Paul Scholes: 10 Reasons His Comeback Means a 20th Manchester United Title

Terry CarrollContributor IIIJanuary 17, 2012

Paul Scholes: 10 Reasons His Comeback Means a 20th Manchester United Title

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    Paul Scholes scored on Saturday, but it won't be his goals that will bring Manchester United their 20th title. Whether he plays or not, it is his influence in so many ways that will refuel the Red Devils' rocket while others will struggle.

    Golden Oldies (and Ginger!)

    It's the season for great comebacks and extended life-spans.

    Paul Scholes has come out of retirement at 36 to lift United with a goal and much more. Thierry Henry scored within minutes of coming on for Arsenal against Leeds in the FA Cup. He's a relative youngster at a mere 34.

    Meanwhile, Sir Alex Ferguson believes Ryan Giggs could go on to 40 or more. Kevin Phillips—a youthful 38—scored a hat-trick in the Cup and salvaged a point with a goal against Ipswich. Stoke City have offered Rory Delap a new contract that would take him to nearly 38.

    So what's happening?

    First, finances are getting tighter. Financial Fair Play looms. While neither United, Chelsea nor City are short of funds to spend in the transfer market, they are all being cagey or careful. The reason is two-fold: the wage bill (which at City swallowed most of their revenues last year) and the amortisation (writing off the value of players' contracts over their term).

    Despite the strength of the pound, this looks like being one of the quietest January transfer windows ever. Sir Alex Ferguson isn't the only manager looking for value in the market. Andre Villas-Boas has just bought Gary Cahill for £7m rather than last summer's £18m.

    Sir Alex not only insists that he will only buy top-class players that are available at a reasonable price. He probably also figures that, with the FFP spectre hanging over clubs across Europe, better value will be there with less competition in the summer.

    Also, there may be more clubs having to sell to balance their books and reduce their wage bill.

    Why is this relevant to Paul Scholes?

    Everybody except Scholes himself was stunned when he retired so early. Yes, he had lost a bit of pace but like the best players (Rio Ferdinand), he sees the game so well and the situation so early that he can still be a force to be reckoned with.

    It probably took him until this season was under way to realise how much he was missing the game. Coaching and training with the reserves (many of whom are not much more than half his age), he will have realised two things:

    He was fitter than he thought and he still had something to give.

    Make no mistake. As Sir Alex has made clear, it was Scholes' own decision to come back. Yes, it is convenient with United having had one of their worst injury crises ever and the Boss being reluctant to spend before the summer.

    But when all is said and done, if Scholes is prepared to be a squad player for another two seasons (like Ryan Giggs), he has given Sir Alex the equivalent of a £10 million boost.

    Longevity will become more of a pattern

    Novak Djokovic had his best year ever in 2011, after going on a gluten-free diet. Andy Murray has followed suit.

    Training and fitness regimes are more intelligent these days. Diet is fundamental; drinking alcohol is eschewed. The result is that many athletes' bodies are wearing less; their vigour is remaining longer and their thinking is clearer. The thought of 40-year-old footballers will no longer be unusual.

    There is no knowing how long Paul Scholes can carry on. He has no interest in playing for any other club and that will no doubt have conditioned his decision to retire last year. He has discovered, however, that he is not past his sell-by date and, if he is prepared to be available in whatever capacity the Boss wants him—and whenever—he could go on much longer.

    Some might see this as a threat to the development of younger players, but as Michael Owen, Ryan Giggs and Dimitar Berbatov have shown, if you're prepared to be a squad player and sublimate your ambitions for the greater good, there''s always a place for you.

    It's not just about goals, Scholes...

    Time away from the game may have helped Paul Scholes realise that although he may not be as fast or as fit as he was when he first broke into the United team, he can be much more for the team and the future success of United.

    He is undoubtedly one of the greatest English players ever. What he can do, you don't lose overnight. Apparently the younger players he has been coaching have been in awe of him.

    Scholes is, first and foremost, a shy, unassuming, almost humble man. As usual, he was first out of the door on Saturday, avoiding all the interviews and going home to his family.

