Sven-Goran Eriksson will have left several mistakes imprinted in England fans’ minds, but no error in judgement could match the one which lead Paul Scholes to retire from International duty. Paul Scholes was played out of position to accommodate two inferior players, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. The failed midfield pairing, who have still yet to prove their worth when playing alongside each other, forced Scholes to the left of the midfield, a role which he didn’t enjoy and which didn’t flatter him as a player. There were calls for him to be dropped and in the end Scholes jumped before he was likely to be pushed.
“I decided to call it a day with England because it just wasn’t any fun any more. I don’t know why it became like that, I’d just stopped enjoying it,” explained Scholes. “I like being at home as well there was an awful lot of time away from home and my family and for me there’s nowhere better than Manchester.”
Scholes is a top quality player, with his ability being matched by his modesty and unassuming nature. He became the ninth player to complete five hundred appearances for the club last season, scoring a goal against Liverpool on this special day. He is a self-deprecating man who has always shied away from the limelight, and this marvellous achievement of entering United’s ‘500 Club’ was met with his usual reserved nature. He has always been far more concerned with the team doing well than he has with any individual praise and United have been extremely lucky to have such a player on our books for so long.
His retirement from England was met with great relief from United fans who were eager to preserve our midfielder for as long as possible. At 29, he wasn’t getting any younger, and we wanted to get the best out of him for as long as possible. He hit top form for United in 2005, only to sit out the second half of the season up until the last game of the season in May 2006 in our 4-0 win over Charlton. ‘Blurred vision’ was the reason and United fans had been left to fear he would never return. Fortunately for us he did, and whilst Ronaldo took the plaudits for last season’s success, I stand by my opinion that we would not have won the league last season if we didn’t have Scholes in the team. The hole left by his absence on the rare occasion he didn’t play, most notably our 1-0 defeat at home to Arsenal, was striking.
This season, we have been fortunate to have new signing Anderson in the team, which has meant we haven’t missed Scholes as much as we might have anticipated when he was ruled out in October until the New Year. As the years have past and Ferguson focussed on finding a replacement for Keane, whose end of a United career loomed over us, it has been finding a replacement for Scholes that has really concerned me. Looking at footballers all over the World, watching the central midfielders in the best teams across Europe, a player of Scholes’ qualities and characteristics cannot be found. Of course it is only early days where Anderson is concerned, but if his performances this season, particularly against the strong midfields of Liverpool and Arsenal, are anything to go by, then we’ve certainly found someone in the Scholes mould.
Without Scholes, England’s major talking point has been the central midfield roles, and how Gerrard and Lampard don’t cut it when playing alongside each other for their country. Steve McClaren saw his side suffer unimaginable defeats and struggle to perform. With Scholes playing so well, it seemed all too obvious to ask him to come back to represent his country again. “It wasn’t a straightforward decision,” Scholes said, when talking about McClaren’s two failed attempts of bringing him out of International retirement. “Of course it’s flattering when the England manager comes and asks you to go back. I did think about it for a while but, in the end, I decided against it. I’ve been happy the last two years not playing for England and basically I decided I didn’t need to go back.”
Following the sacking of McClaren and the appointment of Fabio Capello, talk of Scholes returning to England has been resurrected. “The players are first-rate and there are plenty to choose from,” Capello said. “Plus, there’s one or two who retired who I hope to bring back. It will take time and results to convince everyone.” It appears as though Capello is referring to Scholes and Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher, who more recently announced his retirement from International duty after being repeatedly overlooked for a place in England’s starting team.
After the likes of Eriksson and McClaren, who have picked their players based on celebrity rather than form, England fans will be relieved to see a man like Capello take the position as manager. Marcel Desailly, who played for Capello at Milan, has said today, “when you are in the training camps, you cannot do what you want, Capello has his own rules. Capello does not receive advice from anybody. He would die with his ideas and, most of the time, they are the correct ones.” Unlike the spineless managers before him, Capello would have the balls to drop both Lampard and Gerrard if needsby, and if Scholes did return to the England fold, playing alongside his United team mate, Owen Hargreaves, would be an exciting prospect.
The problem is, however, the chances of Scholes choosing to play for England again are rather slim. He is now 32 and in the twilight of his career. Whilst his form cannot be faulted, his legs can only endure a certain amount of games a season. Towards the end of last year, he looked a shadow of the player we know and love when facing Milan in the European Cup semi final and Chelsea in the FA Cup final. He racked up 45 appearances for us last season in all competitions and that really took its toll by May. Whether he’d be willing to sacrifice his club form for a few appearances to help England qualify for the World Cup in 2010, a competition he would be unlikely to play in, seems extremely unlikely. Had England qualified for Euro 2008, he might have been more tempted to play for a manager like Capello, who would value him more than Eriksson did.
Paul Scholes has proven himself already, with his seven league titles, three FA Cup winners medals, and a European Cup, and won’t feel the need to justify himself and cause the fuss his return to the England team would create.
Will Scholes play for England again? Do you think he should?