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Our Paul – The genius who had no peers

He was not, as some tributes suggested, the complete midfielder. There were things he struggled with. As was well documented, he couldn’t really tackle. He rarely beat a man for pace. He didn’t quite have the stamina of other midfield greats. For all this, when I was recently informed that I had been uttering the words, ‘Paul Scholes was better’ in my sleep, I knew instantly that, whoever my advisory had heralded, I was probably correct. The scrawny, asthmatic, ginger lad with the eye problems was the finest English player of the past two decades. He was more super human than superhuman, his flaws only adding to the sense of wonder. He had no peers.

Scholes was, in a very real sense, our Paul. He felt like a part of the family, the cheeky younger brother, perhaps, with the guilty grin after he’d been caught misbehaving. If the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson was heralded as signalling the demise of a certain sort of football man, the exit of Scholes was another.

One of the most moving tributes I read after the untimely passing of a genius last week was that, ‘we knew everything about Tony Soprano and nothing about James Gandolfini. That is called great acting.’ It was the same with Scholes and football. Though wealth and fame were inevitable, he sought neither. The game was the thing in and of itself. He never had an agent because he didn’t need one. The Salinger of Salford was a private man whose only wish was to play football. If he’d had the personality of Beckham, he might now be considered in the pantheon of the immortals. His contemporaries are in little doubt about his abilities.

Fabregas called him ‘the best player in the Premier League’, Zidane described him as his ‘toughest opponent’ and Xavi said he was ‘the best central midfielder of the last 20 years’. He is referred to as the footballer’s footballer in much the same way as Larry David is labelled the comedian’s comedian – essentially the best.

He was not nicknamed ‘Sat-Nav’ for nothing. Ben Foster, somewhat surprisingly, considers Scholes his football hero. His reasoning makes for a wonderful tale:

‘It’s my very first session for Manchester United and the lads are practising their passing. I just watched them, for a minute in between my own drills. They were hitting diagonals, 40-50 yards.

Someone has rolled this ball into Scholesy. It’s bounced just before he could make contact – a really nasty bounce. He’s altered his body shape in the blink of an eye and just smashed this ball. It did not wobble in the air. It went like a bullet, four feet off the ground for 50 yards and Giggsy or whoever just did not move. They chested it down and off they went.

I said: ‘Bloody hell…did you see that?’ to the goalkeeping coach at the time who was Tony Coton. He had his back to what was going on. He couldn’t have seen what had happened. No way.

He didn’t turn around. He just went: ‘That was Scholesy, wasn’t it?’

Paul Scholes is a football genius.’

The plaudits aren’t just contemporaries either. Sir Bobby Charlton, generally considered the club’s greatest ever player, offered an alternative number one in his autobiography:

‘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 teammates and now, finally, players I have watched closely in the Alex Ferguson era. And in so many ways Scholes is my favourite.’

Some praise. And what of the man widely considered to be the greatest ever to have kicked a pig’s bladder around a patch of grass? Pele keeps it brief and to the point:

‘If he was playing with me, I would score so many more.’

Who does the man himself deem his own favourite player, though? He was asked in 2002, on the eve of England’s clash with Argentina.

‘Frankie Bunn. He scored six goals in a League Cup tie against Scarborough once.’

In opting for an Oldham player, someone he watched as a boy, Scholes displayed his wry sense of humour. But, more than this, he showed how singularly unaffected he was by the circus of modern football. He named Bunn because he was his hero as a child and, all those years later, he’d hardly changed a bit.

To be as good at anything as Paul Scholes was at football would be a rare blessing. He had ability in the way beautiful people have beauty or funny people have funny. It was simply part of him. There have been other excellent English players in the modern era but, in truth, none come close to matching his innate gifts. The goals, the passes, the movement, it was second nature to Scholes. Everything he did on the pitch seemed like a reflex, akin to sneezing for the rest of us mere mortals.

It was a genuine privilege to watch the man play for our club over the years. His second and final retirement came, rather aptly, slightly late. His final season was a personal disappointment if not a collective one. Scholes could not disguise his joy at the fact that Ferguson, Mourinho, Moyes and Rooney dominated the back pages on his final week as a professional. His exit strategy could not have been perfectly executed if it had been one of his trademark passes.

The Salford lad with the red hair and the red shirt will never play for United again. It’s hard to believe. Like Ferguson’s farewell, the end of a romance or anything else that matters in this strange world, keep in mind the wise words of Dr. Seuss. When he wasn’t banging on about cats in hats, the bloke had some useful advice.

