Understanding Paul Scholes – The man, the myth. This has been a long time coming. I was supposed to write it all of two years ago, and even last season, when Paul Scholes metamorphosed once again, it should have been written. Well anyway, with our lacklustre performances through the central midfield area of the pitch and Paul Scholes’ return from a lengthy injury lay-off, I thought now would be the best time to put this out there, before we get to marvel at the Ginger Ninja in all his glory as he kick-starts our season into top gear. Unique If there’s one thing that Paul Scholes is it is unique. He is unique to the English game, and unique to Manchester United. There is only one player in the league whose game could be seen as similar, and that is David Jones at Derby County, who may very well have to leave England to get his break into top-flight football. For arguments sake we could say there was a Duncan Edwards before a Bryan Robson. A Bryan Robson before a Paul Ince and a Paul Ince before a Roy Keane, but in Paul Scholes we have an almost antithesis of these players and no lineage of similar players to draw upon for comparison. One of the reasons for this is that Paul Scholes has effectively played and been masterful in three positions for us now. He came up and debuted practically as a support striker. If circumstances had allowed, he would have forged a career in that position for us but such was his ability, technique and reading of the game, he was pushed further back and played a large chunk of his career as a box-to-box midfielder of sorts. Of sorts because with the imperious Roy Keane next to him, it was said that Scholes never really had to learn how to tackle or work on the defensive end of his game. In the third identifiable position alteration, which we have seen since he returned from a career-threatening condition, Paul Scholes now sits very deep and pulls the strings for the entire team in a position I refer to as the retainer or retaining, metronomic role. He absolutely dominates possession statistics for Manchester United often having double the amount of touches and passes during a game than his nearest rival team-mate whoever it is on a given day. "He is a fantastic player - a key player in many games. He helps the team a lot. You learn many things from him as he is a mature player and has been at United a long time. It is always fantastic to play alongside someone of his quality." - Cristiano Ronaldo If you consider the inherent differences between the roles he has played during his career here and the way he has excelled in each and every one of them, it is just as impossible to bracket Scholes with a Yorke or a Cantona as it is to mention him as Muhren or Crerand type of player – Paul Scholes is truly a unique one-off in the history of this club not only for how he has played each of his roles, but for how he has left an indelible stamp on them, also. “He has such quick feet and his technique and vision are incredible. We don't have another player who has the characteristics Paul has.” - Eriksson (ahead of Euro '04) Paul Scholes has always been an ungifted athlete. He has asthma, stands 5’7” tall and has always had to pace himself to get through ninety-minutes intact. It stands to reason that a player who simply cannot play in the English, blood-and-thunder way would have to modify his game from an early age to get by. To be quicker at reading the play, better at controlling the ball, faster at passing it off and sharper and more aware of the spatial possibilities around him as well as how to manipulate them to his advantage have been mainstays of Paul Scholes’ career since his debut. It has long since been established by virtually every team-mate he’s ever had at Manchester United that Paul Scholes is the most technically complete player we have here. There are more flamboyant players, more eye-catching majestic players, but none match Paul Scholes for completeness. Even in this regard he stands out as a unique player for us. The nuance in his game is so deep and so technical that in some cases, people who have watched him since his debut, still don’t fully understand what he brings to the table for us. Not only is the Ginger Prince unique, he is an elusive enigma often drowned out of awards and ceremony because most of his work simply cannot be comprehended by the average football fan who associates The Alan Hansen Decree of “pace, power, strength and control” with having ‘the lot’ as a player. Paul Scholes has none of these things sans control. He has never been able to burst through a packed midfield, handily dismissing those who wish to tackle him with a shrug of a muscular shoulder as we have seen Anderson do at least five times already in his first few months here, nor could Paul Scholes ever carry the ball through a packed midfield ala a Giggs, Figo or Zidane as the first two had pace and acceleration and the latter, an immense strength in his 6’2” frame. No. Paul Scholes has always had to do things his way due to his physical limitations, and that, by default, makes him as unique a player as you will lay eyes upon in perhaps your entire football-viewing life. If you wish to further examine this subject, an interesting exercise would be to peruse Big Soccer and any other football forums that indulge in ‘vs.’ debates and just have a look at the players Paul Scholes invariably finds himself being compared to. So far I’ve seen: Deco, Lampard, Gerrard and even a Zidane one. Paul Scholes is the antithesis of at least the last three who all relied upon some aspect of their physical make-up to function first and foremost: Gerrard – a supreme athlete whose game is almost entirely based around his superb physical attributes. Lampard – an indefatigable attacking midfielder who works opportunities for himself by constantly making runs into positions to score – Paul Scholes could not play like Lampard for more than 30 minutes. And Zinedine Zidane – certainly the most graceful player of his generation, but backed by a physical strength few players in the world could actually challenge head-on in the first place before skill was even a consideration. Now, consider Scholes. A player who relies on cunning, elusiveness and guile as his physical attributes alone would get him nowhere in the modern game and not only that, Paul Scholes simply does not have the stamina reserves of a Lampard or Gerrard to expend so much energy per game, nay, per half as they do. The only active player who shares the traits, gifts and necessity to play as Scholes does who is of the highest calibre is Barcelona’s Xavi for my money, and yet we are never met with a barrage of Xavi vs. Scholes threads on here, funnily enough. Even then, Scholes cannot be identikited absolutely with Xavi because in his former guises, Paul Scholes had far more ability in the offensive third than Xavi will ever have. One of his big assets down the years has been appearing in the box late. He has scored 138 goals for us from midfield, which is quite unique, but, even then, his biggest assets are his passing, composure and thinking during a game. At 33, I regard him just as highly as I did when he was 23." - Alex Ferguson Paul Scholes is unique. Discussing his current role in the team in detail The so-called ‘100mph PL’ does not bother Paul Scholes. As mentioned in the previous section, I refer to Paul Scholes as a retainer – simple way to denote just what it is that he does without using a bunch of words to skirt the issue. His every move and pass will be the percentage wise correct pass to play in a given situation. Even if you paused the game and hand-picked the best option to play with time and deliberation, you'd find that if you're astute enough, you'll pick the option Scholes chose with barely a split-second of thought. This is why he is the primary man amongst our midfielders, he is the only one with this ability at Manchester United and if we were to look around the league, you’d be lucky to find three more players who can do what Scholes does game in and game out to even a half degree. People often confuse what retainers do with what other types of central based midfielders do (Deep-lying-Playmakers (DLP), basic playmakers, attacking midfielders and your standard two-way central midfielder) because they all can occupy the same space, but if you watch a retainer in a team for even three games you'll see he has far, far more passes, touches and much higher completion rate than anyone else on his team, he's less likely to play the Hollywood ball unless he sees an exceptional run being made and he is loathe to be ambitious with his passing if there's no point in doing so. Contrast that with a DLP who is basically looking for the Hollywood passes all game long and will hit them time and time again, or the playmaker types who are always looking for the opportune eye of the needle pass and will attempt them repeatedly throughout a game, and you'll see a distinction being made very quickly. Retainers offer a team calm, control and a