Paul Scholes, a name most revered by every Manchester United fan across the globe and respected by every true football fan and critic who has seen him play. As a young boy, he was one who excelled in football and cricket alike but as fate would have it, he chose football and it was as a 14 year old twinkle-eyed, brown-haired boy that our ‘Scholsey’ first joined the youth ranks at Manchester United and the rest as they say is history. Scholes was going to win every trophy imaginable including a grand haul of 10 Premier League medals only bettered by good friend and fellow club legend Ryan Giggs.
But for every bit of his legendary status that he truly deserves, it was not always as easy for him. As a young academy kid, he was seen by some as one who wasnt the paciest of players, couldnt tackle and the critics had remarked that he was certainly not a ‘typical’ British player.
- “A few of us including Robbo, are watching the Youth team and we ask the boss which ones are staying, going etc. etc. So he points to them one by one, “he’s staying” he’s going.” Robbo says, “What about the little Ginger lad?” Fergie – “Well, we’re not sure. He’s got loads of ability, but he’s not the quickest, and we’re not sure if he’s a striker or a midfielder. he can’t tackle either. We’ll most likely let him go.”2 minutes later, Scholes runs from a deep position exposing the two centre halves, goes through both with a shimmy and dummy, feints to shoot past the keeper, who then commits himself, and gets beaten by chip over a flailing hand. Robbo turns to the boss and says, “you don’t know f**king much about players, do you boss?”.
(Lee Sharpe revealing the conversation between Sir Alex, then captain Bryan Robson and a few first team players watching a youth game.)
The Ginger Prince might not have been the paciest or the best tackler but he didnt have to, his passing was immaculate and his vision supreme. He could wake up at midnight and still pass the ball upfield 40 yards and tear the opposition defence a new one. He was one of the best of his generation.
Unlike the common notion, he was not a part of the class of 1992 who won the FA Youth Cup, a team that featured Giggs,Butt,Gary Neville and Beckham. Scholes was a part of the youth team the following season and reached the FA Youth CUp final alonside Gary’s younger brother Phil Neville. Good performances in the youth cup had risen his stock and he signed his first professional contract in May ‘93, getting the shirt number 24.
But despite the promise that the young Salford boy showed, he did not make his breakthrough until 21-September 1994 when he scored a brace in a League Cup win over Port Vale. The league debut followed three days later and from there, there was to be no looking back for the 20 year old. The following year Scholes won his first Premier League crown , by now a regular fixture in the first team following the departures of Ince,Hughes and even covering up to play as a striker for the suspended Eric Cantona. And with his success followed his first England ‘cap’, first of 66 before he abruptly retired in 2004.
A string of League and Cup truimphs followed but what should have been the crowning moment in his career- playing in a Champions League final for his beloved club, was to turn into a nightmare. Scholes had got himself booked in the legendary semifinal tie between Juventus and United. United won but the booking ensure that Scholes would have to sit out the final alongside Roy Keane. Thin in the midfield in the final against a strong Bayern side that featured Lothar Mathaus for the final time, United fell behind early to a Mario Basler strike and Utd hardly struck anything of note in the game, that until the stoppage time, two goals from corners in injury time had won United THE treble and consigned Bayern to despair in one of the biggest turnarounds football had ever seen. Scholes might not have played but he had won his first CL medal.
That disappointment and resentment of having missed the Champions league final was to be trashed nine years later in Russia as Scholes’ United reached the final again against the oil-fuelled Chelsea. Scholes, this time, was a starter alongside Hargreaves and Carrick as United went on to win on penalties. His self-realization was now complete. In between these two continental truimphs were numerous cup and league trophies that Scholes had won.
Scholes was a Salford boy and he had only loved one team, the team that wears the red of Manchester- Manchester United FC. And for him, quite obviously, the crowning glory was to knock Liverpool right off their perch, something that he achieved before hanging his gold-filled boots. He was on form as an underwhelming United kicked off their 2010-11, often being the saviour of a United team that seemed terribly short on ideas and an out of form Rooney who went on to question the club’s ambition before eventually signing a new deal. And even though his contribution declined towards the fag end of the season, there can be no doubts that Scholes had played a key part in getting United another league success. A success that would put United on top of the footballing ladder in England and the most successful club in the land.
The 19th was indeed incredible, for the players and fans alike and it was years of domination by United that had culminated in the 19th title. These years had seen players come and go, players questioning the ambition of the club and others who preferred to talk off field than contribute on it. But Scholes was one in a generation man, and in all these years under Sir Alex and the numerous transformations, there was a constant- Paul Aaron Scholes. The midfield maestro had been a key ingredient to United’s successes for over a decade and a half. But that constant was no longer to be as he announced his retirement on May 31 2011, days after the Champions League final disappointment. And even his retirement was to come in classic Scholes’ manner, it came when he had just jetted off on a vacation, he was away not keen to revel in the limelight that surrounded his retirement and rather spend time with his family.
Scholes was an extraordinary player and a man of honour. He shall be adored not just by the United faithful but by every true football fan for his contribution football, for his slick passes and yes for his mistimed tackles too! He played the game because he loved it and more importantly he loved his club United. Ask any of his mates or the gaffer and everyone would unanimously agree that Scholes was usually the first in and last out of training. He trained hard for he had no second measures, he was going to go over these rigours so that he can prepare himself to play a part in his team’s victory. He was a player who believed in performance and the only love affair he ever had other than his spouse, was with United and its only fair that he would join the club’s coaching staff next season. Cut him and he’ll bleed the red of United.
Such was our legend, the legendary Ginger Prince King- Paul Scholes.
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