Born in Salford, Paul Scholes never really left his hometown of Manchester.
Just across the river from Salford – a City in its own right, but very much an inner part of Greater Manchester – lies Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United. Scholes joined United as a youth player in 1991 and went on to make 718 appearances for a club that won everything.
In 1991, Manchester United were a big club. They’d won the European Cup in their history, and were still known around the world for the Matt Busby years, but United hadn’t won a league title since 1967, a year before their European Cup triumph. Due to reforms after the Taylor Report all British football grounds were required to be all-seater stadiums, and United’s highest attendance in the 1991/92 season was just over 47,000. North West rivals Liverpool were the kings of the English game.
Today United have won three Champions League / European Cups and more league titles than anyone else. Old Trafford’s capacity is over 75,000, and United are the holders of the world record transfer fee. A lot of that had to do with Paul Scholes and his colleagues.
The breakthrough may have started with the arrival of Alex Ferguson from Aberdeen in 1986, but it was the 1992 FA Youth Cup final where it really came to light. By the time Scholes, along with his teammates from that victory over Leeds United’s youth side – Gary & Phil Neville, Nicky Butt, David Beckham – came into the first team in 1994, United were already the first champions of the new Premier League, but with Scholes, they’d go on to win 11 more.
That and three FA Cups, two League Cups and two Champions League titles. A treble in 1999 was an unprecedented achievement and one which may never be equaled by a Premier League club ever again. Chelsea’s recent failure to beat an Arsenal side in crisis and win the 2016/2017 League and FC Cup double highlights just how hard it is to win two trophies, let alone three.
In all, Scholes reached the top of the European game, playing in four Champions League finals in the course of his career. The final two saw his side defeated to Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, both in 2009 and 2011.
He wouldn’t make it that far with England, though. Like so many generations of English talent who conquered the club game, Scholes and his famous ‘Class of ‘92’ side came up short on the international stage. But perhaps the most egregious mistake in the history of the England football team is playing Scholes on the left wing.
Arguably the greatest passer of his generation, and certainly in England, Scholes was the victim of the rigid 4-4-2 formation. At United, Beckham and Ryan Giggs would take up the roles on the right and left of midfield. For England, there was no Giggs, and so Scholes was the man asked to play on the left-hand side in what seemed a flagrant waste of his considerable talents. Indeed, after England’s Euro 2004 exit he promptly quit the international scene, and England – through their own disorganisation – were left without one of the top midfielders of a generation.
Later this month, though, Scholes will represent England again, this time with a set of golf clubs at The Belfry, as a team of English footballing legends takes on a Rest of the World team in the ICONS of Football Ryder Cup-style tournament from 23-25 June. It will be another mouth-watering chance to see the Salford wizard in sporting action again.