    But what he can do with a football he could almost do with one leg. David Beckham is one of the finest crossers of a ball ever. When he went to LA Galaxy, he found that the same ability could be used from a deep-lying position spraying balls to colleagues upfield.

    That is largely what Scholes was doing last season. Saturday was different, however. With Michael Carrick playing the holding role, the Ginger Prince was able to get forward in much the way he used to 10 years ago, popping up unmarked to score the goal, lift the team and the fans.

    These things give an insight into the potential for Paul to bring much more than even he might have realised. We shall discuss this wider contribution in the next few slides.

    Sir Alex may have invited Michael Carrick to be the pivotal player in the team for the rest of the season. Paul Scholes' contribution going forward could be the difference that brings United a 20th title—and even more.

Paul Scholes Scores Goals

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    "He scores goals, Scholes, he scores goals. He scores goals Scholes, he scores goals. He scores goals, Scholes, he scores goals. Paul Scholes, he scores goals."

    That song rang round Old Trafford against the backdrop of a standing ovation.

    It wasn't the greatest goal he's ever scored. It was a sniffer's goal and, as Sir Alex said afterwards, he wasn't even supposed to be there; he was meant to be back in a central holding role.

    But you can't take the instinct out of a great player. Every time he got the ball near the penalty area, the crowd shouted "Shoot!"

    Scholes is more measured and patient now. There's no doubt he will score one or two volleys in the rest of the season.

    Equally, he will almost certainly contribute a multitude of incisive passes.

    But this time around, having retired and come back, the breadth of his contribution can more than counteract Anno Domini.

    And it won't be just about goals...or passing...

Inspiration to the Team

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    It was a shock to almost everyone when Paul Scholes' name was announced among the substitutes against City. Sir Alex was amazed that it had been kept secret—even from the players. Paul had been training with the first team during the week.

    It was a delight when he came on with 30 minutes to go. OK, he looked a bit rusty and the legs weren't quite up to speed. In fact he was pretty much to blame for the second City goal, with an uncharacteristic loose pass.

    But from the moment he stepped back onto the sward he should never have deserted, the smiles were back on the players' faces.

    He is one of the greatest players we shall ever see. What we sometimes forget is that he has that effect on fellow professionals also. Look at all the press coverage the following day. Anyone would think he had played a blinder (which he didn't). Pundits from London to Lima were oozing pleasure.

    His effect on the team was also evident in Michael Carrick's postmatch comments after the Bolton match.

    When it was announced that he was starting, a murmur grew to a buzz among the faithful at Old Trafford. Only Paul Scholes could write the script that followed. Yes, he misplaced an unusually large number of passes. But he could be forgiven that in an instant when he scored.

    Just when supporters were wondering if it was going to be one of those matches...and at the best possible time, immediately before the break, the Ginger Prince was in space to turn in Rooney's pass.

    The crowd erupted. The song rang out around the ground. The crowd stood to a man, woman and child.

    And his fellow players enveloped him in a team scrum, wreathed in smiles. Paul looked even more embarrassed than usual, but he had announced his return.

    The team was lifted visibly and the result became inevitable.

    Paul Scholes won't start every match for the rest of the season—indeed he may not start many at all once Cleverley, Anderson and Young are fully fit.

    But on the training ground every day in the dressing room and the dugout, Paul's influence and quiet inspiration will be pervasive.

    This could be the turning point for the season that brings home the 20th crown--and maybe even a double or treble.

    The Prince is back; long live the Prince.

Lifting the Crowd

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    You would have to be there to know what it means.

    Those who were there will never forget Wayne Rooney's overhead goal against City last season. It was an instant mega-rush.

    The feeling on Saturday when Scholes scored was very similar. No, the match didn't have the same importance but, after defeats to Blackburn and Newcastle, and at this stage of the season, you have to win every match.

    The crowd had responded to Fergie's exhortation in the programme to lift the players but, as the game wore on, it got quieter and quieter. It was like a cathedral once again.

    But minutes after the less patient had slipped out to get their pies and only sixty seconds before half-time, Scholes woke the supporters from their slumbers with a goal that appeared out of nowhere.