sense of dependability. Everyone on the team passes the ball to the retainer when in doubt because they know his decision, his ability to play the right pass and capability to hit it is superior to theirs. Even Rio defers to Scholes by default for us. And Arsenal look lost without Fabregas. “Paul Scholes is back, it is as simple as that. It doesn't matter who I am thinking about bringing into my midfield, Paul Scholes will be included, as he would in any side in the world. He is a fantastic footballer and without question Paul can still have a massive impact on The Premiership. I am delighted to have him back." - Fergie (summer '06) DLP's generally begin to find their feet and range once the retainer has established calm on a game - by that time the opposing CM's running around rabidly have pretty much given up trying to dispossess the retainer and have backed off or tired considerably from the hustle and bustle of the first twenty or so minutes. Most times you see DLP's 'come into a game' later in the 90. It's no coincidence. Michael Carrick benefited from Paul Scholes in this department so much during his first season here that it looked like Scholes was holding his hand at times. Top quality retainers delight their own fans and frustrate the opposition in equal measure. The level of keep-ball mastery exhibited by Scholes during an average performance is a sight Manchester United fans tend to take for granted, until Scholes is out injured. Then, the void between calm and controlling midfield dominance and a more helter-skelter 50-50 midfield battle become evident. Anderson, for example, has been a revelation for the club during, this, his debut season, but there are one or two areas of his game he’d do very well to learn from Scholes in. In terms of retaining possession for the team, the two players are poles apart at this moment in time. When Anderson is being closed down quickly he hits the sensible passes that you'd see from a retainer, but when he has space, he almost always tries to do something ambitious. In that situation you'd likely see a retainer progress the ball further forward and then release it once an opposing player tries to get in there for a tackle, thus breaking the opposing schematic, progressing the play sensibly whilst freeing up space for others on his team. "Scholesy has been a massive influence. Just watching him every day lets you appreciate how good he is. If you ask anyone in the game who's in the know, everyone says how good he is and how hard he is to play against. To have him on your team alongside you is great. He's just an awesome player and one that I'm watching in training and learning from, and hopefully taking things from and trying to do the same." - Michael Carrick Retainers are the player's player of choice because they always do the right and dependable thing by them and the team in general. For this reason, whilst Scholes is able, we are never going to drop him. Ever. Becoming a retainer is not likely for a player like Anderson. His possession play will improve, but ultimately I think that Anderson would be wasted as a retainer. You'll generally see that retainers are physically limited in some way and that determines their role for them from quite a young age. They usually aren't the fastest of players and tend to control the pace of a game with their speed of thought and nuance because they have no other choice. Scholes doesn't have the engine, nor the pace, or acceleration to be running around frantically, nor does a Xavi and it's a general theme with that type of player. It's interesting to note that with Scholes' all-round game in the attacking sense being so effortless, we as fans struggle to acknowledge he no longer 'scores goals' nor looks to do so. As a retainer he'll always chose the best option even if that means he doesn't get to take a crack on goal. It's frustrating to see because he's still easily our best goal-scoring midfielder, but it will allow others in midfield to develop and I think Anderson will reap huge benefit from Scholes in the years until Scholes retires. In short: Scholes in the team = winning with more comfort and control of a game and the midfield. Scholes not in the team = a much more frantic and nerve wracking game with a lot less control of the midfield and much lower possession statistics. Not sure I follow A retainer is a retainer because they aim, first and foremost, to retain possession of the ball for their team for as long as possible during the ninety minutes of a game. A basic box-to-box central midfielder, by contrast, is going to want to get up and into the opposition box for shots or opportunities to affect the game, they will also thunder into defensive positions on the defensive end – you rarely see exceptional passing retention stats from such a midfielder, Roy Keane excepted. Paul Scholes plays the odd probing playmaker-like pass as do all other retainers, but only when they are on and only when the likelihood of them being completed outweighs the likelihood they will be intercepted - it's not the ambitious stuff you see from playmakers (close or deep) it's not a 50-50 to surrender possession or be a hero. One type of midfielder essentially cannot be another type as they're very different principles for midfield play and often-times people will see the retainer as being a boring or un-ambitious type of player because they don't fill their game with daredevil plays and stupid or unnecessarily bold things. Sure, they make mistakes at times, but essentially, the perfect game for a retainer would be to have a 100% pass completion rate having passed and received the ball from almost everyone on his own team and finally, absolutely exhausting the opposition and driving them to distraction and tactical indiscipline. This is how a retainer opens up a game - patience. Metronomically, they take over their team and start to govern the actions of the opposing side - they sway the opposition left and right, drag them all over the place until the field is open and then they progress the ball in the spaces they've prised open. This is nothing like being a playmaker. Nearly all the actions of a playmaker are forward thinking, opportunistic and daring/ambitious. Playmakers become celebrated by the amount of passes it takes them to achieve the most probing and penetrating, perhaps game-winning balls – the lower the number of attempts needed to strike gold, the better the playmaker. Their game is high risk, high reward - once the ball gets to a playmaker in the opposing third the play has a higher probability of ending off the back of his pass - in a situation where a playmaker is in that area a Riquelme would occupy, he's likely to make the most daring, but ultimately rewarding pass with a very low probability of completion, or another way of looking at it would be that his pass will make a play happen i.e playmaking. That's not what retainers tend to do. They're usually the player who lays the ball before the ball that assists the scorer and so oftentimes they're not even credited or noted in plaudits for goals they were at the nucleus of, but without the retainer, the playmaker or DLP would be given much less time to make that game defining pass (remember that retainers drag opposition around until the time is right to open the field) how many times have people screamed at Scholes for not shooting when he's on the edge of the box these days, usually caused by him really looking like he's winding up for the shot (thus bringing the opposing players out to close him down) and then laying it off for somebody else to either play-make or take a shot? It's the exact thing that Xavi does for Barcelona, which gives Deco/Ronaldinho time to make play or for the others to progress a play how they choose. Xavi rarely receives the plaudits of the more hyped players in the Barcelona side, but without him their transitional and progressive play wouldn't be half as smooth, just as it becomes for us without Scholes. Once again we arrive at the point where Paul Scholes’ unique abilities become apparent as the reasons why he is so good at his role are explained below. The first thing a retainer has to have is the absolute confidence of everyone in the side. He must be deferred to, to really be effective. Every player on his side should immediately associate him with safety and dependability. Rio, for example most definitely does not see Anderson as a retainer and often bypasses him because he is not in a position to receive the safe pass nor will he use the ball he receives like a retainer would, when Scholes plays, however, Rio will supply him with the short pass without a second thought for Scholes to turn and progress the play – if that’s what is on. Scholes will do the mundane repeatedly until a better option makes itself apparent - Anderson in the same situations will try and progress the ball way, way too early to be a retainer - he's likely to do something dynamic and daring just as soon as he can see that option in his scope. Scholes