Paul Scholes has brought his footballing career to a close, disappointing the hopes of Sir Alex Ferguson that he would prolong his playing days for at least another twelve months. Much like last summer, when the midfielder ignored Fabio Capello’s call to re-join the England squad following a six-year hiatus, Scholes has implemented his decision in ruthless fashion. At 36, there are surely not many games left in him, and although his international retirement was initially questioned for coming prematurely, this perhaps has allowed Scholes to play at the highest level for this long.
“For any football player in the Premiership, Scholes is a player you want to emulate,” states Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas. “One player does not make a team but there is no doubt that the presence of some players add extra motivation and confidence. Scholes is a player with character and is capable of transmitting that mental strength to his team-mates,” he concluded. Despite eschewing the media spotlight, press conferences, a raucous social life, interviews and constantly appearing a quiet component in United teams featuring the roaring influences of Peter Schmeichel, Roy Keane and Rio Ferdinand, Scholes’ influence has spread far and wide simply by performing his job with a quality and at level that many have tried to by very few have ever equaled.
The relative ease with which Barcelona’s Xavi has controlled Europe from the centre of the Catalan empire, illustrated most recently at Wembley last Saturday, has been borne from the teachings of Scholes spanning three decades. “Paul Scholes is a role model. For me – and I really mean this – he’s the best central midfielder I’ve seen in the last 15, 20 years,” the World Cup winner asserted. “I’ve spoken to Xabi Alonso about him. He’s spectacular, he has it all: the last pass, goals, he’s strong, he doesn’t lose the ball, vision. If he’d been Spanish he might have been rated more highly. Players love him.”
And so do the fans. Paul Scholes he scores goals, as the song goes. Exactly 150 in total, the majority of which converted before his game was affected by fatigue and a persistent eye injury, though the Ginger Assassin is a resilient type and eventually ploughed through an astonishing 676 games, lifting the Premier League trophy on his penultimate appearance before featuring on the club game’s grandest stage, the Champions League Final, for his personal finale.
A replacement is in the process of being identified, with rumours of Wesley Sneijder and Luka Modric already circulating, but Scholes’ contribution to the most successful period in Manchester United’s history will be almost impossible to replicate in a modern game which is continually developing in form. Zinedine Zidane’s “toughest opponent” and Edgar David’s “tutor” will have to spectate as Xavi takes over the mantle for the time being, but once the Spaniard calls it a day, the unfortunate end of the pass-master era could be inevitable.