‘Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.’

Watch footage of him and smile. Football, like life, is just a series of moments. And Scholesy provided us with some of the best ones.

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About Darren Richman

Darren's work has appeared in The Independent, The Guardian and The Daily Mirror. Follow @DarrenRichman on Twitter.

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  1. FletchTHEMAN says:


    First things first, It is best to dispense with any notion that Release Clauses are in place to protect the player. Maybe in rare cases. The fact that there was a low release clause at all in Thiago’s contract may have been down to his agent.

    BUT the essential features of a Release clause is to “protect the club”. To make sure the CLUB is compensated if the player leaves.

    So NEXT, you get to the
    “TYPE OF SALE”: Friend or Foe.
    Is it a sale that the club wants or not. Just like a car salesman, a player sale can have LOADS of hidden costs that are either up front or hidden. Covered by the sticker price, or added on at the end. Like sales tax.

    In Friendly sales, the selling club is often motivated to role in many hidden charges. One cost is VAT (value added tax). Just like a bottle of whiskey, a player sale requires payment of VAT in europe. Reports that we will buy Garay from Benfica for 18m don’t talk about us paying VAT. This is because Benfica presumably want the deal done and will pay the VAT themselves.

    What a about the opposite case: A HOSTILE BID. In cases like Thiago, where the club has no interest in the player going, the club can charge all sorts of add ons.
    VAT is about 17% (Thiago would thus go from 18m to 22.7m if United pay the VAT)
    Now MD (the link I posted above) is speculating that Barca are also asking for payment of the lads income tax. Don’t know the amount negotiated, but MD speculate this could drive the cost up to 27m total)

    At any rate, Buy out clauses are anything but straight forward.
    Curious if there are any on here with additional insight. Appreciate any comments yay or nay.

  2. Traffordium says:

    Barcelona must be shittin dere pants right now but we dont give a fuck now do we?Anywez a move for alcantara will just make future games against the Catalunyans interesting.With u on that one mate!

  3. AlphaRS says:

    Feel sorry for him. He really made a massive contribution to the set up at United and player development. I don’t get why Moyes would let him go. He has been a loyal servant to United and the club shouldn’t mess him about with his pay off. Sad days :(

  4. giggs11 says:


    well, i may be wrong, but as far as my understanding goes the VAT is always payed by the selling club. For example in the case of Götze, Bayern activated his €37 million release clause and then bought him over from Dortmund. The whole of the world thought that Dortmund had got €37 million, but only a few weeks ago Micheal Zorc the sport director of Dortmund made it clear that Dortmund would only gain just a little over €20 million from the transfer and the rest goes to the tax authorities.

    Also in the case of Martinez, Bilbao owed Osasuna €800,000 as he had played at Osasuna until the age of 17. Bilbao later wanted Bayern to pay that fee but Bayern didnt agree to it and just got on with the transfer.

    I dont know how exactly these things come into the Thiago saga but my general understanding is when you sell a product and profit from it you pay the taxes so its the selling club that normally does it. May be united dont want to ruin the relationship with Barca by triggering a release clause and are hence negotiating.

  5. samuel - united WE stand says:

    If it turns out thiago has been fucking united about and he allows barca to convince him to stay, he would be a massive bottler… A choker in fact. He’s probably the first younger player to stand up their board, he must carry this on and leave.

  6. samuel - united WE stand says:

    The fact rene leaving was not a wise move is as obvious as it gets, probably a better technical coach in england currently.

  7. samuel - united WE stand says:

    The fact rene leaving was not a wise move is as obvious as it gets, probably the best technical coach in england currently and one of the best in the world

  8. FletchTHEMAN says:

    giggs11 The selling club can apparently require we pay VAT

    Here is one source on Buy out clauses:

    Related to the Aguero sale:
    “In the past, clubs have agreed to include VAT in the invoice for a player’s transfer (which of course can be claimed back from the state). Now, if the bid is hostile, they will not. In other words, the buying club will have to pay the clause plus the 18 percent. So, Aguero’s price rises from €45M to €53.1M ($72M)”

  9. giggs11 says:


    cheers mate, thanks for clearing it all up. This saga is going to get interesting (read boring). I just hope united get this transfer wrapped up in time.

