It was a day we all knew was coming. To be honest, I was expecting it sooner or later, but in no way did that make it hurt any less. The 20-year career of Paul Scholes is over. I read the announcement this morning and it still hit me as if it had come out of the blue.
As a kid growing up, I was always fed stories of the Busby Babes from my enthusiastic Granddad. He would tell me tales of the exciting kids he used to watch all those years ago at Old Trafford, and I remember the joy it gave him to watch the class of '92 try to emulate the famous teams he grew up with.
For him and most of the older fans, there was always one of the group whose star shone more brightly than the rest, and his name was Paul Scholes. From a young age, Scholes showed the potential to become a real star player.
Scholes has justified the hype, as he went on to become one of the most gifted players England has ever produced. Many players and fans have gone as far as calling him one of the best ever seen on these shores. Still, I don't think people appreciated him enough and never realized how brilliant he truly was.
Was it because he didn’t have his name in the papers, and never wanted A-list celebrity status? Absolutely. Scholes was so good at going about his business quietly that he successfully managed to stay out of the public eye for 20 years. He may be one of the last of the older breed of players, the generation that lived their life outside of football like any other member of the working class. Teammates have said they rarely saw Scholes outside of matches or training, and he preferred to turn his phone off after training and back on just before the next day’s session.
Always dedicated to United’s cause, Scholes sometimes let his emotions get the best of him, making rash tackles that left him with a reputation for being somewhat a dirty player. If you ever mention one of Scholes’ goals, someone always brings up one of his horrendous tackles. The third-most booked player in premiership history, Scholes also retires as the most booked player in Champions League history.
But, that dangerous quality is what helped make Scholes the player he was. Take that away from him, and he would have lost the competitive edge that fueled his drive. The fiery side to him was such a contrast to the quiet life he lived.
Did he retire too early from England duty? I feel he did, but fair play to him for not wanting to play out of position, in a diamond formation, where he felt he wasn’t showing the real Paul Scholes. It couldn't have been easy for him to watch less-talented in his preferred role. Wanting to spend his last years in the game solely concentrating on his club again showed his dedication.
Uneducated football fans would watch a match he played in and never understand just how Scholes controlled a game. His passes were perfect, and the way he ghosted in between defenses was always a joy to behold. I don't think anyone will ever forget his powerful, driving shots. Zidane, Xavi and Davids are just a handful of greats who have claimed Scholes was one of the best they ever saw, let alone competed against. To understand the respect other players have for the man, one just has to look at how on Saturday the Barcelona players drew straws to see who would swap shirts with Scholes.
Was Scholes the best English midfielder of all time?
It’s hard to believe that an eye injury very nearly led to Scholes' premature retirement in 2005. United missed him a great deal when he was out, proving just how important he was to the team. Fans started to wonder who could replace him, but Scholes showed his character by bouncing back to produce some his greatest performances in a Red shirt in his later years.
I believe Scholes was still debating whether to sign the contract that was on the table for next season, but the Carling Cup semifinal against Manchester City convinced him that it was time to move on. That was the game when he realized he wasn’t playing up to the high standards he always set for himself, and on the journey home that day many of us predicted he would retire at the season's end.
David Beckham, Gone. Phil Neville, Gone. Nicky Butt, Gone. Gary Neville, Gone. Paul Scholes, Gone. The 92 Youth Cup win and emergence of those youngsters seems another lifetime ago. The kids are now retired men.
Just a over a week ago, Manchester United won the FA Youth Cup again, with possibly one of the most gifted set of kids since 1992. How fitting would it be that the season after the last of the first group retired, the new batch started their breakthrough? Who knows what we’ll be saying about them in 20 years.
Scholes ended his career just how he played it. Quietly, on his own terms and with minimal fuss.
So thank you Paul. Thank you for that crucial goal against Inter in the '99 quarter. Thank you for your ultimate sacrifice against Juventus in the Champions League semifinals. Thank you for always seeming to score against Newcastle. Thank you for THAT goal against Aston Villa and THAT goal against Bradford. Thank you for the strike which helped us to the European Cup final (Your nine years of hurt ended right there). Thank you so very very much for that last minute header against Manchester City. Thank you for never giving anything less than 100% in all of the 676 games you played, no matter who it was against. Thank you for proving yourself as the best midfielder in the world.I feel privileged to have watched you in person as many times as I have. Thank you for all the memories that will never fade, and without a doubt the Old Trafford faithful will always sing your song for many years to come, “He Scores goals galore, he scores goals, Paul Scholes, he scores goals.”
"I am not a man of many words but I can honestly say that playing football is all I have ever wanted to do, to have had such a long and successful career at Manchester United has been a real honor. To have been part of the team that helped the club reach a record 19th title is a great privilege. I would like to thank the fans for their tremendous support throughout my career; I would also like to thank all the coaches and players that I have worked with over the years. But most of all I would like to thank Sir Alex (Ferguson) for being such a great manager. From the day I joined the club his door has always been open and I know this team will go on to win many more trophies under his leadership."
-Paul Scholes, May 31 2011