Manchester United’s midfield. Once that was a fearsome phrase, or sentence, or statement, or whatever that is. The mere thought of Beckham, Keane, Scholes and Giggs had the opposition quaking with fear before they’d even stepped out at the Theatre of Dreams. Even the thought of Ronaldo, Carrick and younger Scholes & Giggs had a team partially beaten before the start, even if that was really mainly just Ronaldo. United’s current midfield of Park, Valencia, Fletcher and Carrick or Scholes, Anderson, Nani and Gibson, or permutations of them with an added little bit of Giggs sprinkled on top, doesn’t really instill the same fear. Even if it does, it’s usually mainly still because of Giggs and Scholes, two players rapidly approaching the end of their glorious careers.
Paul Scholes scored his 100th Premier League goal on Saturday, and while it allowed us all to wallow in the greatness of a truly gifted English player for a few hours, it also highlighted just how hard a task United have in replacing him. Who is there in the game at the moment that can possibly come close to replicating the impact the Ginger Prince has had at Old Trafford, and on English football in general?
One of the better prospects right now is James Milner. It’s often forgotten that Milner came through at the same time as Wayne Rooney, and for a short while, was considered an equally exciting prospect (OK, for a very short while, but a measurable degree of whileage nonetheless). It was he who replaced Rooney as the Premier League’s youngest ever goal scorer, only 2 months after Rooney’s famous Seaman defying curler at Goodison. He’s since matured away from the limelight – in a manner befitting of Scholes himself – but has matured greatly nonetheless. In the absence of Gareth Barry, it’s been Milner who’s stepped up to replace his impact, from more than just the penalty spot. While United possess a wealth of good passers and tenacious players in the center of the park, they don’t posses any bar Scholes with a significant goal threat themselves. Milner’s 9 goals this term is more than any of his opposite numbers at United, and only one shy of their second most prolific player this year, Own Goal. Though in fairness, only 4 have come in the League.
His ability to both score and assist, and control proceedings from either a central or wide position, is an asset the Premiership Champions would give their debt for (well, maybe not.) His inextravagence and overall team ethic have rendered his skills underrated largely until recently, but he’s been steadily impressing those with an eye for these things for a while now. Should he make the World Cup squad, a feat which seems very reasonable given his impressive run outs for the national side so far, and his relative wealth of experience given the record he holds as the most capped U-21 player of all time, means his profile and price tag may increase dramatically by next season.
Villa boss Martin O Neill would surely not let him go without a fight, but as options remain sparse for Sir Alex Ferguson, and the World Cup not likely to do him any favors, he could do far worse than looking to the midlands to provide the answer to his long standing problem of what to do when Scholes finally does decide he’s had enough. By then, Milner could be just the man to fill the gap.