considers a far bigger picture before deciding to hit a Hollywood ball. The only time to play balls that could be turned over to the opposition for Scholes, is when the team is devoid of movement around him and time is running down on the clock whilst we're in need of a goal - or when instructed to do so. As I said before, the natural handicaps of Scholes' physical limitations govern his style of play. He's not fast, he's not powerful he doesn't have the stamina to run around and gather back careless balls from over-ambitious passes gone astray and so, by necessity, his retention of the ball is much better than those around him who thunder about making lots of unforced errors and then winning back the ball they threw away in the first place (Rooney, Anderson, Hargreaves, Fletcher, Nani, Saha and even Ronaldo are "guilty" of this) Anderson doesn't have these limitations to concern himself with. He's an ox, he's fast, has high stamina and is a better close range through-ball passer than Scholes and it affords him a far more ambitious game. Anderson would be wasted as a retainer, in my opinion. It doesn't suit his physical make-up nor his game and I also think it'd restrict his growth. Let him try the bold and get much better at it with time. Keep the retainer beside him developing and teaching him how to better use the ball and take it from there. “Since I came to this country, I have never thought about leaving out Scholes.I know he hasn't scored for a long while, but Scholes is not only a goalscorer.He makes all the team play football with one or two touches.He sees passes which are very difficult to see. He is a brilliant football player." – Eriksson Scholes is always noted as coming top in training, all the players without pause say that being on Scholesy's side in five-a-side or any training game that is dependant on retention of the ball means being on the winning side. That's because he's the only retainer in the squad and he's the best at it in the entire league. I can imagine the frustration that must ensue in those sessions when Scholes is on form. "Scholes was a revelation in South Africa. They pick the man of the match, these things, I don't know how it works and who judges it. In the three games we played, I don't think Paul gave the ball away more than once. His possession of the ball was fantastic with his vision and brain working all the time. It was great to see that." - Fergie (pre-season summer 06) Do Manchester United need a retainer to win games then? Absolutely not. We have seen over the past three seasons before and during the eye injury situation and this season during Scholes’ time out with a knee injury, that Manchester United can win and sometimes win dramatically without Paul Scholes in the team. But have you noticed how without Scholes, the majority of our wins feel very un-United? Very chaotic, uncontrolled and most tellingly, lacking the ninety-minute fluidity we are accustomed to when on form. There is no doubt that with our squad and the quality of player we now have that we can look to one player or another on any given day to win us a game we haven’t put our marker down on and even look to be struggling in. All it takes is a mistake or a counter-attack for us to get in or ahead of most teams we face, with or without Paul Scholes. What we cannot do very often, however, is put on a clinic for two halves of football if Scholes does not play. We lose almost every ounce of subtlety and deftness without Scholes conducting the show from the heart of the midfield. With him, we are the epitome of a iron hand covered by a velvet glove as we take teams apart so methodically, so orderly, that they more often than not, simply want to get off the pitch and go home with something like twenty minutes left to play. Come on, you’re turning Paul Scholes into a god here! "They have two of the world's best young players in Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, but the player who most impresses me is Paul Scholes. He is United's most important player, he makes most things happen on the field. He is a legend, as is Ryan Giggs. The older players help guide the young players and give them balance." - Andrei Shevchenko Scholes has his faults and even with him playing things don’t always go to plan. But the need to highlight why he is so vital to us needs to be spelt out in great, big capital letters for the amount of times his performances in games are overlooked or taken for granted. "For years Paul Scholes has been one of the best players in the Premiership. He's incredible. He's come back into the team after his eye injury and he's playing so well, like he's never been away. He has always been under-rated throughout his career. He's a team player, a one and two-touch footballer who makes good decisions on the pitch and makes his team play. I don't understand why he has never won the player of the year. A guy like that should have won it long ago." - Thierry Henry One of the key things we as fans should know about Paul Scholes is it his level of consistency and performance that needs to be met by the rest of the team for us to succeed in the CL, in-particular. Paul Scholes has had perhaps two actual dips in form and performance level at this club in twelve years. When you consider the positions he has played and the fact he has always been an instrumental player with his contributions, that is a phenomenal rate of consistency. Even when he is seemingly playing badly, closer inspection usually concludes with: Paul Scholes is playing badly with regard to being Paul Scholes, not in the context of the game going on around him. This a common mishap that happens to players whose performance level is so high and regular that it often muddies the waters of what constitutes a bad game for them. If you take a moment to pause and consider their performance and not factor it was Paul Scholes or Rio Ferdinand, etc playing, you’d be surprised at how ‘not bad’ the performance was after all. I admit to being as guilty of this habit as the next fan. Somewhere along the line a performance for the ginger, central midfielder started to be about how good he was in a particular game compared to himself when on form. I’ve watched hundreds of others across this and other fora unintentionally factor in the player being rated and not just the performance they’ve witnessed before giving a rating e.g a seven for Paul Scholes usually indicates a so-so game. A seven for Wes Brown or John O’Shea represents them having an almost excellent one. The seven rating itself can nearly always be interpreted like that and surely the seven Scholes would get, would be an eight or nine coming from another central midfielder. Paul Scholes: noticeable only by mistakes, Hollywood balls or goals? This has been a bug-bear of mine for as long as I can remember. There was about a five-year period where it seemed to me that Scholes was adjudged to have played well or badly on the back of whether he had scored a goal or not during a game. There are still fans who cannot really bring themselves to come to terms with the deeper-lying player that Scholes has come back from career threatening injury as. They still associate Scholes with goals because of his past and struggle to rate him as someone who ‘merely’ keeps the entire team ticking over with his game. One of the reasons Paul Scholes became quite out of sorts with the English National Team was because their football was so much more linear and base than the intricacy and dynamic interplay he was used to at Manchester United. The more basic a game, the less nuance it has, and with fewer people on such a high wavelength, it is going to render a player like Paul Scholes almost redundant. His game being based around technique, intricacy and constant interplay means that Scholes is only actually suitable to the very highest level of team. If you can pass the ball, get it down and control it, move into space intuitively, cross positions because you feel it’s the right thing to do at a precise moment, Paul Scholes will find you with pass after pass and he will readily make himself available to receive the ball back from said player time and time again – four players across a midfield on Scholes’ wavelength with a good technical acumen, equals a sizeable problem for the opposition, but if you take away Paul Scholes’ options what are you left with? A 5’7” man who suffers from asthma and by design cannot carry the ball through the heart of a midfield like a Gascoigne could. "I am pleased with a lot of the players but Scholesey has really hit a rich vein of scoring form. Paul has had a fantastic season, brilliant. There is an understanding of the role now. He is maturing and coping very well. He has done superbly. I think he's playing the role as well as anyone. Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid and Dennis Bergkamp at Arsenal operate in the same way. It's an illustrious pair to be compared to. But Paul has taken his game to those heights." - Fergie (January '03) What happened to Scholes in the England set-up was an example of the lack of understanding there generally was for his ability outside of goal-scoring at the time. Putting him in a team where the rest of the midfielders were actually incapable of playing a short-passing triangular game against the highest level of opposition and leaving him with strikers who worked only off supply, but never actively made space for an approaching central midfielder unless by accident, reduced Scholes’ chances to ghost into the box at international level. There could be no doubt this was an England problem because at the time, Paul Scholes was flying for Manchester United and between 1998 and 2003 had won a European Cup, scored a ton of goals in advanced positions, particularly in 2003, and was playing football on another level to what he became accustomed to in the England set-up. “Paul Scholes is underestimated. He has proved over the years that he is in the world's top ten, he can do everything. I have not seen a lot of his games (this season), but it is only human, you are not in top form all the time and he has proved in the previous seasons that he is a top class player." - Edgar Davids (October '05) It would be easy to confuse this with me making excuses for Paul Scholes, but most of it is simple logic. A frailer player, who is so unique that Alex Ferguson with his myriad of talented players, set his team up to always get the very best out of Paul Scholes (simply advancing Scholes at times when Keane didn’t play) must surely point towards the England set-up making a grave era moving him to the left of midfield(!) to accommodate another player. Manchester United has never moved its most technically complete player outside of the spine of the team, and outside of his two dips in form for us in twelve years, it’s very hard to say Scholes has ever let himself down. His overall footballing ability was seemingly forgotten by the men in charge of England and if Scholes wasn’t scoring, he was fair game to be dumped on the left side of midfield, a position he is so physically unsuitable for, you may as well put him in goal. One of the reasons why Scholes never got the credit for his game outside of his goal-scoring by the majority of fans during the 90’s was that in the Manchester United midfield he was the least memorable player by simple design of the game that Giggs, Beckham and Keane bought to the table. Ryan Giggs, as we all know, was a lightening quick left winger whom you had to keep an eye on for the full ninety simply for the fact he was always on the verge of doing something wondrous. A lot of the time his runs didn’t end up with a marvellous conclusion, but the threat was always there. Roy Keane was, as has been stated many times now, like two men in one, his energy and ferocity as well as his commanding presence forced your attention onto him. Roy was like the sun with all the others orbiting him. David Beckham had tremendous stamina, a wand of a right foot and a very conclusive style – he would whip crosses in that would constantly result in goals, his cross-field passes were always causing chaos – his game was so honest that no fan could fail to understand what he was doing. "The gaffer (Bruce) has told me he's going to get a pair of tickets to a (Manchester) United game so we can just sit in the stands and watch Paul Scholes. His aim is for me to study him and then play like him. He wants me to learn about how he positions himself and gets on the ball in the last third of the field." - David Dunn (October '03) I would say that is the same for each of the players in the midfield we had except Paul Scholes. Scholesy’s game wasn’t honest, it was cunning, intelligent and ever so devious and a lot of the nuance in his game was not appreciated. Scholes, you tended to hear mentioned when the play was advancing, at this point the fans were well aware of his game and his peerless ability to ghost into goal-scoring positions. But what was often not noticed in Scholes’ game was that during build-ups he was the least likely to lose the ball of all four midfielders. He was playing the percentages well before the 2006/7 season and what I recall happening a fair bit during the nineties was Fergie pointing out to the assorted press-packs when Scholes had actually misplaced a pass or two, with a smile on his face. It was at that time that I actually started to watch Scholes more intensely, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only fan to do that off the back of the manager’s comments. With Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs being my favourite players, I have to admit that before the manager’s comments, Scholes wasn’t always a port of call for me to watch during the earliest stage of a build-up as my eyes would be transfixed on one or the other of the aforementioned who would invariably be doing something or other that looked a lot more dramatic than Scholesy. To this day, even to this exact team, Scholes suffers the same fate amongst fans. Their eyes, almost in unison, set to study Ronaldo, Tevez or Rooney. It is in this way that Paul and large chunks of his overall game have and will always fly underneath the radar of the masses. Paul Scholes will never win a personal award for this reason also. Not that the elusive, Ginger Prince would care a jot. “He can score goals, hit crossfield passes, play one-twos, beat people and win headers in the opponents' box," the Celtic boss explained. So if you take that whole package I don't think I've seen anybody as consistent - and he's been doing that for 10 or 11 years." - Gordon Strachan Intelligence “The cleverest midfield player we've ever had. “ – Fergie A natural physical advantage or two is all that stops Paul Scholes from elevation to the level of world acknowledged all-time great instead of a Manchester United one. When the powers that be were handing Paul his abilities they were cruel enough to give him no physical advantages relative to those, even on his own team, who have gone on to be recognised as all-timers. I cannot iterate enough how intelligent a player Paul Scholes is and has had to be to get by, what he lacks, however is specialist set of gifts to call his own. His all-round completeness means he is above average in every technical area of the game, but unlike a Ryan Giggs or a Roy Keane, Paul struggles to max out any one attribute to give him natural advantage over his opponents and thus he always has to get by via outsmarting them, whereas both Keane and Giggs could just use their physical advantages when necessary, as could the players listed below.. If you run through the greats of any era you will almost always pin-point areas of natural advantage to go with their footballing intelligence. Some examples: Pele – almost maximum natural advantage in every area except his height – faster than most opponents, extremely strong, a natural leap that could spring him over 6’3” CB’s easily, whilst he only stood 5’7” dribbling, balance, stamina, passing range, two-footedness and so on. Maradona – A physique, balance and centre of gravity that allowed him to maximise his dribbling ability, to go with elite passing and shooting ability. Di Stefano – Again, a physique that enabled him to play the game so forthrightly and honestly. Indefatigable, two-footed, immense shooting on both feet, passing, etc. Beckenbauer – Tall, fast, strong, high dribbling ability, two-footed, passing. Cruyff – Pace, power, strength, height. Eusebio – A physical specimen. Muller – inordinately strong lower body enabled him to shield himself when surrounded and also meant he could get to shots a less powerful striker could not. Ronaldo – A physical specimen. Garrincha – Extreme acceleration and dribbling ability, to go with his shooting and crossing skills. Best – Dribbling and balance ability that put him in the highest echelon to have ever played. Charlton – Stamina, pace, power, two-footedness, short-burst acceleration. Platini – extremely quick feet and nimbleness. Although he wasn’t a dribbler, he could slalom around tackles effortlessly. Edwards – A physical specimen. Roy Keane – Indefatigable. My point with this list is that allayed to superior footballing brains, these players were given the physical platform from which to exhibit their natural advantages and genius. I’m struggling to think of a single true great who has/had the physical limitations of Paul Scholes and if he were ever given a few physical gifts to go with his brain, I believe Paul Scholes would not be such an afterthought outside of his goals to less learned fans who tend to represent the majority. If he had been given the superb physical advantages of a Steven Gerrard, we would no doubt have seen some lung-busting runs through the heart of the team that catch the eye of football fans be they scholars or fans who respond in kind to what woos them at any given moment. "He is brilliant and a joy to play with. He is a genius." - Wayne Rooney Having watched the Premiership from its inception and having