    Full credit to Rooney for picking out his unmarked senior colleague (and for Welbeck's stepover), but when the onion bag bulged, everyone knew who the perpetrator was—and didn't they let him know.

    The standing ovation then and when he left the stage after 60 minutes and the inevitable anthem were all the crowd and the team needed.

    Scholes was back. The crowd was back. The tempo lifted. The goals were scored. The crowd went home happy.

    He may only be able to do it for a couple more seasons at most, but Scholes is loved as well as admired at Old Trafford. One sublime pass; one torpedoed goal; even one of those eeugh ouch tackles can lift the spirits of the supporters.

    And the supporters lift the team.

    More even than last year, especially in the midst of a shocking cavalcade of injuries, United are playing as a team. Paul Scholes may stand out as one of the world class individuals, but his get, give, move style personifies all that is good about United these days.

    They all want to win. Lots of them want to score. But most of all they want to play for each other--and the crowd when they're behind them.

    Paul Scholes epitomises the selfless team-based ethic that the wannabe pretender Ravel Morrison doesn't seem to get.

Passing

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    Now that he's less mobile, this is what will make the difference. This is what he's best at and what we've missed at times this season.

    He and Michael Carrick understand each other's game and will take it in turns to sit. But Scholes can make raking passes from the back, and drilled and dinked passes from the front.

    That was the main difference on Saturday. He seemed to be playing further forward than he has done in recent seasons.

    OK, he made three awful passes that put United under pressure as he did when gifting City a gilt-edged chance that Sergio Aguero converted.

    It's not just the quality of his passing that makes the difference. It's the speed with which he does it. Given the licence to motor forward, he is one of a number of United's top players who can interchange passes at speed, cutting defences apart like a knife.

    Sir Alex has gone for pace and skill in recent signings. That ability to control and play a high-speed passing game, as Barcelona do, will be at a premium for the rest of the season.

    It can be just as important playing against those teams that are well-drilled or park the bus as it is against the top six teams that United still have to play on their own grounds.

    Sir Alex may pick and choose the occasions when he will slip Scholes in, but he knows that his midfield genius can win big matches with the quality of his passing.

    As the legs and stamina return, we may be about to see not just a renaissance in Paul Scholes, but a masterclass that can separate the men from the boys.

Tackling

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    This will be critical as well, but not as a quality.

    Let's face it. Paul Scholes can't tackle. OK, he gets the occasional fair dig in but when the red mist is up or he thinks he's got a fraction of a chance of getting there, 75,000 people hold their breath.

    In more ways than one, he gets away with murder. Referees seem to love or indulge him.

    The first tackle on the video above is very similar to the one he carried out on Davies for Bolton. In fact it was so crude that it would fail the Trades Description Act as a tackle.

    It was a lunge at the ball, studs showing, into the Bolton player's abdomen. Yakubu got sent off for the same thing at Blackburn. Paul didn't even get a yellow card. Sir Alex might moan about inconsistency but Scholes gets away with more bad tackles than almost any player in the Premier League (except perhaps Kevin Davies).

    So this factor could be crucial in a negative way. Paul's legs won't carry him as fast as before, no matter how quickly his brain works. And he doesn't seem to have the capacity to pull out of a tackle.

    He's been sent off before with straight reds or two yellows. The title run is going to go to the wire this season. One rash tackle from the red-headed Devil could cost United a vital three points in a six-pointer.

Michael Carrick

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    This is the Michael Carrick that many people had forgotten about until this season.

    Even before Sir Alex's exhortation that Michael can become the pivotal player that United need to win the title this year, a string of five-star performances had suggested he could get back to his best.

    His season started slowly due to injury. After being taken off in the Community Shield, Tom Cleverley looked to have displaced him but, with Darren Fletcher out for the long term, Sir Alex has asked him to play a holding role—and even to fill in at centre back again.

    The Paul Scholes factor

    Paul is unlikely to start many matches this season, although the Europa League could be his forte, schooling bright prospects like Paul Pogba alongside him.

    The signs are that Carrick is the go-to man as along as his form continues.

