You have to search deep into footballs history to find someone of his kind of class and honour. Players like that dont 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. This is what Gary Neville wrote in his Daily Mail column last September.
Scholes was having a second wind. Even at 37 years of age, he was scoring goals, as he did against Wigan and was changing the course of a game as he did in a 30-minute cameo against Southampton. But then he injured his knee and Father Time finally caught up with him. Scholes had earlier retired once after the 2011 Champions League final, but he returned to the fold within eight months. The decision to quit a couple of seasons ago was a premature call. But this time, he chose his moment to perfection. Manchester United won their 20th League title, Sir Alex Ferguson decided to hang up his managerial boots and Scholes, too, quietly slipped under the radar. I just felt that I still had a bit of fire left inside me. But this time it is over for good, he said, humbly adding that he never considered himself a great of the game because he failed to win a World Cup or Euro. It was typical Scholesunderstatement personified.
During his extraordinary career that lasted for almost two decades, Scholes played 718 matches for Manchester United, won 11 Premier League titles, three FA Cups, two League Cups, two Champions League titles and one Club World Cup. He also played for England 66 times before retiring from international football at his peak when he got disillusioned with then England manager Sven-Goran Erikssons football philosophy.
The ginger-haired genius concentrated on his club career instead and became one of the most decorated players in the history of English football. Scholes, however, is a lot more than just the numbers.
He has always been scoring goals, sending defence-splitting passes and bringing order to the game. More importantly, he has always been a role model on and off the field an antidote to this over-hyped under-achieving era. He always preferred to go home and spend time with his family after a match. He loathed bright lights, premiers and after-parties.
I love football, have done since I first started kicking a ball as a boy. But Im not interested in the things that go with it. For me, its about the gamethe pleasure of striking the ball. Its not about having my name up in lights, Scholes said in a recent interview.
Unlike his former team-mate David Beckham, Scholes has never been a global brand. But he has been a global role model who taught everyone the importance of being dignified and modest. His hard tackles to opposition players never went well with Arsene Wenger. But Scholes did it for his teamto unsettle the opponents and to show who actually was the boss in the middle. He shook hands with his rivals after the games and no one begrudged him. Sports is increasingly getting caught in the quagmire of felony these days.
Almost every sport is mired by the claims of corruption. Silly money is ruling the roost. True role models are very few and far between. The likes of Scholes stand tall amid the persistent ruins. He is someone whom the kids can follow. United management has made an excellent decision by inviting him to join their coaching set-up. He will work with the youngsters and will instil his values among budding players. It really couldnt have been better.
As for his replacement on the pitch, new manager David Moyes has almost an impossible job at hand. Scholes was the best English player since Paul Gascoigne (Gazza). The latter had let booze get the better of him and went out with a whimper. Scholes was equally good on the ball. At his peak Scholes could have easily fitted into any great team from any
generation. And unlike Gazza, he had discipline.
Scholes could have pursued a career in cricket as well. He had the natural ability. But his passion for Oldham Athletic and his admiration for Frankie Bunn took him to football. The little-big man ended up transcending his sport.
Only the very talented and dedicated do that.
But now its over to Moyes as United begin life without Scholes. Michael Carrick was in fine fettle in the recently concluded season, but by his own admission, he could never be as good as his mentor. Shinji Kagawa doesnt have the physical presence to play in central midfield in the English Premier League. Moyes will have to make do, but United will definitely miss the physicality and panache of Scholes. Football will miss one of its most adorable exponents.