At their effortless best, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs were the principal puppet masters of any football match. Blessed with a textbook technique and the foresight to predict the events unfolding around them, the dynamic duo could manufacture passes that I would struggle to recreate in my dreams. They are the last two shining lights of the golden generation, but is their influence beginning to deteriorate at Old Trafford?
In the three Premier League fixtures in which Manchester United have suffered defeat this season, either messrs Giggs or Scholes have started from the first whistle. A significant number of fans voiced their concern when Giggs and Michael Carrick were named at the heart of a 4-4-2 formation at Carrow Road. Sensing an upset was on the cards, their fears were confirmed as Norwich controlled the midfield battle and secured a vital 1-0 win thanks to an Anthony Pilkington header.
With a combined age of 77, few can expect the veteran Red Devils to drive from box-to-box or repeatedly get stuck into those meaty tackles. The onus is therefore on other members of the squad to provide the steel and grit needed to compliment the pair and while Carrick is incredibly gifted at dictating tempo or maintaining possession, the club have lacked such a talisman since the departure of Roy Keane.
Speaking of ITV’s plain-speaking pundit, perhaps the reason Scholes and Giggs have remained at Old Trafford for so long is down to their unwavering devotion to Sir Alex Ferguson. Their reliability and authority on the pitch undoubtedly extends into the dressing room, where they command respect among the young starlets of the squad and are unlikely to court controversy by challenging their manager.
Chelsea would do well to emulate Ferguson’s persistent praise and contractual rewards for the pair. With Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard drifting ever closer to the end of their deals at Stamford Bridge, the fallout from their departure could be catastrophic. Not only do the talismanic twosome still have plenty to offer on a Saturday afternoon, but they are clearly two of the most respected members of the squad. The club is crying out for stability, so why not start by gratifying those who have been crucial in the success story of the past decade?
To claim that Scholes and Giggs have now been cast in a cameo role this season would be an unfair justice to their potential impact. They may have been used sparingly in recent weeks but their experience and sense of leadership can still prove pivotal in situations where youthful exuberance is ineffective.
Cast your mind back to early September when Manchester United staged a classic comeback to defeat Southampton 3-2 at Saint Mary’s. Robin van Persie attracted all the plaudits with an inspired hat-trick but it was the introduction of Scholes – when the team were trailing 2-1 – that sparked the revival. Likewise, Giggs has been a prominent feature in United’s cup campaigns, helping shepherd the inexperienced by demonstrating the high standards expected at the pinnacle of football.
Manchester United are certainly on the brink of significant upheaveal. Ferguson is seemingly preparing for his belated retirement by orchestrating modifications across every area of the pitch. In midfield, the likes of Tom Cleverley and Anderson are gradually starting to fulfil their potential alongside new signing Shinji Kagawa. However, a spate of injuries or a dip in form has hampered their development and each of the aforementioned trio has been guilty of going missing in big games this season.
I refuse to be the one that casts Scholes or Giggs onto football’s scrapheap; they’ve been written off too many times only to re-emerge like a phoenix from the flames. Their replacements may already lie in wait, chomping at the bit to obtain their own legendary status, but there is no substitute for the drastic shift in mood at Old Trafford when either man surfaces from the bench.
They may not find their names at the top of the credits if United regain their Premier League crown, but until Ferguson deems otherwise, we simply cannot deny their importance in a title race that is likely to be decided by the smallest of margins.