best English player of his generation
21:40 GMT, 15 September 2012
Two weeks ago we watched a football
match in which a 25million new signing scored a hat-trick and came off
the pitch to announce that a 37-year-old substitute should be man of the
match. That, of course, was Robin van Persie talking about Paul
Scholes, who played his 700th match for Manchester United.
He had come on for just 30 minutes
against Southampton but, in the words of Sir Alex Ferguson, he ‘brought
order to the game’. That ability, for one player to be able to set the
direction of a match and to control its tempo, is extraordinary. Paul
Scholes is one of the very few in the world who can do it.
I must have trained and played with
him thousands of times and in every one of those training sessions and
matches that’s what he was doing: bringing order to the game.
Timeless: Paul Scholes continues to defy the years, scoring the first in another sensational display against Wigan
The best illustration I can give of
his talent is that at Manchester United there was always a possession
drill in training designed to develop our passing ability, which might
be three players against another three players, or six versus six, or
nine versus nine. But no matter what the numbers were, the side with
Paul Scholes on their team would always win by keeping the most
He reached that historic
landmark for United, one of only three men to have made that many
appearances for the club, along with Sir Bobby Charlton and Ryan Giggs.
And, despite the fact that he scored the opening goal, he
will have quickly headed home, ignoring the fuss, just as he has done
after the previous 699 games.
In fact, his only concern would have been whether his 700th game had brought a victory for his team.
At the heart: United players run to congratulate Scholes after his goal on his 700th United outing
You have to search deep into
football’s history to find someone of his kind of class and honour.
Players like that don’t seem to exist any more. There might be no
knighthoods, no MBEs or OBEs, but every single team-mate will say he is
the best they have ever played with. And every player he had played
against, including Xavi and Zinedine Zidane, would say he is the best
midfielder they have faced. Every fan or every club, no matter who they
support, loves the way Paul Scholes plays.
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He’s a private man, a family man, and
those are the parts of his life he values most. He doesn’t have an
agent, he doesn’t employ a PR guru and there are no celebrity mates.
He’s just a kid from Middleton who grew up playing football on the
streets and achieved his dreams. He is certainly the best player I’ve
ever played with and the best English player of his generation.
He’s a model performer for younger
footballers to look to in how he plays on the pitch. And given that he’s
approaching his 38th birthday, and coming to the end of his career, I
would urge anyone who loves football, particularly if they have a child
who wants to learn from professionals, to go along to watch him play in
the flesh this season.
Don’t watch anyone else. Just watch
him for 90 minutes. Sacrifice your gate money and don’t look at the
ball, unless Scholes has it. Don’t worry about watching the goals or any
other player. Just look at his positioning, where he places himself,
his body shape when he receives the ball, where he moves when he hasn’t
got the ball and how he sets himself to play the ball. You’ll learn more
about the game in 90 minutes than you will from any coaching video or
There’s just one thing I’m worried
about. As soon as he finds out that I’ve written this article about him,
he will be texting me to say: ‘What the hell did you do that for’ But
for once I have to ignore his concerns. Today he should be in the
Special: Neville and Scholes share moment after the latter's winner at Manchester City in 2010
Why Jose’s the man to rule Europe
It doesn't seem that long since we were all stunned and impressed by that extraordinary night in Munich when Chelsea won the Champions League. And it seems strange to recall that for much of last season we were talking about the decline of English clubs in the tournament.
Prize guy: Mourinho knows what
it takes to win the Champions League, having done it with Porto and Inter Milan (above)
Even after Manchester City and Manchester United were knocked out in the group stages and Arsenal went out in the last 16, I did mention in this column that it could still be a good year for Chelsea. But no one really expected them to win the tournament as they proved that you can never write off English clubs.
And I think it’s possible we will see a more concerted revival of the English this season. Certainly I fully expect all four clubs to qualify for the knockout stages, including City, who again have a dog of a group.
In fact, I think we might be in for a good era for English football. With the new TV deal the Premier League signed this summer, worth 1billion a year from next season, with the overseas TV deal being negotiated at the moment, English clubs are well placed to return to their glory years of the late Seventies and early Eighties, when they provided successive winners, or from 2005-09, when they dominated the semi-finals and provided two winners.
This week saw UEFA take prizemoney away from 23 clubs, including Europa League winners Atletico Madrid under their Financial Fair Play rules, which limit spending to the amount of money you can generate. And though City might suffer under those rules, the new TV deals mean most English clubs will be in a better position than ever.
That money is for the future, though. This season Real Madrid and Barcelona remain the biggest threat, but you sense Jose Mourinho is the one manager in Europe who almost has to win it. The expectation on him will be immense. But I also believe this will be a vintage year for English clubs in which I fully expect to see all four of our clubs in the quarter-finals and two in the semis.
Put all rivalries to one side
Some events go beyond football and the traditional rivalries we have. Last Wednesday’s report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel was one of those moments.
Whoever you support and wherever your allegiance lies, it was impossible not to be moved by the revelations. What we heard was shocking and disgusting.