watched Paul’s career from his debut until now, I would say, without hesitation, that he is the most intelligent player this league has ever had. From the very beginning right through to the present day, he has gotten by solely on outsmarting and outmanoeuvring superior athletes and has made himself a cult hero amongst those who can identify with his build or athletic condition because he’s one chap that was never hindered by it under Fergie’s tutelage. It should be remembered, at this point, that a few of the academy staff who oversaw Paul’s development at youth level wanted the manager to release the player due to his physical limitations, but Ferguson was adamant he would not. "He's a gifted lad. Paul has got something we couldn't possibly have coached, which is a marvellous football brain. He has always had that." - Fergie We are probably the most athletic as a club we’ve been under Sir Alex Ferguson’s management. Outside of John O’Shea, Nemanja Vidic and Paul Scholes, we are teemed to the rafters with athletes at varying stages of their careers, but when it comes to footballing intelligence none at the club come close to matching the Ginger Prince and that is one of the key reasons why he is constantly deferred to during tougher games where our star-studded line-up needs some guidance on the pitch. If there is a problem to be solved during a game, take a look at Scholes and the sheer variety of things he will try to unhinge a stubborn opponent. I would say that in this regard he also stands unique amongst the players at the club because he refuses to repeatedly beat the panels of a steel door when unscrewing it from the hinges achieves the same result in a quarter of the time. I’ve often felt in circumstances where other players lose their heads, and subsequently break the wavelength and rhythm Scholes tries to coax out of the team, that we need two of him out there – one to play the initial pass, the other, to receive it whilst the first runs into yet another clever position. Alas, ‘there can be only one’. One of the most impressive attributes Paul Scholes has is in processing a lot of information very quickly, assimilating it and then churning out instant and correct responses. This can be broken down in so many ways in relation to how he plays. For one thing, perhaps some of you have noticed this yourself; when Scholes has established the rhythm of the team during the first fifteen to twenty minutes of a game, he becomes more expansive with his passes, the speed and weight of them pre-programmed with the recipient’s ability in mind. For example, Scholes will never fire off a harder drilled pass at our lesser skilled players – observe the weight and pace he puts on passes to players like Brown and O’Shea as opposed to Ferdinand. He is the only player at the club, and the only player I’ve seen play for us in the years I’ve watched Manchester United, to do this. If a player is comfortable enough to take a pass in-stride, Scholes will be constantly playing the pass to where the recipient will be in a second or so, rather then playing the ball to the position where they are currently standing. If Scholes is dealing with players in our team with much higher technical acumen than average he will fizz ferocious, low-driven passes at them when needed, with the sole intention of them taking the power behind the pass, cushioning it with their foot whilst laying the ball back into Scholes’ path for a forced one-two of sorts – he has scored well over 30 goals setting himself up in this way. He never plays such passes to lesser-skilled team-mates. It is in little things like this that make him intrinsic to us and un-droppable. To a man, his team-mates say he is a joy to play with because to a man, Scholes has read and assimilated their game and will give them the passes they need to best express themselves. Some of his link-up play with Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole that relied on a certain amount of prescience and instinct from all three players, was as good as anything you will ever see from any triumvirate who have ever played this game. Just because the names aren’t as glamorous, do not be lulled into thinking with the right team-mates, Paul Scholes is not capable of playing football to the highest degree of brilliance – all he needs is similarly able team-mates and the opportunity to make the play, for instance, his delicately chipped through ball to Rooney vs. AC Milan in last season’s CL semi-final, left many with jaws agape, but this is the kind of football he can and will play if the opportunities present themselves and his team-mates are as quick as he is to read a situation. With the level of footballing intelligence Scholes has, you will rarely see him doing things like that for the hell of it if the pass is not likely to be read, Scholes, as a retainer, will simply chose a better option, in that it’s an option that has the team retain possession of the ball. It’s in little things like this that defining Scholes and what he does is just an impossibility for some – they don’t stop to think about the whys it’s not like a 33-year-old Scholes has suddenly learnt how to play deft, chipped balls over defenders of Maldini and Nesta’s calibre, it’s that Scholes will always refuse to do such things if it’s a 50-50 whereas playmakers will nearly always go for it, and be celebrated for the idea, whether they lose possession in that situation or not. One of the best ways to observe Scholes’ basic level of intelligence in footballing terms is to observe the times when he will go for the Hollywood pass outside of select windows where they are the best option on regardless (goal-scoring chance if the pass comes off, a rapid counter attack where the opposition are exposed). The 2007 FA Cup final against Chelsea was a perfect example of what Scholes is capable of when he spreads his wings a little and plays the Hollywood passes in spite of the opposition being positionally sound. All throughout the game, because Mourinho forced us into a staid game of cat and mouse with very little movement, Scholes was hitting sublime 40, 50 and even 60 yard passes to whichever target he selected – in games where our own tactical schematic is not compromised by the Hollywood ball, Scholes will make passes you are more likely to associate with deep-lying playmakers. The massive difference between what he does with those passes and what Carrick and Anderson, who both capable of many of the same balls, is he assess the field and what it would mean to our team should the ball he plays be cut out. This is the almost a polar opposite for the aforementioned pair, who seem to only see their intended target and purely the positives of their decision – they do not consider whether their own team-mates are set up in positions to easily gather the ball back, nor do they take into consideration how many feet the ball will be played back up the pitch should their pass be intercepted – this leads to a much more chaotic and helter-skelterish 50-50 game, even though their intentions were to benefit the team – Paul Scholes will stick to the ‘mundane’ short, sensible passes even when the Hollywood balls are on if what he does has his own team scrambling to rectify his error. He scores goals, my Lord, he scores goals Oh, Paul Scholes, he scores goals. Perhaps the easiest way to highlight Scholes’ intelligence can be found via discussion of the art of ghosting into the box. His ability to read advanced play and exploit space is the best I’ve ever seen in the game, simply for the fact that his goals have mostly been clean strikes and headers that rely on no physical advantages whatsoever. Paul Scholes arriving late into the box whilst seemingly invisible despite his bright red hair, was always a sight to behold when watching him play. It is because of the lack of physical advantage combined with him popping up repeatedly in goal-scoring positions in every single goal-scoring area of the opposing box that he came to prominence in the first place. It was quickly established that if this lad had a niche all to himself it was in the area of ghosting, undetected like a Stealth Bomber, before de-cloaking and unleashing a thunderous shot or perfect, unchallenged header into the opposition net. It was a marvellous goal [Paul Scholes's first]. A nice touch from Ryan [Giggs] and Scholes, given time in and around the box, is ever a threat. You don't lose what he's got. He's one of the best in the world at appearing at the right time, on the edge of the box and in the box. His timing is fantastic. I couldn't believe it after he scored against Charlton when someone told me he hadn't scored at Old Trafford since February.We're all pleased for him but we knew it was going to come." – Fergie Now, I’ve made a point of watching a lot ghosting midfielders since Scholes stopped doing it and found it interesting to note that none of them get by without using a physical advantage in how they get their goals. Frank Lampard and Tim Cahill tend to