THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

11 June ~ The news that Paul Scholes is retiring has been greeted with some unprecedented hyperbole. By the sound of the plaudits you would think he was some kind of footballing god who compared with the likes of George Best or Diego Maradona. Scholes was undoubtedly a very fine player in his prime: nimble, intelligent, accurate of pass and deadly in front of goal. But in recent years this once gifted footballer has been living off his reputation. He has been nursed through games by younger, fitter team-mates, and granted a level of loyalty by his otherwise ruthless manager that bordered on indulgence.

Sir Alex Ferguson's favouritism was not repaid with performances. The goals dried up, he was constantly caught in possession and the tackles became ever later and higher. In spite of this, the legend of Scholes has actually grown during these leaner times, enhanced no doubt by his longevity and a few more championship medals. His status as the finest English midfielder of his generation is now assured. It must be so because that's what everyone in the game keeps telling us.

Curiously, Scholes wasn't rated so highly at his peak. Most commentators considered Roy Keane more influential, with Scholes on a par with Ryan Giggs and David Beckham. At international level no one ranked him above Paul Gascoigne and there weren't too many protests when he lost his central midfield position to Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. I wonder how Lampard and Gerrard feel now when told they are not in his class. Scholes probably had the edge in basic technique over these two (even if he was embarrassingly one-footed) and he seldom disappeared from games as is Lampard's wont. But when it comes to goalscoring, the Chelsea player is well ahead.

When you factor in work-rate, energy, pace, the ability to lead and inspire others, along with ball-winning potential – all vital components of the modern midfielder – Gerrard is your man. It is rarely taken into account when judging the merits of players, but it is much easier to shine when you play for the best team in the country. You have more possession, more time on the ball and more opportunities to score. Would Scholes be spoken about in such exalted tones if he had played in a Liverpool shirt?

In recent years Scholes, like Giggs, has lost his pace and sacrificed his attacking instincts for steadiness and nous in the middle of the park. Had he been able to tackle, Scholes could have made the transition into a holding midfielder. But this old failing was amplified further by the passing of time, as even his greatest fans acknowledge with a wry smile and a shake of the head. Keane at least was honest enough in his appraisal of Scholes to describe him as "nasty", even if he meant it as a compliment. For some reason he doesn't have this reputation in the game at large. Other players – Keane included – would have been condemned for the challenges Scholes made. It is remarkable what you can get away with if you are modest, quiet and shy. Perhaps, in a profession packed full of overblown egos, more should take note.

Scholes should have hung up his boots a few years ago, but as he heads off into the sunset I wish him well and applaud a great career, while remaining wary and weary of all the overblown tributes. He will stand high in the pantheon of Old Trafford stars, but if a fair judgment is applied, his name will be alongside the likes of Denis Law, Bryan Robson, Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs, but below the true United greats of George Best, Bobby Charlton and Eric Cantona. Stephen Griffiths

Comments (22)
Comment by G.Man 2011-06-11 09:05:11

I regard my older brother in Germany as something of a football expert. He spent a lot of time watching football with our father, who was the highly-regarded editor of a football newspaper. He has been a coach for more than 30 years, from the age of 18. He is now developing coaches for his regional FA. He has the credentials to spot a great football player.

In 2000 we were preparing to watch Real Madrid play Man Utd. He mumbled vague niceties about Roy Keane and David Beckham, but when it came to Paul Scholes, he was smacking his lips in the ways of a French food connoisseur.

I was thinking of that when Xavi was talking up Scholes in that Guardian interview earlier this year. Upshot is that in Europe, Scholes is regarded as an absolute world class player.

Of course, a parochial judgment is easily clouded by seeing a player week in, week out. But then I remember how the great Gerd Müller, perhaps the greatest goal scorer of all time, was hounded out of the Bundesliga by his own fans because he went without scoring a goal for something like five matches.

Comment by t.j.vickerman 2011-06-11 09:52:20

G.Man beat me to it. Xavi has said in numerous articles that Scholes is the player he's most tried to emulate, but he was nowhere near as good at shooting. That's good enough for me.

