Paul Scholes: Almost Without Doubt The Greatest Midfielder of the Premier League Era
Cesc Fabregas, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Claude Makelele, Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira—all great Premier League midfielders, but not in the same category as Manchester United legend Paul Scholes.
The Premier League—now in its 20th season—is encouraging fans to vote on who they think are the best players to have graced England's top-flight since it was reformed in 1992.
On the shortlist—drawn up by a panel of expert judges—for "best midfielder" is Paul Scholes, amongst others.
Whilst the other candidates, such as his teammates Keane and Paul Ince, as well as Fabregas, Gerrard, Lampard, Makelele, Matt Le Tissier and Emmanuel Petit, were brilliant midfield maestros, none had the impact of Scholes.
For this is a player who should rightfully be called the greatest midfielder of the Premier League era.
Throughout his 19-year career at the very top of professional football, Scholes has won a ton of accolades and amassed a staggering amount of winners' medals.
And whilst he shies away from the media, those who have played with or against him haven't when speaking of his talent.
When Thierry Henry rejoined Arsenal on loan from the New York Red Bulls back in January—around the same time Scholes came out of retirement to rejoin the Manchester United first-team—his words on Scholes to the club's official website said it all:
[Manchester] United always had many amazing players, but whenever we faced them we were always, always, always scared of what Paul Scholes could do.
Paul Scholes: Best Midfielder of the Premier League Era?
Ask anyone from that old Arsenal team, they will tell you the same.
If you let him play, he can kill you, and for me he was so underrated. The way he plays: one touch, arriving late into the box, the way he strikes the ball, his vision, his passing. Incredible.
I know people used to give him some stick for his tackling, but I liked that. He put his foot in, showed some character, had a go, but I liked that about him too. For me he is one of the best midfielders I have ever seen.
And if that wasn't enough, here's what Xavi Hernandez—the FC Barcelona midfielder largely considered world football's greatest ever pass master—had to say on the player he often talks about with another of the game's best passers, Real Madrid and former Liverpool star Xabi Alonso.
In the last 15 to 20 years the best central midfielder that I have seen—the most complete—is [Paul] Scholes. I have spoken with Xabi Alonso about this many times. Scholes is a spectacular player who has everything.
He can play the final pass, he can score, he is strong, he never gets knocked off the ball and he doesn’t give possession away. If he had been Spanish then maybe he would have been valued more.
In fact, the list of world football legends who have heaped praise on Scholes could continue indefinitely.
Here's an article detailing the praise he's received from Socrates, Zinedine Zidane (who called Scholes his "toughest opponent"), Marcello Lippi, Laurent Blanc, Sir Bobby Charlton, Edgar Davids, Cesc Fabregas, Ryan Giggs and Sir Alex Ferguson.
We've heard from these big legends what makes Paul Scholes such a great midfielder, but the reason why he's the best of the Premier League era lies in his current spell at Manchester United (he rejoined the club's first-team seven months after deciding to retire).
Since returning to help his boss and old friend Sir Alex Ferguson, Scholes has made an impact even his biggest fans probably wouldn't have envisaged.
Adapting his style to play as a deep-lying playmaker, the 66-capped England international has brought out the best in not only his game, but also that of midfield partner Michael Carrick and wingers like Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young.
Despite spending so long out of the game, Scholes has come back and not only made an immediate impact, but a vital one at that.
To put how integral he is to United right now into perspective, a look at two of the statistics all midfielders are judged on—pass success rate and accurate long balls hit—will prove his importance.
That makes him the second-most accurate overall passer in the Premier League this season—behind Leon Britton of Swansea City, surprisingly—but Britton does hit on average 4.2 fewer passes per game than Scholes.
And in terms of spreading the play, those stats make him the best in the league at doing so—Tottenham Hotspur playmaker Luka Modric is the league's second-best right now, hitting on average 7.5 accurate long balls each match.
In fact, Scholes' 9.9 long balls hit per game actually makes him the third-best midfielder in all of Europe right now at spreading the play.
Only AC Milan midfield enforcer Mark van Bommel (11 accurate long balls hit per game on average) and Juventus star Andrea Pirlo (11.1 per match) are statistically better, but what Scholes has on them is a significantly higher pass success rate.
And besides his passing, Scholes has also made a big goalscoring impact to United, still justifying his chant "Paul Scholes, he scores goals" from the Old Trafford faithful.
He got the ball rolling at home to Bolton Wanderers in a 3-0 win—netting on his second Premier League debut—and also scored a crucial opener in the 2-1 away win over Norwich City, as well as a spectacular, trademark second to kill off Queens Park Rangers for a 2-0 victory.
All of this from a player who, for the first half of the season, was living the life of a retired man, training with the youth team at the club just to keep in shape.
More than anything, it goes to show that this is a legend of the game with pure, innate talent that will never disappear.
We've seen what happens when players like Robert Pires and Robbie Fowler try to extend their careers beyond the norm—it fails, spectacularly.
Yet Scholes, at 37 years of age, is still going at the very top of the game, still proving himself as a vital part of the greatest club in the Premier League era.
And he's still doing it after spending months out of the sport, proving that the only thing that has ever declined in his career is his overall fitness—and even that is at a sensational level for someone of his age.
No other Premier League player, or in fact any player in world football, could probably perform at the level Scholes is at right now given his age, especially after spending seven months away from any competitive football.
And that is why Paul Scholes deserved to be labelled as the greatest midfielder of the Premier League era.
He's a player who has lasted at the top longer than almost all others in world football, especially those in the Premier League, and is one of the sport's greatest role models.
A professional's professional, his former teammate Roy Keane (himself a club legend) summed Scholes up perfectly:
No celebrity bull****, no self-promotion—an amazingly gifted player who remained an unaffected human being.
Or perhaps the man himself says it best. Despite of all the accolades he's won, the hype he's generated and the plaudits he's received, this is all the Manchester United legend wants from his career:
When it's over I just want to be able to look in the mirror and say, 'Well, you were a half-decent player.'
Words which are brilliant yet understated—vintage Paul Scholes.