    Paul Scholes has had a significant effect on Michael Carrick in at least three ways and this may also help win a 20th title.

    Scholes will eventually hang up his boots for good. It may happen if Sir Alex brings in a player of the quality of Goetze or Ganso in the summer. As well as Cleverley, there are other young pretenders like Tunnicliffe and Brady coming through.

    The first way that Scholes has influenced Carrick is by simply not being there. Michael is a humble unassuming chap who may have felt he was in Paul's shadow. Whether this is true or not, this has been a season of rebirth.

    And he's scoring goals. Neymar won the FIFA Goal of the Year with a run from the halfway line. Michael's at QPR came the same distance and beat more defenders. Suddenly the confidence is returning and he scored an excellent goal against Bolton—running onto a Giggs pass and going on to bend a LEFT-footed shot round both defender and keeper from 25 yards. Take a bow, son.

    The second Scholes effect is all that Michael has learned alongside the ginger maestro—in training and in matches. He hit two devastating passes on Saturday that could have come out of Scholes' armoury.

    The third factor is the different way that they set up on Saturday. Scholes played further up the pitch than he did last year. The experience that he brought back into the team seemed to lift Michael's game another notch, as the statistics bear out.

    Carrick made 20 successful tackles or interceptions; he completed 95 percent of his 66 passes; and hit four excellent balls into the box including the two mentioned above.

    So Paul Scholes has influenced Carrick's game and can continue to do so, whether or not he is on the pitch. Between them they can fill the central midfield conundrum until the summer.

    Scholes won't get an England call-up, but on this form, Carrick might.

Occupying the Opposition

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    Everybody knows what a great player Scholes is—none more so than opposition managers. And they can be predictable.

    When you look at the goals and assists Nani got last season, it isn't rocket science for managers to put at least two players on him when he's got the ball. At times this season there have been three or even four. This has restricted his contribution in recent matches.

    Similarly, during the recent injury crisis, the midfield personnel have been rotated almost like clockwork—either because of midfield injuries or because Carrick was needed at centre-back.

    This has meant that a rhythm hasn't settled into United's midfield until recently. Even against Newcastle and Blackburn it was disrupted again.

    On Saturday we saw a completely different picture. Managers know what one pass from Paul Scholes can do to a defence, so he was tightly marked. It didn't stop him being effective and once the rust wore off, he was back to his passing best. He even had a shot.

    What it did do, however, was create space for Michael Carrick behind him and for the wingers, especially Antonio Valencia. Both had their best game of the season.

    So Scholes puts pressure on opposition defences and midfield just by being there, but he also eases pressure on his own teammates.

    We can expect to see United's old flowing 4-4-2 much more in evidence going forward. Especially now Rafael is back to his best also.

Room for Rooney

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    If Michael Carrick had one of his best games this season, Wayne Rooney had a shocker.

    OK, he made the first two goals with passes, but he missed a penalty—again—and should have had at least a hat-trick as well as wasting possession too often in midfield.

    Nevertheless, this was mainly obvious because of the amount of ball he got—and often in good positions.

    The main reason being that Paul Scholes was not only playing, but also higher up the pitch than he has in the past. Rooney was pushed further forward and was able to play the role Sir Alex wants him to—linking midfield through to the striker at the top. Welbeck should also have had a hat-trick.

    When Steven Gerrard plays the role that Scholes did, with two strikers ahead of him, Liverpool can be devastating. Similarly, Gerrard and Rooney play well together for England in this format.

    Let's hope Saturday was an aberration for Wayne, because Scholes' influence on the pitch can be very beneficial to the United leader—maybe propelling him back to the goal-scoring form he had last season.

Opening Up the Wingers

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    Antonio Valencia was devastating on Saturday. On this form he's right up there with David Silva of Manchester City.

    Certainly he's been getting better and better in recent weeks, suggesting he has finally put his injury behind him and got his confidence back.

    It is unfortunate that Sir Alex had to play him at left back during the injury glut, but even then he showed glimpses of his brilliance by overlapping with Nani.

    So as well as making space for Carrick and Rooney to play, Scholes' presence can open up the wingers.