  10. The One says:

    Morning everyone!! I think it’s always advisable to take whatever’s written in the tabloids with a spoonful of salt, not merely a pinch!! I’m referring, in particular, to the latest article in the Sun about Moyes kicking out Rene Meulensteen. How much of this article is factual, we can’t really tell because there have been other articles about Rene Meulensteen being offered role by Moyes (

    It appears to me that most of the time, journalist just draw their own conclusion based on what they think they know, and you can infer from the way transfer rumours are being hatched on a daily basis. If you want to take them seriously, then United are probably after every Tom Dick and Harry that’s out there, and you gat Rooney being linked to every club whose manager has said something about him.

    The truth is out there somewhere but it won’t be clear until the season is well underway, or maybe even later.

  11. FletchTHEMAN says:


    Cheers mate.
    Not cleared up at all for me.

    I’m still confused. It’s just that now I am confused at a much higher level than I was at before! ;)

  12. giggs11 says:


    I understand it this way. We suppose that united trigger his release clause and then deposit the required amount in his bank account. That sum will be taxed and he will have to pay 44% of tax on that before he transfers the money to Barcelona. He will get the 44% tax back but will have to wait until the end of the financial year when the tax, income and expenditure of all families are cleared out.

    So united will have to wait a year to get that 44% back. So just tranfer the value of the release clause+18% VAT + 44% income tax and then you have your man. Then at the end of the year apply to the tax authorities to get the amount back and the 44% will be reinstated.

  13. AlphaRS says:

    If Alcantara stays if will be a proper choker. What do you think of Roo going the other war for an extra £10,000,000? That would value him at £27,000,000. Think he is undervalued there a bit.

    Can understand Moyes wanting to have his own people around him but letting a man of Rene’s experience go is just poor. Should United fail in Europe I wonder whether Rene not being there will be used as a reason.

  14. FletchTHEMAN says:

    Giggs11 and I was trying to keep it simple! Ha. Sounds like you understand it perfectly.

    What I was saying that I was confused about was why Barca are being such pissers.

    We practically gave them Pique under similar circumstances.

    At any rate, hoping we get this sorted up or down soon. I really despise transfer windows!

  15. FletchTHEMAN says:

    AlphaRS The sport witness article claims we only want 30m for Rooney.

    But I would rather have two £30M cow than one. (especially if the one really is worth more)

  16. Traffordium says:

    Roo should stay so we can fuck him more on the bench!

  17. Bobby Charlton's Combover says:

    Why would there be VAT for an EU pruchase? I work in Spain and we export to the UK and don’t charge VAT. Why would it apply to a footballer?
    The only time we charge VAT is the odd occasion the buyer doesn’t have a VAT number and even then it can be claimed back.

    In the case of Dortmund paying taxes on Gotze – VAT would apply within the same tax jurisdiction i.e. Germany in this case but not between EU countries.

  18. giggs11 says:

    well if the VAT doesnt apply for the transfer then it only makes it more easier for United to get Thiago. I read an article regarding transfers on sports illustrated and drew the point about VAT. I dont think Bayern paid any sort of VAT on the transfer for Martinez….so according to me it all hangs on thiago now, if he wants the transfer he gets it. The question is: does he really want the transfer to united or is just using united as a bargaining chip to get minuted at barcelona?

  19. Bobby Charlton's Combover says:

    Fair point Giggs 11 – Are United a bargaining chip for minutes at Barça and someone else mentioned he only wants to play for us to get into the WC squad. All hearsay really as we don’t know what’s going on inside his head.

    As for money issues then if we did pay say 20m personally to Thiago it would be liable to huge tax
    wheras if it went to Barcelona it would be corporate tax and we all know how good companies are at mitigating their tax liability.

    Thiago is a mercenary in the good sense. He wants to play football. He knows he’s good enough to play at the highets level and won’t settle for any old team and there is no harm in that. United want him and I reckon we’ll get him although it’s beginning to drag out.

  20. ColinZeal says:

    The only name besides Cantona that I have on my jerseys.

  21. connell says:

    He Is the ultimate my all time favorite a pure genius I have so many memories from him and my favorite a 10 minute cameo against arsenal in the cup pinging balls around like it was golf and nearly getting sent off for two lets say mistimed tackles it epitomized everything in ten minutes. What a LEGEND

  22. reDalerT says:


    “I hate this damn auto correct thing…but sometimes I love it”

    did autocorrect add that second part of the sentence too? haha :P


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