“You’ll be lucky” Ferguson laughed, responding to the journalist who asked whether Paul Scholes would be coming out for an interview. Scholes had just made his 500th game for United, against Liverpool, at Old Trafford, and scored the opening goal. Like so many of my favourite moments for United, it was like something out of a fairytale.
However, typical to Scholes’ shy and retiring nature, he wasn’t interested in the limelight. He’s paid to do a job and that day wasn’t different to any other for him. Whilst us mere mortals can only dream of such an occasion, it did nothing to overwhelm Scholesy.
Following his semi-final winning goal against Barcelona, several people have been reminded was a class act Paul Scholes is.
The man described by Sir Bobby Charlton as “the heart of Old Trafford” is sure to have a big part to play in Moscow.
Paul Scholes earns a salary of about £3 million a year, which is more than enough to meet his needs. It has bought him a couple of racehorses and a nice house in Saddleworth, near Oldham. It has paid for a holiday home, where he takes about a dozen of his family and friends every summer. For a man of basic tastes, that amounts to a life of plenty.
You could mount a very strong argument that his income is still way below the market rate if Rio Ferdinand can earn at least 50 per cent more from Manchester United and Frank Lampard can demand at least double that figure from Chelsea — but it is not a case that will be put with any great force by Scholes himself.
There are no outrageous demands, no holding the club to ransom, no leaks from agents about clandestine approaches from Juventus. Contract talks are concluded in a matter of minutes because Scholes, like Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, seems grateful for the opportunity to play for a great institution rather than regarding United as fortunate to have him.
When he hangs up his boots, we will miss his tight turns, his raking passes and the increasingly rare, cannonball shots. But most of all we may miss what he represents, which flies in the face of just about every trend in modern football. Scholes is anticelebrity, anti-greed, the very opposite of flash and grasping. That does not make him unique, but it does set him among the last of an old and dying breed.
When he scored the superb winner against Barcelona in the semi-final, second leg, every media outlet craved a word from the match-winning hero but Scholes refused all approaches. What was to be gained by talking? He had already reminded us of his prowess on the pitch.
Scholes stands alone to the extent that his team-mates, such as Giggs, do not have a clue what he will do when he retires, a day that cannot be so far away. Perhaps he will sit at home and try to figure out what to do with all the money that has been a happy by-product, not the motivation, of his playing years.
Paul Scholes is what he is because of an all-encompassing desire to succeed and a ruthlessness to go with it… Scholes may be the best footballer to play in this country since the inception of the Premier League.There used to be many goals, from poacher’s prod to tour de force. Of course, it also helps that he has imagination, a sense of the game’s shape in the midst of tumult and perceptiveness in short or long passes…Everybody is familiar with the alacrity with which he signed each new contract, the indifference to commercial opportunities and the stability of his personal life.
One of the finest central players of his generation, Scholes seems to be living a charmed life this year, and make the most of it he surely must. It was he who scored the only goal of the tie against Barcelona, a 20-yard swerving screamer into the top corner…This match, the pinnacle of European club football, could represent something of a final swansong for Scholes and what an apt and glorious way victory would be to set the seal on a marvellous career.
How about professionals in the game, what do they make of Scholes?
Marcello Lippi, World Cup-winning coach who admits there are only a handful of current England players that he really rates. As befits a manager who has worked with Zinedine Zidane, Edgar Davids and Pavel Nedved during a glittering career, Lippi has high standards.
“Paul Scholes would have been one of my first choices for putting together a great team – that goes to show how highly I have always rated him,” he said. “Scholes is a player I have always liked, because he combines great talent and technical ability with mobility, determination and a superb shot. He is an all-round midfielder who possesses character and quality in abundance. In my opinion, he’s been one of the most important players for United under Sir Alex.”
Peter Schmeichel, who played in the European Cup winning final that Scholes missed through suspension, puts up a good argument for the greatness of Scholes.
“People say he is a great player, but you have to define what a great player is,” Schmeichel said. “For me, it is a player who has a bottom level that means his worst performance is not noticed. If he is having a bad game, a team-mate might feel Paul Scholes is not quite on his game, but a spectator wouldn’t notice. Scholes, of all the players I have played with, has the highest bottom level. He has an eye for a pass, for what the play or the game needs at that precise moment, that I have never seen anyone else have. These days he doesn’t get into the box too many times, which is where you can see his age, but he has developed tactically. He controls and distributes the play and the game better than anyone I have ever seen.”
Roy Keane, former United captain and team mate of Scholes, who is not known for lavishing praise on his team mates, speaks highly of the Salford lad.
“No self-promotion – an amazingly gifted player who remained an unaffected human being,” he said in his autobiography.
Edgar Davids, at his peak, whilst still playing for Juventus, rated Scholes as the greatest in the business.
“I’m not the best, Paul Scholes is,” he said. Four years later, after moving to the Premiership, his admiration continued. “Paul Scholes is underestimated,” he said. “He has proved over the years that he is in the world’s top ten, he can do everything.”