Yes, he's been used sparingly in the last few years but he's, what, 37? The very reason Ferguson did that was to prolong his career as he recognises the qualities Scholes has.

It's natural for there to be hyperbole when a player retires but he's surely one of the best English players of a generation. I wouldn't place Lampard, Gerrard or Beckham above him.

Comment by diggedy derek 2011-06-11 11:13:01

Obviously he's 'overrated', if you read too much purple-prose broadsheet space filler, but in terms of analysis, this piece is all over the place.

Comment by Paul Rowland 2011-06-11 12:58:31

This whole Xavi "I always wanted to be like Paul Scholes" thing just don't make no sense to me. In fact, it beggars belief. For pity's sakes, why would Xavi want to be like Paul Scoles?

I can only assume that Xavi was badly misquoted, or maybe his exact meaning got lost somewhere in the translation. Or maybe he had ulterior motives for making such a bizarre statement. Maybe he was scared of Scholesey's tackling - aren't we all? - and hoped that a bit of gentle ego-massaging might encourage Scholesey to leave Xavi alone and pick on someone else.

Or, alternatively.... maybe Xavi was just taking the mick?

Comment by Red Jaff 2011-06-11 14:59:45

What a pile of garbage. Your main criticism seems to be that Paul Scholes aged. Of course he was not going to be as good a player as he got older. He adapted his game and became more of a deep lying playmaker. Right up to the end he was able to dictate the midfield and run the midfield. Yes he could be got at more, age will do that, but you could also argue that this was due to the lack of true quality other players in the centre of United's midfield.

Also, bemoaning the fact that he didn't score as many goals in the latter stages of his career is a ridiculous argument. You choose to omit the fact that the United set up and tactical approach altered considerably from the 4-4-2 in which Scholes played as an attacking midfielder in his pomp. Scholes' role changed within that as well.

The Lampard and Gerard analogies are equally laughable. They are 32 and 31 respectively and both look like they are done. Don't tell me that these two players haven't had some fantastic midfielders playing beside them to cover up their inadequacies either. Alonso and Essien spring to mind.

"When you factor in work-rate, energy, pace, the ability to lead and inspire others, along with ball-winning potential – all vital components of the modern midfielder – Gerrard is your man"

Sounds like a typical English stuck in the past approach to football this sentence. It's funny how Xavi and Inesita are the linchpins of Spain and Barca. Two of the most impressive footballing teams of all time yet you seem to think that the all action English type midfielder is the zenith. Scholes at his best could replace Xavi or Iniesta because his the same type of player, Lampard and Gerard never could.

Then we get on to his all round professional, dedication to the game and to his family. How many fights has Scholes got into with local DJ's, or clubs has he fallen out of drunk? Perhaps one of the few footballers I would ever dare to say was a role model.

At the end of the day Paula Scholes was a truly world class midfielder. More of a continental play-maker and I guess it is no wonder the Europeans appreciated his talent far more than the English ever did. He of course he had his limitations, poor tackling in his latter years being the obvious. This still doesn't take away from the the legacy he has left.

Tbh, I could probably write a retort the length of a dissertation to this piece of writing. It is full of gaping holes, omits crucial info, and has generally been structured to critique the player based on purely personal opinion rather than well reasoned arguments.

Next time, leave it to Xavi and Zidane to write the obituaries on Paul Scholes' career if you don't mind.

Comment by Outside Agent 2011-06-11 16:44:21

That's a pretty poor piece. But then the author regards Eric Cantona as one of the "true greats" so his judgement of Scholes should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Comment by The Awesome Berbaslug!!! 2011-06-11 19:10:29

[i]When you factor in work-rate, energy, pace, the ability to lead and inspire others, along with ball-winning potential – all vital components of the modern midfielder – Gerrard is your man[/i]

You forgot to mention the Brain. Steven gerrard doesn't really seem to have one. Paul scholes was the string pulling brain of the man utd team, picking the ball up off the back four, moving it onto a man in space, moving into position to get the ball back from him, passing and moving, keeping possession, linking defence and attack, dictating the pace of the game, drawing the opposition in. Always looking for a teammate who was free so that when he got the ball, he knew where it was going next. Whether it was a six yard pass to a teammate, or a 40 yard cross field ball onto the toe of the winger at full pelt in behind the fullback.

