True club heroes are hard to come by. Those players that encapsulate precisely what it means to play for the club you support, that give heart and soul for the shirt and give you reasons to love the game. It’s fair to say Manchester United have housed many of these over the years, but few with the global appeal of Paul Scholes. Simply put, Scholes was Manchester United through and through.
A student of the ‘Class of ’92’, Scholes developed into possibly the finest midfielder of his generation. A flawless game (possibly excluding tackling) and a passing ability enough to make you believe in angels, Scholes’ eye for the spectacular was there from the first day he stepped out onto the field at The Cliff. But things could have been very different but for one moment of inspiration that Lee Sharpe recalls to this day;
“The senior pros – Robson, Bruce, Schmeichel, McClair – always used to watch the third team, which was then the A team, and Scholes was playing. Robson turns to the manager and says ‘who are you keeping, who are you letting go?’ and he obviously said ‘we’re keeping Beckham, Butt, Neville, this lad, that lads going and we’re not sure about the little red-head in the middle.
“Then Scholesy gets the ball on the edge of the box, fakes to shoot and drags it, defender slides past him, fakes to shoot again and drags it, and another midfielder slides past him, shuffles between 2 centre-halves, fakes to shoot, keeper goes down onto one knee and Scholesy scoops it and dinks it into the bottom corner.
“And Robson turns to the manager and went ‘are you sure you know what you’re talking about?'”
Who knows, had Scholes not dazzled at that exact moment then things may well have taken a different path. But sense was seen, and Scholes was offered a professional deal that he signed on 23rd July 1993. It was a year before he made his first team debut for the club, 21st September 1994, and 3 days later he hit his first goal in a 3-2 defeat against Ipswich Town. He finished the season with 5 goals in 17 appearances, and a place in the first team that he would not relinquish until the day he retired (and then came out of retirement, and then retired again).
Such a long and illustrious career can be broken down, but it would take forever and a day to do so. 718 games and 155 goals is some record, but what really sums up the diminutive midfielder are quotes from professionals and the lasting impression his leaving left on the side. So missed was he that Sir Alex Ferguson saw it necessary to recall him from his retirement to aid his failing team. It hindered the development of Paul Pogba, a risk the boss was willing to take.
Inter Milan famously tried to sign Scholes, the response from Scholes is well-known by all. His dedication to all things United was unmatched by any player past or present. The regard he is held in by those that both played with and against him speaks more than any words ever could. Quite simply put, Paul Scholes is one of the greatest players to wear the shirt and all who have watched him will speak of him long after the likes of Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba have been and gone.
Perhaps he has become more outspoken in his punditry, grumpy and unhelpful in some of his analysis, but it all comes from his love for the club and the service he gave over so many years. His disciplinary record on the field may not be enviable, but the way he held himself off field is an example many modern stars can take note of. There will never be another like him, someone that can score all types of goals, pass the ball 70 yards with a deft flick of his right boot. My words may not do him justice, so I will let another legend of the game say it all for me.
“My toughest opponent? Scholes of Manchester. He is the complete midfielder. Scholes is undoubtedly the greatest midfielder of his generation.” – Zinedine Zidane. Three time World Player of the Year winner.