How a nation hindered the ‘unique abilities’ of Paul Scholes

Paul Scholes will be in Florida coaching a lucky group of 8 to 18 year olds in June. Despite the invitation of Fabio Capello to rejoin the England squad for the World Cup in South Africa, the shy veteran instead stood by his 2004 decision of retiring. The loss for the national team isn’t centred on the intangibles that we, as a supporting public, are not privy to (experience behind the scenes, a winning mentality, a calm presence and what not). No, the loss has been purely a footballing one: no English player can do what Paul Scholes can.

This isn’t to say he does not possess the intangibles mentioned above – nine Premier League titles, three FA Cups, and two Champions League victories means the abundance of football brilliance stationed between the ears and in both feet has very much materialised into silverware. There’s been a continental quality, bordering on anomalous, in Scholes’ style of play (always receiving the ball on the turn, possession being his overriding prerogative, a breadth of passing skills and a pedigree of accuracy which, on occasion, bamboozles) that Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard – well, any of the other English midfielders – do not possess. More than just technique (Gerrard and Lampard are tough to better in that respect) it is his reading of the game that sets him miles apart from other home grown talents. When to pounce, where to move, the timing of runs…there is a natural, metronomic aesthetic to his possession play as several quick short interchanges can be contrasted, at any moment, with a stupidly accurate 50yard cross field pass. And then he does it all again.

It’s no surprise that David Beckham’s move to Real Madrid revealed a changing room of the world’s best – Zidane, Figo, Carlos – all most curious about the small ginger haired magician. His 66 caps remain painfully short of what could have been. I feel it is only in England that a player of his unique ability would be shifted wide in a diamond at, what should be his peak, the age of 29. His decision for retirement came purely down to not enjoying the game playing out of position; he offered little coming from wide and felt ineffective. It is always a footballing decision where Scholes is concerned, there are no ulterior motives. His family benefited. Manchester United certainly benefited. But England definitely lost an option at the very least; a dimension of player that rarely – if ever – is nurtured through the English game.

There are those who argue that his decision to retire was selfish and showed a lack of duty. After all, a player of his quality should accommodate themselves to the needs of the national team. I completely disagree. His refusal to rejoin the England team this summer elucidates the same facets of his character as it did in 2004; there is no thought of a final dance on the global stage and no want of simply being a part of it for the grandeur. His primary love, I’d argue his only love, when it comes to the bizarre pantomime marriage of media and sport, is playing – and enjoying – the game itself. It would be too easy to finish an article about Scholes with a quote from Ferguson, Zidane, or Fabregas so instead I’ll end it with a few words from the man himself:

“I can’t say that I can’t wait to finish, but I am looking forward to finishing with everything that goes with it. I suppose people are just very invasive and always want to know what you’re going to do. The only thing I will definitely miss is the football, not the general life of a footballer.”

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