But Every pass was the right one at the right time. His entire game was about making everything look so simple. It's why he was able to play as a striker, a forward playmaker in a 4-2-3-1, attacking midfielder, and a deeplying playmaker equally well.

His game was largely based about making his teammates look better, by being there to take the ball off them, and to give it to them when they were free.

But then I'm unconvinced by the judgement of someone who doesn't consider Denis Law, and Roy keane to be amongst man utd's all time greats.

Comment by Analogue Bubblebath II 2011-06-11 19:33:04

The article is deliberately moronic with a view to getting more hits than a normal piece.

Comment by sponge 2011-06-12 01:57:58

I'm a Liverpool fan, yet i will say without any hesitation that Paul Scholes is a far better central midfield player than Gerrard ever was, and even moreso than Frank Lampard. If either of those possessed half the cunning or guile that Paul Scholes had, there would never have been a decade long debate as to why they could never form a partnership in the middle of the park for England.

Comment by SoccerLimey 2011-06-12 16:40:05

I agree with some of what you say, however the comment you made referring to his "being nursed through games by younger, fitter team-mates, and granted a level of loyalty by his otherwise ruthless manager that bordered on indulgence" misinterprets the role of the older player in the modern game.

With the pace of the game now, very few over 30's can compete at the level of 4-5 years prior, and trust me, only on very few occasions, has Ferguson used Scholes just to indulge his charge. His talents have waned over the years of course, and his tackling remains comical at times, bordering more on the "lazy" rather than "sinister", but I think a lot of the praise that he's benefited from since his retirement is based on that extra level of "class" that he has, only slightly above mid you, that of Gerrard.

To compare him with Lampard is a joke as he, to me, is the modern day Ray Wilkins. A classic case of a man who has shined on teams through the efforts of other players and who has always failed to make most teams better.

I too, would not put him in the class of Edwards, Charlton, Best or Cantona put he's right behind them.

Comment by Liffrok 2011-06-12 23:01:57

Hooray! It's about time some of English football's sacred cows were slaughtered, even at the risk of upsetting some of Basingstoke's most dedicated Man Yoo fans. Good work.

Comment by Coral 2011-06-13 12:11:19

If Xavi says Scholes is good then he must be. Top players are always good judges of talent as they were top players. Pele for example correctly identified El Hadji Diouff as one of the best 125 players to have ever played the football.

Comment by manctofu 2011-06-13 12:24:33

Sadly, this sort of staggeringly ignorant thinking about what makes a great footballer is exactly what has led to English players falling so far behind their continental counterparts.

This line sums it up: “work-rate, energy, pace, the ability to lead and inspire others, along with ball-winning potential – all vital components of the modern midfielder”.

This, in one sentence, is a perfect summary of the wrong-headed thinking that still pollutes English football and stops us making real progress: hard work, 'energy' (whatever that’s supposed to mean), being a 'leader' (i.e. shouting ‘come on!’ every few minutes, shaking your fist and wiping your face on your shirt sleeve) and 'ball-winning' are all valued more highly in England than pure ball skills, the ability to intelligently dictate play, tactical nouse and not giving the bloody ball away in the first place.

It is exactly this attitude that sees England fail time and time again, humiliated on the world stage by players who have been brought up to keep possession at all costs, playing calm, intelligent football. It is exactly this attitude that has seen players like Hoddle, and later Scholes, shunted out to the wing to accommodate far inferior footballers like Trevor Steven and Steven Gerrard. Players with poor tactical sense, no footballing brain, no positional discipline whatsoever and limited skill on the ball, yet who shout and scream a lot, easily pleasing the utter simpletons who constitute both England’s support and most of the English football media.

