Manchester United has an outstanding midfielder in Paul Scholes, who came though the famous Class of 92 alongside the likes of Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and brothers Phil and Gary Neville. Scholes began training with United at the age of 14, joining the club in 1991 when he left school. Scholes is asthmatic, which did not seem to hamper his footballing career and also suffered from Osgood–Schlatter disease, something which affects younger athletes.
Trained by the late Eric Harrison, Scholes and his teammates shone brightly at a young age, which is something that set him and many others up for their entire careers. In 1992 and 1993, United won the FA Youth Cup at a time where the Class of 92 started to graduate from youth football, setting sights towards reaching the first team, at the time managed by Sir Alex Ferguson. Scholes and his teammates had the talent to succeed, some of them for a number of years.
Scholes was not part of the team that lifted the trophy in 1992 against Crystal Palace after a 6-3 aggregate victory but the following year, beating Leeds United 4-1 on aggregate, he played in both legs of the final. This saw him rise into the first team, although in the 1993/94 season he did not made a single appearance with United winning back-to-back Premier League titles before he kicked a ball in the team. He did win 11 league titles during his career though, so missing out on two will not faze him.
At the start of the 1994/95 season, with United seeking to win the Premier League for the third season in a row, Scholes made his debut at first team level, starting against Port Vale in the League Cup second round first leg at Vale Park with the ginger ninja scoring a brace in the 2-1 victory. He scored seven goals in 25 appearances throughout all competitions that season with a new, youthful United team pushing themselves forward. However, that season, Blackburn Rovers pipped United to their third Premier League crown.
By the 1995/96 season, all six members of the Class of 92 were regular starters in the first team with Ferguson’s grip on the club showing signs of success, which would continue to run for almost the entirety of the manager’s career at the club. Scholes was becoming a magnificent player for the club and that would drive him to play for the club for the remainder of his career, and then some.
Scholes was great with a football. He could pick out a teammate or even the manager from the other side of the training ground, hitting them exactly where he wanted to. This led to him being nicknamed ‘Sat-Nav’ by his teammates. Scholes won his first Premier League title in the 1995/96 season, doubling the clubs glory with the FA Cup that season also – the club second double in three seasons. Trophies and medals were something players of Scholes’ ability were always going to win. It is just a shame that he could not have won something when playing for England.
Scholes was capped by England from 1997 until 2004 when he retired from international football. He played 66 times, scoring 14 goals, which included a hat-trick against Poland at Wembley and a brace against Scotland at Hampden Park the same year, both matches were UEFA Euro 2000 qualifiers. Scholes also played in the FIFA World Cup in 1998, UEFA Euro 2000 and 2004 with England not getting any bragging rights despite more than 30 years of hurt. No fault of his own – they tried but it was not meant to be.
Scholes hung up his boots for England in 2004. Perhaps it was too early but the player had a young family and he was missing a lot so decided to stick to club football. He also did not think that his form in his last 20-30 matches was good enough and Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard were the main starters in the team, at least centrally. It was a choice that he regrets making so soon. Earlier this month, Scholes said:
“I had a young family at the time and going away for England for ten days at a time, sometimes six weeks in the summer, it just wasn’t ideal and I wasn’t enjoying it.
“I know a lot was made of Sven-Goran Eriksson playing me on the left-hand side of midfield but that was never the problem.
“My form in the last 20 or 30 caps wasn’t quite good enough and Steven and Frank were two top-class players who he went with centrally.
“I went on the left but I played there many times for United and was quite successful there, scored a few goals so it was never really why I left England.
“It was just a personal choice.
“I do regret leaving England so soon. I went back to United and my football changed.
“I had been a player who was expected to score goals all the time for England, which I was judged on.”
Before the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, Fabio Capello wanted Scholes to come out of international retirement, six years after making what may have been a premature decision. At the time, he was playing in a much deeper midfield role, a position he had only played in for United. England had a few injuries and he was given a few days to decide. He remained in international retirement, clearly feeling that he had made the right decision six years earlier. Scholes said:
“I was tempted to come back, you’d hear whispers all the time but there was only the one time really officially.
