The Greatest XI: Scholesy The Sat Nav

Football began over 150 years ago. For myself, personally, it began in 1990. At the age of ten, I fell in love with the sport and of course Manchester United. Watching the FA Cup Final with my father and his mates, followed by Italia ’90, it really did capture my imagination. This got me thinking, what or rather who would be my dream Manchester United eleven? Over the coming weeks, I shall be selecting my one to eleven.

8. Paul Scholes – Central Midfield

Another product of the famed “class of ’92”, Paul Scholes, certainly made his mark over his long Manchester United career. The Englishman wracked up over 700 appearances for the Red Devils, scoring 155 goals in all competitions. Scholes is a member of the Premier League 100 club, a prestigious club in which a player has scored a century of league goals or more.

There isn’t a player of his mould anywhere in the world.” – Glenn Hoddle, former England manager.

Scholes made his debut in 1994 during a League cup match at Port Vale. Scholes would go on to score a brace in the game, contributing to a 2-1 victory. Just a few days later, Scholes would again get himself on the scoresheet, this time making his league debut, away at Portman Road, Ipswich, albeit this time in a 3-2 defeat. Scholes was played in a more forward position, operating as either a striker or in the hole just behind. The rest of the season would see a sporadic amount of appearances, although a few more goals would help cement himself in the manager’s future plans.

It was the 1995-96 season that Scholes would really announce himself. With fan favourite, Mark Hughes, sold to Chelsea and Eric Cantona still serving his suspension for attacking a fan, Scholes was given the responsibility of supporting Andy Cole, in the forward positions. Scholes would go on to score fourteen times during the season, helping the team to a domestic double of FA cup and Premier League.

“At La Masia (Barcelona’s Academy) his name was mentioned a lot. He’s a teacher.” – Lionel Messi

With Scholes beginning to find his feet in the United team, Sir Alex would play him in a slightly deeper role, as to have more attacking options on the pitch and also cover for the long term injury of then skipper, Roy Keane. Scholes was famed for both his long range shooting or his arriving late into the box to convert crosses or knock downs from the forwards, a real knack of ” in the right place at the right time “.

The treble winning season of 1998-99 would be a mixed bag of emotions for Scholes. Coming home from a penalty shoot out defeat in France, at the hands of Argentina, United would set about on a season in which has never been seen before. A collection of Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League, all won within ten days. Scholes had contributed to some important goals during that season, the away goal at Inter Milan in the quarter final of the Champions League, booking United’s place into the semi’s. Unfortunately for Scholes, his disciplinary record would come back and bite him. A second booking during the semi final second leg in Turin would rule Scholes out, as well as Keane, for the Final in Barcelona. Scholes had scored the second goal in the FA Cup win over Newcastle United, then would only watch on as his team mates set about one of the greatest come backs in Champions League history.

Paul Scholes scored some fantastic goals during his career. His two volleys from corner kicks, against Bradford City and Aston Villa, respectively. Corner kicks chipped to the edge of the eighteen-yard box where Scholes would be lurking, waiting to hit a dipping volley into the back of the net. Absolute rascal efforts! The goal which decided the Champions League semi final 2nd leg at home to Barcelona in 2008. Picking up the ball around 20 yards out and unleashing a fierce drive past the despairing Victor Valdes. To be honest, if you went through the YouTube clips of all his goals, you would be hard pushed to find a tap in!

“For me, it’s Paul Scholes. He’ll do ridiculous things in training like say, ‘You see that tree over there?’ – it’ll be 40 yards away – ‘I’m going to hit it’. And he’ll do it. Everyone at the club considers him the best.” – Rio Ferdinand, Manchester United teammate when asked who he considers the best player at United

Scholes announced his retirement from International football in the summer of 2004. England had exited a major tournament by the usual route of penalties and Scholes thought it time to hang up his England travel bag and concentrate on what was his bread and butter back in Manchester. With England stuck playing a rigid 4-4-2 formation, Scholes was pushed wide left, to accommodate both Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard. In today’s modern day systems, just how good would those three be at playing together?! Unfortunately back then, it never really clicked.

Scholes would make up for his missing Champions League final appearance in ’99 and score the winner in the semi of 2008. This time no suspensions would hamper the midfielder’s participation. United would go on to beat Chelsea on penalties and this time Scholes would get to enjoy the moment, having contributed to the match itself.

The disciplinary side of Scholes nature was always a talking point. His tackling ability, or lack there of, was always questioned by pundits and managers alike.

“He is not as good a tackler as you – but I really like him. He’s a little boy, but the power in that shot… he can really shoot.” – Michael Essien, Ghana midfielder

Scholes holds the current record for most bookings in the Champions League with 32 and is in the top five of all time Premier League bookings – 99. Some would say that Scholes was a bad tackler, others would say he was spiteful!

The older Paul Scholes turned, the more revered he became. His range of passing seemed to widen with every year that ticked past. His trademark runs into the box had dried up as Scholes had become the midfield linchpin in which United would launch their attacks. Like the football equivalent of a quarter back, Scholes would pick up the ball deep inside his own half and spray an outrageous 60-yard pass out to the wing.

Time would catch up on Scholes and in 2011, the midfielder hung his boots up. A testimonial against New York Cosmos would bring down the curtain on the long serving Manchurian’s career. Scholes would open the scoring with a 25-yard thunderbolt on the way to a 6-0 win. Over 70,000 fans witnessed the final appearance at Old Trafford…… Or so they thought?

Encore

Scholes would sign onto the coaching staff at the club but just six months later, and with United having somewhat of an injury crisis, Scholes reversed his decision to retire and appeared in the third round of the FA Cup, away to Manchester City. United would win 3-2 and Scholes would sign a new eighteen-month deal. The following season, Ferguson and Scholes last, would see both lift the Premier League for one last time. A fitting send off for both player and manager.

“I have no hesitation in putting a name to the embodiment of all that I think is best about football. It’s Paul Scholes. Many great players have worn the shirt of Manchester United. Players I worshipped, then lost with my youth in Munich. Players like Denis Law and George Best who I enjoyed so much as team-mates and now, finally, players I have watched closely in the Alex Ferguson era. And in so many ways Scholes is my favourite. I love his nous and conviction that he will find a way to win, to make the killer pass or produce the decisive volley. When a game reaches a vital phase, these qualities seem to come out of his every pore. He’s always on the ball, always turning on goal. He’s always looking to bring other people into the action and if he loses possession you think he must be ill.” – Sir Bobby Charlton

Scholes would go on to win eleven Premier Leagues, three FA Cups, two League cup, two Champions Leagues, Intercontinental Cup and the Fifa World Club Cup. His personal honours include the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year  1992–93, Premier League Player of the Month (4): January 2003, December 2003, October 2006, August 2010
Premier League PFA Team of the Year (2): 2002–03, 2006–07
Premier League 10 Seasons Awards (1992–93 to 2001–02)
Domestic & Overall Team of the Decade
English Football Hall of Fame Inductee: 2008
Premier League 20 Seasons Awards (1992–93 to 2011–12)
Fantasy Teams of the 20 Seasons (Panel & Public choice)

Roy Keane’s partner in crime saddles up in this greatest eleven. The sat nav is set, those passes won’t be going astray in this side!

About the Author

John McNicoll
Southern Red and Football enthusiast.