To mark the 10th anniversary of RoM today, there will be several articles remembering some of the best moments for Manchester United fans over the past decade. Greg Johnson, the Features Editor for Squawka, has spoken about one of his favourite memories.
Football is full of intangibles that are difficult to define but key to why we all fall so deeply in love with the game. The level of skill, timing, coordination and intelligence achievable by the top players can be a mesmerising part of the on-field spectacle and allure. After all, if it were a sport solely governed by running speed and athleticism, it would be a far shallower and less engrossing affair altogether.
That’s why the return of Paul Schole in 2012, coming out of retirement for one last job on the field, patching up Fergie’s final, undernourished midfield, was so special and so memorable. On he came against Manchester City in the FA Cup — a surprise name on the team sheet and a morale boost for those in the stands and in the dressing room. His selection had even been kept a secret from those he would be playing with: another little stroke of genius by a manager who always found a fresh angle for keeping his teams alert, motivated and interested.
Scholes was lacking more than just match fitness. Over the months that would follow, as he helped steer the club to yet another league title, as a midfield problem solver brought on to get a grip of possession or close out a game already won, the physical quickness never returned. How could it? He was an asthmatic closing in on 40. Not that it mattered. He still lorded over almost every game he was sent on to master. The mental speed and dexterity of Scholes the footballer within his own mind had only increased as his body had declined.
United, lifted by his return to the team, won their FA Cup match against City 3-2 and the season after collected their 20th league title, with their Ginger Prince assuming his throne deep in midfield like a wise old king. Robin van Persie couldn’t help but emote over having the opportunity to play ahead of the midfielder. The press and the public fell over themselves to offer him the plaudits he had always deserved.
When his second retirement came, it was clear this time it would be permanent. No more surprise cameos or comebacks but then again there was no longer any business left unfinished. Ferguson’s time had come to an end, a new era was on the horizon and Scholes, the one-club veteran who had prospered in every position, from second striker to deep-lying anchorman, headed off into the sunset of the TV studio, leaving no doubt as to his genius.
What a privilege it was to enjoy one last chance to watch a footballer dominate a game through thought, finesse and experience over mindless over-expenditure of effort and wasteful physicality. In Scholes, we all had a window into the ultimate source of football’s mystique and wonder, whether we knew it at the time or not.