“It was before the World Cup in South Africa, I’d played well that season and they were struggling with a few injuries.
“Fabio Capello wanted me to come back, I got a phone call from Stuart Pearce who was on the staff.
“I had a few days to think about it and I felt I was playing well enough, I just decided that it was wrong.
“I hadn’t been involved in qualifying and there were other players who had been in the squad for two years, being away from their families.
“Sir Alex Ferguson saw that he wanted me to play well into my 30s and I needed a different position.
“I moved back and controlled games from midfield, sitting deep, and I was never that player for England.
“I ended up playing there for five or six years and looking back playing there from 30-35 was probably the most enjoyable part of my career.
“I really enjoyed that position, I wasn’t scoring goals but to sit back and control games, I really enjoyed it. I finished with England too early to progress in that position.”
Scholes impressed many a player at United, one that thought he was phenomenal was Nani, who signed for United from Sporting CP, just like Cristiano Ronaldo. Nani was a good player but consistency was something he lacked a lot of the time, but saying that, he was responsible for some great goals which led to achievements for United. The Portuguese winger was taken aback by Scholes, confirming that he was phenomenal, saying:
“One player who really surprised me and impressed me a lot in the beginning was Paul Scholes – he was phenomenal.
“My favourite was still Cristiano Ronaldo – the best. Best player ever? I have seen so many… even from the past like Maradona, Pele… but I would pick my companion of many battles, someone I have won so much with, someone I really respect.
“Numbers don’t lie and they also show he is the best – Cristiano Ronaldo.”
Scholes could have been considered as the or if not one of the best midfielders in world football during his career. He seemed to be a one club player and never really cause much trouble, seemingly happy to continue to play for United and do what he could on the pitch, the majority of the time at least. Speaking to the BBC recently, Scholes confirmed that he was never really made aware of other clubs wanting to sign him, other than one conversation he had with a football agent. He said:
“I was never ever made aware of any team coming in for me. I did have one phone call off an agent, Bryan Robson’s old agent, he rang me while we were away at Euro 2000 to ask me if I would be interested in going to Inter Milan but that’s the only phone call I ever had.
“I never heard anything after that and the manager never said anything to me. I was playing at my boyhood club, I was a Manchester lad, we were winning trophies all the time.
“If the manager said to me that he didn’t want me I would definitely have gone if there was a big club abroad who wanted me but there was never any need to ever think about Barcelona, Real Madrid or AC Milan because I was at the biggest club in the world anyway.
“We didn’t win as many Champions Leagues as we should have but we were every inch as good as those teams, if not better.”
Scholes will be remembered from one of the coolest Manchester United goals of all time which came against Barcelona in the clubs run to reaching and winning the UEFA Champions League in 2008. After a 0-0 draw at the Nou Camp, United were at home to Barça needing something special. It was Scholes’ goal that did just that, putting United into the final in Moscow in which they would face Chelsea. What seemed like greatness personified was confirmed as slicing the ball. Scholes said:
“I miskicked it, personally. I sliced it off my foot.”
Scholes ended his career at United at the end of the 2010/11 season, winning 10 Premier League titles, three FA Cups, two League Cups, five FA Community Shields, two UEFA Champions League trophies, one Intercontinental Cup and one FIFA Club World Cup.
He played in his testimonial on the 5 August 2011 against the New York Cosmos, reunited with Eric Cantona who was the director of football for the club. United won 6-0 with Scholes scoring the opening goal with a trademark free-kick from 25 yards. He was a big miss for United, who struggled in midfield thereafter.
His retirement lasted around six months or so with the player resigning for United in January 2012 and coming on as a substitute against Manchester City, a 3-2 victory in the FA Cup that season. That season was to be his last, along with Ferguson, who announced his plans to return towards the end of the season. United, Ferguson, and Scholes ended this in style though, wrestling the Premier League title from City, making it number twenty, a two-title lead over Liverpool.
Scholes’ career was a great one for United, playing 718 times and scoring 155 goals. He only made 499 league appearances for United, one more might have been fitting. Paul Scholes, Sat-Nav, the Ginger Ninja, whatever you called him can only be replaced with the word; legend.
Written by John Walker