manage high tallies from midfield and watching them both it’s interesting to note how their physical attributes benefit them. With Cahill, although he stands 5’7”, just like Scholes, you have a far superior athlete. He’s stronger, more robust and has quite a good engine on him, he’s also very forceful in the air whether challenged or not. His forte seems to be that once he gets into the box, his terrier-like foraging and deceptive strength often affords him the positioning and timing to score. He bombs into aerial challenges from deep with little care for contact with opposing defenders, he’s also quite exceptional in goal mouth scrambles. His lower centre of gravity allayed to his strength often gets him the toe-poke to the ball he would not otherwise get. His goals, however are rarely clean and undetected strikes or runs into the box or thereabouts. This is a direct contrast to Paul Scholes, so there has to be something different there, right? Lampard, as maligned as he is, scores a tremendous amount of goals from his position. What instantly stands out with him for me, though, is his running in the final third. It’s no so much about reading play or using amazing foresight with Lampard, it’s about constantly getting into ‘goal-scoring positions’ that boost your odds of a shot on goal tremendously. As I said previously, Paul Scholes could not in a million years play like Lampard does. You need a fantastic engine to constantly make runs into the same spots over and over again. It is not by coincidence that most of Lampard’s goals come about in a similar fashion with him sweeping onto a loose ball just off-centre left of the pitch and walloping the ball. Sometimes the hits are clean, sometimes not, but with Lampard’s constant running and offering of himself to get into that position in combination with such a strong team, it is incredibly difficult to stop over 90 minutes, because this player can and will run the full 90 and just by playing the odds, the chances for him to score, and the amount of shots he is going to get from game to game over a season in this way are tremendous. No, this is not how Scholes ever went about getting his goals. He is physically incapable of playing like that. Scholes does have a physical advantage in a sense. His shooting is ferocious and the velocity he manages to get on mid-range bombs is something else, but if it was this physical advantage the opposition had to keep on eye on, how do we go about explaining his near post headers, or even the far post ones that only he seems to be positioned to meet? How is it that his goals, and there are a lot of them are so clean and unquestionable as opposed to Cahill goal-mouth scramble or ‘Lampard deflection’ as the saying goes? How are his goals so spread out across his left and right foot as well as his head, and ultimately, how could he have been ghosting, undetected for nigh-on a decade, until he relinquished the role? This is not intended to lessen what others do, but to highlight the extremely different manner by which they achieve their objectives and why you’ll never and have never heard a bad word or a joke made about how Scholes scores his goals. "It's good to have him back. He's scored over 100 goals from midfield for the club and I think that, when you've got a midfield player whose timing arriving in the penalty box is so good, he's always a goal threat. Look at last season - he scored 20 goals. That's outstanding from a midfield player. The other part is he has a clever football brain. He's two-footed, has a quick football brain and that marks him out as one of the best players in the game." - Fergie (December '03) Weaknesses Perhaps Paul’s biggest strength is also his biggest weakness. His dependency on others holding their nerve and playing at a decent enough level for his skills to be of use is paramount. Paul Scholes, due to his physical limitations, simply cannot ‘take a game by the scruff of the neck’ and win it Roy of the Rovers style all by himself like a Robson, Keane, Giggs or Cantona could. Physical advantages are never more apparent and disparate then at times when players in a team know it’s time to kick into overdrive and contribute with their own special gifts to try and ensure victory for the team. Every single player just mentioned has had games for this club that epitomised their physical advantages as they were put to perfect use to decide vital games or turn vital moments in games for us. Perhaps the two easiest ones for most fans to recount would be Giggsy’s wonder-run and strike verses Arsenal in ’99 and Roy Keane’s warlike desire and ambition to nod the ball over the line in Turin. Robson had many games where he’d just take it upon himself to carry the ball 30-40 yards up field and unleash and unstoppable shot into the top corner of the net after besting or simply running straight through two, three or four men in his way. Cantona, with his incredible body strength often set himself up for glorious strikes he couldn’t have otherwise made due to his physique. In Paul Scholes we have a player who will always need to be set up by somebody else to turn a game, he doesn’t have the physical tools to be a one-man army, and in the world sense, when he was in his prime, this went against him when people ranked ‘the best’ the one thing Scholes simply could not match the players he came up against for was moments of completely self-involved and self-created brilliance. Scholes’ best strikes are always after being teed off by somebody else, to which he responds with a perfect volley or shot. His best team goal was arguably against Panathinaikos where he deftly chipped the keeper after an amazing 30-plus passes – but you cannot find goals where Scholes has slalomed to goal, evading men at ease and then finishing the chance off on his own, you’re not going to find goals where Scholes has displayed a Zidane or Cantona-like upper body strength to get himself out of a situation – Paul has always had to bide his time within the team schematic to achieve goals. Unlike a Rooney or Ronaldo, or Nani, or Giggs, or Anderson, Scholes cannot break with convention at the bat of an eye and storm off up-field for that 4 or 5 seconds it could take to best a few men and score a wonder goal, he has physical limitations that ultimately determine his fate in games should the team itself play below standard. [ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qa17LGUHBFo"]YouTube- The legend - Paul Scholes[/ame] A compilation of Scholes’ goals The Spurs match on Saturday was an example of what happens to Scholes when his team-mates give him no tools to work with. Although he is not match fit, he was delimited by the simple fact that those around him were not performing. If they could’ve gotten the ball to him more often, we would have seen a different Scholes, but if the team wilts around him, Scholes does not have the natural tools to right the ship or turn a game around by himself. His tackling, or the ‘Scholesy Specials’, are well known throughout football. In England referees tend to be very lenient with him in this regard, in Europe, however, Scholes has missed out on a number of key games because of his tackling. There can be no doubt that this is the flaw in Paul’s game, going to ground and cleanly winning the ball is a rare occurrence for him. Another weakness that Scholes has, that tends to only be brought to the fore in the biggest games, is a lack of stamina if a game is played outside of his comfort zone. In other words, make him run by playing triangles in and around his area of the field, tire him out, and he will fade from a game because he’s struggling to handle the pace of it. One of the very reasons why we had to move away from the 4-4-2 in Europe was that Roy Keane got old and could no longer do the running of two men and Scholes, never really having the legs for a two-way role in the first place , was having to put in far more of a defensive shift than he was capable of, given that he was also expected to be in the opposition half for the majority of a game. In games outside of Europe and the top six teams in the league, this weakness is never exposed because we hold the lion’s share of possession, but in other matches you’re rarely if ever going to see a central midfield consisting of Paul Scholes and one other player because this is a weakness that effects the whole team and Scholes’ own ability to perform. Fortunately for us and Scholes, the manager makes sure to never expose Scholes in this way. Scholes is a key consideration in how and when we use the 4-4-2 because as stated, no matter what system we play, he is one of the first names on our team-sheet and the team is built around him accordingly. Trying to find more genuine weakness in Paul’s game is tough. With one so intelligent and so far ahead of the play failings tend to come down to physical limitations and outside of his tackling, this appears to be the case with Paul. The pace of a game "He is the best one or two-touch passer in the country. He