Paul Scholes – a piece of Ajax and Barcelona with a rough edge of English football

Central midfield - Paul Scholes

Paul Scholes – what a player. It says an enormous amount about the Manchester United midfielder that Xavi had nothing but glowing praise for him, even seeking out his shirt following the Champions League final in 2011. The Spaniard is one of the best midfielders many of us have ever seen and certainly the best Spanish international midfielder in the nation’s history; Paul Scholes was one step above.

It would be a little imperfect to look back at Scholes’ career as one without any flaws to his game. How many opposing supporters grew tired, frustrated and even angry at the manner in which he so poorly executed those tackles? It’s part of the makeup of the player, however, and for Scholes to be such a liability at retrieving the ball only went on to accentuate how above all that he actually was.

It’s not a matter of comparing Scholes to other midfielders of his generation and those just after. What many of us will look back on is a phenomenal footballing magician, one who could have quite easily been crafted and moulded in the either of the factories in Amsterdam or Barcelona. Scholes is the benchmark for what many consider to be perfect and unmatched approach to the game; a style that so many try to imitate but so few are good enough to innovate.

I’ll always look to interesting comparisons between Xavi and Scholes and that Barcelona and Spain’s dominance was unlocked when the Spaniard was given the role of conductor in both teams’ engine room. As soon as Xavi became the heartbeat of his team – a position he would take up in the latter stages of his career – we saw some of the most dominant and wonderful football of this generation. It’s telling then that Scholes couldn’t have a similar impact on England’s fortunes on the international stage, often left out of position in favour of others because the English mentality of pace and power didn’t know how to properly use a player of his skill.

It’s really quite unbelievable when you think about it. Here was a player in Scholes who could have had teams built around him for years and years. We lament the fact that players like Andrea Pirlo and Xavi are a little out of reach for us in England, and yet you don’t sense that we as a nation would have known how to make the best use of them even if their types were in abundance.

I don’t look back to Paul Scholes coming out of retirement as something of a blemish on his career; when you’re that age and can continue to play at the highest level (obviously up until recently) it acts as a marker that players of that class – special players that don’t come around too often – never lose their ability to stay a couple of steps ahead of their peers. Scholes was the conjurer of fabulous football moments, even those as small as a cross-field pass. It was the technique, brilliance, audacity, and spectacular precision that will live long in the memory.

Paul Scholes is a product of the proper football factory. Not like those who roll their sleeves up and roar into battle, but rather the players who can emerge from the rain and mud-covered pitches of English football without a stain. Paul Scholes was so far from the typical English footballer that it wouldn’t be too mischievous to question his true heritage. Had he been Spanish or Dutch or Italian, we in England would have offered him the kind of praise and adulation that only those in a special place in the game are deserving of. A conclusion, and one that might not be too far from the truth: Paul Scholes was simply too good for English football.

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