    United's traditional game is based on 4-4-2. They can play that way because Nani and especially Valencia can tackle back.

    But opposition teams seem this season to have hit on a singularly unimaginative formula for stopping the wingers from playing—and therefore the supply of bullets to the strikers—by simply crowding the wingers out—especially Nani.

    Nani is not playing at his best at the moment, but if space can be opened up on the left in the way that Rafael and Carrick fed Valencia on the right, United can get back to their very best form of early season.

    This time, while Scholes was again the obvious catalyst against Bolton--pulling players towards him in the middle of the park--it can be equally true when Cleverley returns.

    Tom Cleverley does not yet have the passing range that Scholes has, but he makes up for that in energy, awareness and positional sense.

    Especially when his passing is back to its best, Scholes can also ping the passes into space that Valencia and Nani love to run onto, turning defences and resulting in the killer crosses on the ground between defenders and keeper.

    This is the style that United have displayed in Scholes' purple years. Young waits in the wings, with the young pretenders, Larnell Cole and Jesse Lingard, while the old master, Ryan Giggs can turn a trick or two. 

Coaching the Next Generation

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    If players like Michael Carrick were purring at the return of Paul Scholes, just imagine what it's been like having him coaching the reserves.

    Unfortunately, the penny doesn't seem to have dropped yet with Ravel Morrison, who has been described as the next Paul Scholes.

    It would be kind to suggest that he and Pogba are looking elsewhere because they are not getting first-team chances. This is far from the truth.

    While Spurs' wage ceiling is believed to be £70,000 a week for players like Luka Modric, Pogba and Morrison seem to think they are worth £45,000 a week without having started a single Premier League match.

    And Danny Welbeck is believed to be wanting a hike from £15,000 to £60,000 a week on the strength of a half-dozen appearances.

    Paul Scholes as a shining example

    It would not be a surprise to find that Scholes was still on £80,000 a week. He may even have taken a pay cut to return. Why? Because when you are quiet and unassuming and just want to play football or be with your family, money isn't the most important thing.

    Young players may be in awe of Scholes' and Giggs' outrageous talent, but they should also look at their work ethic.

    As Arnold Palmer once said, "The harder I practice, the luckier I get." Matthew Syed in his best-seller, Bounce, suggests that practice is by far the most important factor in being the very best. His research suggests that 10,000 hours is the minimum.

    Players like Scholes, Beckham, Ronaldo and Rooney are first to the training ground and last to leave. They know that talent can be ephemeral when you slip the fitness or take the occasional drink—as Rooney found out after Boxing Day.

    The fact that Paul Scholes could step back into the first team, without any match practice and training with the reserves until the last few days, says it all. He may have sheer bloody talent, but he works his butt off as well.

    Mentoring tomorrow's stars

    The young lads with the ambition, the right attitude and a healthy dose of humility have already had six months training every day with their new coach, Mr Scholes.

    For those who break into the first-team squad, they will have the opportunity to play with and learn from the Ginger Prince, who has been lauded by Zinedine Zidane, Michel Platini and Pele.

    Assuming that Cleverley, Anderson and Carrick are and remain fit for the Premier League, the Europa League will give Sir Alex a golden opportunity to put Paul Pogba, William Keane, Larnell Cole, Jesse Lingard and Ravel Morrison (if he stays) alongside Paul Scholes.

    They can learn from his work ethic, style and ability. They can draw on his experience. they can be given the space and freedom to express themselves as Scholes directs the orchestra.

    The golden years

    Footballers in general, with a few talented golden oldies in particular, are learning a new paradigm. Form is temporary, but class is permanent.

    In the same way that Stoichkov and Maldini did at the end of their respective careers, the Scholes, Giggs, Henrys and Beckhams can not only be pivotal to the success of their team, but can be critical in bringing on the next generation.

    The only challenge for Sir Alex will be to pick Scholes' and Giggs' games and shape the tactics and personnel around them.

    Sir Alex's master plan going forward may be built on another generation of young bucks, but it can be predicated on the melting yellows and golds of two players in their autumn years. None more so than Paul Scholes.

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