sees the game unlike any other player." - Terry Venables (when he and McClaren were trying to tempt him out of international retirement) Paul Scholes is one of few anomalies in the English football beings as he is able to control the pace of a game and slow it right down to a snail’s pace whenever it is needed. I am one-hundred percent positive that one of the reasons why successive England managers have tried to entice Scholes out of retirement is because he is the only midfielder of English extraction who can do this in the Premiership. He has proven time and again that he can play Continental football to the highest degree, which is much slower and measured than the ill-considered, one-paced chaos you see near every team in the top flight outside of Manchester United and Arsenal play, which really does not focus on keep-ball and slowing the game down until the side in question is calm in possession and ready to play retentive and yet progressive football. [ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjnQad_ulgQ"]YouTube- Paul Scholes vs. Panathinaikos[/ame] Perhaps our most graceful team goal under Fergie. We have seen in Paul Scholes’ absence that we are just as likely to turn into a helter-skelter, one-paced team as anyone and it is only because we have so much talent in our line-up that we get away with so readily turning over possession of the ball in the various ways that we do. This is not just the domain of the limited, such as a Wes or a Hargreaves, our most skilled central midfielders tend to throw away possession whilst being over ambitious as well. Young Anderson and Carrick have both exhibited this trait time and again over the last few months. In Scholes we have a player who never forces the pace of a game. If the time is not right to speed the play up, he will simply wait and continue to play, basic, metronomic short-passes that keep the opposition chasing shadows and keeps us in control of the play. When the time is right to play the high octane stuff, however, you can more or less guarantee Scholes will be at the hub of the move sending one of the more energetic and quick players off and free down a flank or some such. "He's always one of those people others talk about. Even playing at Real Madrid, the players always say to me 'What's he like'? They respect him as a footballer and to have that respect from some of those players is great. He always creates space and gets into the right places at the right time." - David Beckham Without Scholes’ ability to control the pace of games we have struggled to leave a mark on our opposition that they won’t soon forget. We have struggled to demoralise opponents absolutely and make the last twenty or so minutes of a game an exhibition in which our own players get the chance to rest and conserve energy – we’ve frequently had to play hard right to the final whistle and one of the first things that should change with Scholes returning is this need to expend so much energy on opponents who should have been killed off a good while before the final whistle was blown whether we are goals to the good or just holding onto a slender advantage, Scholes’ way of making opponents chase the ball and penchant for letting them close enough to feel the wind of his next pass as he lays it off again, makes even a one goal advantage seem unassailable. "You saw how much Manchester United missed him last season, and you have seen what a difference he has made when he has come back this year." - Thierry Henry (towards the end of last season after he voted for him in the PFA award) Big Games One of the problems we have in bigger games is that some of our players hide from responsibility. They get overwhelmed by the occasion and/or the opponent and become more tentative and nervous than they should be. This is when more than one Paul Scholes in the team would be extremely useful. As mentioned in a previous section, Paul Scholes’ level of play and consistency is what we need to constantly find ourselves in Champion’s League finals and semis. The problems for Scholes and Manchester United in general in the big games emerge when we see the disparity in performances spread throughout the team. In a game where Scholes is faced by an opponent of equal ability and most likely superior physical attributes, Scholes often has his own game to worry about as any mistake made against the likes of AC Milan and Real Madrid, could easily have us knocked out of the CL. This is where the problems for other members of the team can emerge. Left to fend for themselves or finding themselves in a game where Scholes is not caressing his every pass to them because he doesn’t have the time to, certain players wilt and fall right into the hands of the opposition. A key tactic in Europe amongst the élan of trophy collecting clubs is to densely pack the midfield and make it a maze to play through and then by order of technique the outlet balls provided will be stymied to the most inferior players in the opposing team, at which time they will swamp the poor victim at full pace and aggression, which, if the intended victim wilts under pressure, usually leads to turnovers in possession and some crucial mistakes that lead to goals or chances at goal. Last season Gabriel Heinze and Wes Brown were both hunted down rabidly because the likelihood their technique and nerves would fail them was much higher in probability than the same thing happening to one of our midfielders. Heinze, in particular absolutely melted and in the current team I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Wes or Hargreaves do the same under intense pressure. In general one of the best ways to stifle Scholes is to reduce the amount of team-mates of quality he can play one or two-touch with down to a minimum and then run and press him hard so that he is left with less than optimal players to pass to on his own team, those, who as stated, are likely to bottle a basic pass and either hoof the ball to the opposition or make a mistake that forces the whole team back. AC Milan, in particular are immense at this and in that way, what Ancelotti said about having Manchester United sussed, was quite right. If you stifle the retainer, you disrupt the rhythm of the entire team, you force the forwards to come deep to receive the ball, thus giving them far more to do to get back to their nominal positions during attacks, which in turn tires the whole team out quicker, frustrates them and demoralises them to boot as well. “He's a gifted player and I was reading players from abroad saying they think he's the best in Europe. Zidane's said it, (Patrick) Vieira said it, (Edgar) Davids said it, yet he's not in the first 20 at the awards. He nor Roy Keane were not in the first 20, it's quite amazing. It's probably right that he doesn't have the profile of other players, he doesn't get the same media attention as say Zidane or Ronaldo, but that's football and we don't worry about that. But I find it interesting." - Fergie (on his lack of awards – December '03) If you have any tapes, DVD’s or files from our European apex under Fergie between ’99 and ’02 have a look at the way the team around Scholes constantly put the best laid opposition plans to rest. Dwight Yorke was absolutely masterful at dropping off just enough to create a triangle-chain for Scholes and Keane to outlet to whenever they were heavily pressured. It kept the opposition honest, and it kept our own side ticking over smoothly. The problem Scholes has in the current team is that there is no Yorke and no Keane, not in terms of ability, but in terms of confidence, consistency and assuredness. Wayne, although a superior player to Yorke, is nowhere near as consistent or dependable. And Carrick, although a competent footballer, shows no belief in himself against the very best opponents and tends to not show for the ball as much as Keane would, which in turn leaves Scholes isolated and with less quality options to pass to once pressured. In Anderson, it looks to me like Scholes will have a proper shower[show-er] for the ball in big games for the first time in over three years now, and it really should make a difference to Scholes’ game as with a competent partner he’ll have one less problem in the team to concern himself with. “Paul Scholes is just fantastic. When you play alongside him, you realise what a special talent he is. He is so intelligent and clever, he makes the game look really simple and showed it against Celtic by creating two goals. Believe me, it is a pretty hard skill to be able to slot people through gaps when everything is going on around you. Paul can do that and I felt he was the big difference between the teams." - Michael Carrick (after the 3-2 champs league win over Celtic) Paul Scholes is a bona fide starter no matter what formation we play. Who should partner him? One of the most interesting things abut Paul Scholes is that he inadvertently exposes and separate footballers from role-fillers in our team. If you can play football and happen to find yourself