article by Teo Teng Kiat @twitter.com/tengkiat
You know you must be doing something right when five Barcelona players, including Xavi and Messi, want to swap shirts with you after a game. Iniesta got the jersey of the United number 18 that night after the Champions League final on Saturday, and he will remain the last player to have the honor of doing so, after Paul Scholes announced his retirement today, with 676 appearances, 10 league titles and a host of other trophies to his name.
The Ginger Prince has never been one to boast or brag about his achievements though, glorious as they might be. He simply lets his football do the talking on the pitch. A famously taciturn and almost reclusive character, he has shunned the limelight for most of his career; indeed, one could probably count the number of interviews he has given on both hands throughout his career. Here is a player, whose definition of an ideal day, in his own words, is to simply “train in the morning, pick up the kids from school, go home, play with kids, have tea, get them up to bed, and then come down to watch a bit of TV.”
Roy Keane once called him “an amazingly gifted player who remained an unaffected human being.” On the field though, his talent was never in doubt. From the moment he scored a brace on his debut against Port Vale in the League Cup in 1994, to the end of his career, he has been hailed as one of the most talented players to have come through the ranks of Old Trafford, and the finest English midfielder of his generation. Used to scoring goals for fun in his early years, a Scholes thunderbolt might be a rarer sight nowadays, but the anticipation is always there from the fans: the United faithful never fail to urge him to shoot whenever gets within 30 yards of the goal.
As the legs got heavier, and the body felt older, Scholes adapted his game to play in a deeper central midfield role, where his superb vision came into use. Anyone who watches him play will notice that he knows exactly what to do whenever he receives the ball, because in his mind, he already has a mental map of where everyone else is on the pitch before he even gets the ball. He has the ability to see the game three steps ahead of others, to make space for himself where there was none before. His teammates at United call him Sat-Nav; you just make the run when Scholes has the ball, because you don’t have to worry about him finding you. He makes 50 yard laser-guided passes look like the easiest thing in the world to do, and he keeps doing it over and over again.
True, he wasn’t the best tackler of a ball. The accusation that this constitutes a dirty side of Scholes’ game is unfair, though. Most of his tackles were genuine attempts at winning the ball, albeit mistimed. And surely, he is allowed a little imperfection to his game. While the English moan about his tackling, and shunted him to the left to accomodate Gerrard and Lampard, a move which led to Scholes calling time early on his international career, other footballers were much more appreciative.
The great Zinedine Zidane hailed Scholes as his toughest opponent, and “undoubtedly the greatest midfielder of his generation.”, adding that not being able to play alongside him was one of the greatest regrets. Xavi says that he is the most complete midfielder in the last 15-20 years.From the likes of Thierry Henry, Laurent Blanc, Patrick Vieira, Edgar Davids, Xabi Alonso, Peter Schmeichiel, Andres Iniesta…the amount of praise and respect and admiration goes on. It is also telling that successive England coaches after Sven-Goran Eriksson have all tried, and failed, to lure Scholes back into the international fold.
What a privilege it has been to watch him dictate play for United for the past ten years of my life. I might not remember much of his earlier days, like that goal straight from a Beckham corner he half-volleyed like a rocket at Bradford, or his sublime chipped finish against Panathinaikos. But I always get a slight tingling in my spine whenever I saw him on the pitch, doing what he does best, in that quiet, unassuming manner of his. A great footballer, and a great man as well. The term “legend” is used rather loosely nowadays, but there is absolutely no doubt that Paul Scholes belongs to that elite category of players.
Thank you, Scholesy, for all the glorious memories. You will be missed.