lining up next to Paul Scholes, you’re going to want to frequently interact with him and constantly expect the same courtesy, which is duly received. If you’re a ‘specialist’ player who perhaps is not used to playing the game outside of the parameters set by your old club, say, a no-nonsense-hoof-it-first-ask-questions-later, CB or a basic runner whose whole career has generally revolved around running and harrying the opposition and then immediately giving the ball to a more skilled player on your own team, you are not going to be particularly comfortable with the way Scholes plays the game. He, if designated to be your central midfield partner, is going to force a lot more interaction and one and two-touch football out of you then you may be comfortable with. Not because he’s an evil man who wants to expose the other player to the world, but because to keep a game flowing, Scholes has to be able to pass the ball to the most superfluous option at all times, If that means a short pass to his CM partner, so be it, and in this way he has previously shown us how limited Djemba-Djemba was and may end up doing so again with Owen Hargreaves. “Paul Scholes has had a fantastic season. He is a very complete, spectacular footballer. He always fights for the ball and tries to lose his marker to help his team-mates - either to defend or to have a shot on goal. For any football player in the Premiership, Scholes is a player you want to emulate. I would happily end my career with the medals that Scholes has. He has six league titles, four FA Cups, one European Cup and one Inter-Continental Cup to his name. I am young and I hope that I will be able to surpass him - but it is not going to be easy." - Francesc Fabregas The problem for any player in Scholes’ vicinity is that they are being compared or even paired off with the barometer for footballing skill and intelligence of our entire club. It’s almost a trial by fire if you think about it. Whatever Scholes does is the consensus correct thing to do in almost any situation. However Scholes controls and plays the ball is considered the best and smoothest way out of a scenario. So when you put a player like Owen Hargreaves who probably takes seconds longer to perform tasks Scholes deals with in one motion, you’re highlighting the gulf between the new player and the level needed to play football at the pace and standard of a Manchester United midfielder. As I say, Scholes does not expose others intentionally, but it’s simply a case of processing the information you see for yourself and drawing a conclusion about the disparity in technique and assuredness you are seeing from one player to another. We must consider that there is no easier midfielder here to play next to than Paul Scholes. Everything he does is offered to team-mates on a platter. In any given situation he gives them the longest possible time to process and react accordingly to the pass he has set up for them, but what I saw at times on Saturday was that Hargreaves, even though he was given a fair window to assimilate the pass and decide what to do with it before it had even reached him, was still in need of three, four and even five extra touches, usually with him running across the field aimlessly and making the most basic of return passes evermore difficult by stretching the distance needed to play it. I do believe that it won’t take more than five games against decent opposition in a 4-4-2 for the manager to not use Hargreaves next to Scholes again. If you think about it, Hargreaves offers Scholes absolutely nothing that will enhance or benefit his game: - Hargreaves frequently abandons his nominal position to chase after the ball leaving a chasm in behind himself that Scholes does not have the legs or athleticism to fill. - Hargreaves cannot play one or two-touch football to degree it is demanded here. - all of his energy is expended covering his own back - It will become increasingly difficult for Scholes to get across the half-way line if he is constantly having to sit because Hargreaves has gone walkabout. At 33-years-old, Paul Scholes does not need that shit, to quote Lethal Weapon’s, Murtaugh. I struggle to come up with a single attribute Hargreaves has in a 4-4-2 that is beneficial or conducive to a strong partnership between he and Paul Scholes. Michael Carrick The tried and tested which won us a Premier League title last season and has factual foundations to build from. Michael Carrick’s confidence and passing may have taken a dip from last season, but he has improved defensively, both in terms of positioning and in making tackles. The problem with this partnership could well be that neither player will advance into the opposition half during build-ups with frequency needed to really bother the opposition. An alarming statistic about our central midfielders this season is that in 32 games there is only one goal between five players and we are now in February. Carrick does not look a natural when he goes forward into the opposing third. He tries to place shots as if they were passes, which often squanders his chance to score, he is reluctant to get into the opposition box, so ghosting is not a possibility and generally there does not seem to be the aptitude in his game for scoring or assisting from close and intricate range. Another problem that has emerged with the team this season as opposed to last is that there’s no sign of the real Louis Saha ever showing himself this season. This reduces our options up front to the bare minimum and demands more from the midfield by way of compensation, otherwise we will have a seriously fatigued first wave of attack by April! This combination would be second choice. "I am more confident [about the league] now that Scholes is coming back because he brings a bit of class at important times in games. That's what Scholes is probably best at, producing moments that turn games, so it's a big bonus for us having him back.” – Fergie Anderson Looks like the most likely candidate not only by his performances as an individual this season, but also because of his natural game and the complementary attributes he brings with him. He has the power, physique and pace of a top class athlete and has shown time and again that he is fully capable of breaching a midfield on a run and carrying the ball a good forty yards in the blink of an eye. His natural game is expansive and although he shows no signs of great team retention skills, being paired next to Scholes will give him the best possible platform to learn the basics from. Anderson’s desire to get forward, even if it is not into the box, is far more prevalent than we ever see in Carrick. His short-passing game and the fact he actually tries to shoot, rather than pass the ball into the net, show him to have a least the foundations to nurture, where I don’t believe the same can be said of Carrick. The partnership probably isn’t as good as Carrick-Scholes defensively, but it’s certainly no worse than Hargreaves-Scholes with the added bonus of offering Scholes a player with whom he can play off and for, intermittently. This is the best combination for Scholes in a 4-4-2, I feel, and the other added bonus is that Scholes would not have a player stepping on his toes at times, almost unsure whether he is allowed to be his own man(Carrick) Anderson has certainly shown himself to be a confident, young man with a passing range that is on par with Carrick’s and a certainty to his game, which has taken us all aback. When Paul Scholes retires. "Paul Scholes is without any shadow of a doubt one of the finest midfield players Manchester United has ever produced. “ - Bobby Charlton Manchester United Football Club will have to get used to a whole different way of playing. Gone will be the dependable, ginger one who was passed to whenever others were in doubt. Gone will be the consummate retainer of the ball in the Premiership as well as his calmness and composure. "His football brain, and the football he produces at times, is marvellous.” – Fergie It’s hard to say how much longer the Ginger Prince has left. His game was never based around pace, or power. It has always been about his mind and if he were to be played in a more advanced position, he could well have another three years left in him. Soon he won’t have the legs to play so deep because teams will actively aim to attack him with the ball and exploit his age, but for the next season and a half, Scholes should also be fine playing where he is. Anyway, I wanted to get one of these out there for him whilst he was still active. From the bits and bobs people pick to read (or not) I hope it’s of benefit. I wanted to sign off with this file embedded to the thread. Unfortunately, it’s in HTML code, which BS does not allow, so I’ll just link you to the site where I have uploaded MUTV’s tribute to the Ginger Ninja. Hope you enjoy. “He is a sensational player, one of the best we have ever had.” - Fergie MUTV's Paul Scholes Tribute Compilation With thanks to RoM for the photoshops and quotes!