Comment by manctofu 2011-06-13 12:25:33

Yes, Xavi did indeed want to be like Paul Scholes, as did Iniesta, and no, it wasn’t a bad translation. Xavi once said about Scholes, "if he was Spanish then maybe he would have been valued more".
If that’s not enough, then try these quotes for size - and keep in mind the players some of this lot played with, and against:

Zinedine Zidane : "My toughest opponent? Scholes of Manchester. [Scholes is] undoubtedly the best midfielder of his generation."
Edgar Davids : "Every one of us (midfielders) is just trying to become as good as him. Everyone can learn from Paul Scholes."
Edgar Davids again : "I'm not the best, Paul Scholes is."
Cesc Fabregas : "He is the one whose level I aspire to. He is the best player in the Premier League."
Patrick Vieira : "The player in the Premiership I admire most? Easy - Scholes."
Thierry Henry : "I can't understand why Scholes has never won the player of the year award. He should have won it long ago. Maybe it's because he doesn't seek the limelight like some of the other 'stars'."
Gerard Pique: “One of the best players I’ve ever seen in my life! Spectacular on training!! Playing with him was a joy!”
Cristiano Ronaldo: “Scholes is the best I’ve played with and he helped me a lot when I was young. He’s amazing.”
Xavi: “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.”
Messi: “At La Masia (Barcelona’s Academy) his name was mentioned a lot. He’s a teacher.”
Figo: “I’m star-struck when I see Paul Scholes because you never see him. On the pitch you can’t catch him. Off the pitch he disappears.”
Ronaldinho: “I want to pass like him. Who taught him how to do that?”
Pep Guardiola: “Out of everyone at Manchester United, I would pick out Scholes – he is the best midfielder of his generation. I would have loved to have played alongside him.”
Marcello Lippi : "Paul Scholes would have been one of my first choices for putting together a great team - that goes to show how highly I have always rated him. Scholes is a player I have always liked, because he combines great talent and technical ability with mobility, determination and a superb shot. He is an all-round midfielder who possesses character and quality in abundance. In my opinion, he's been one of the most important players for United under Sir Alex."
Glenn Hoddle : "There isn’t a player of his mould anywhere else in the world."
Gordon Strachan : "Paul Scholes has been the best England midfield player for 30-odd years. You'd probably have to go back to Bobby Charlton to find someone who could do as much as Scholes. When the ball arrives at his feet he could tell you where every player on that pitch is at that moment. His awareness is superb."
Alan Shearer : "If you ask footballers to pick out the player they most admire, so many of them will pick Paul Scholes.”
Laurent Blanc : "Scholes is the best English player. Intelligence, technique, strength... all the attributes are there. At Manchester United I saw what he could do on the training field. Phew!"
David Beckham said that, among his teammates at Real Madrid, which included Zinedine Zidane, Raúl, Ronaldo, Luís Figo and Roberto Carlos, Scholes was the most admired opponent : "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."
Steve Bruce : "I cannot pay Paul a bigger compliment than to say that he's the most complete footballer in the country. The best bar none."
Jesper Blomqvist: “Paul Scholes was the most naturally talented footballer I ever came across.”
[Blomqvist’s former team-mates include Baresi, Baggio, Weah, Maldini, Thuram, Crespo, Cannavaro, Buffon, Davids, Desailly, and Zvonimir Boban]

Now, I’d take the opinions of this glittering array of world football names a hundred times over the ignorant rantings in this utterly abysmal article.

England, change your mindset – stop this silly, outdated thinking that produces phrases like ‘spirit’, ‘never say die’, ‘let’s get into them’; stop valuing ‘ball-winners’ more highly than players who don’t give the ball away in the first place; and, above all, start appreciating it when you get a once-in-a-generation genius like Paul Scholes. Otherwise, international success will remain the distant, unattainable impossibility it has been for decades.

Comment by Paul Rowland 2011-06-13 13:55:08

That's a veritable footballing who's who you've put together there, Manctofu. These fellas know their onions and no mistake! If that's their opinion, then that's good enough for me. I stand corrected. No word of a lie, I genuinely never realised Paul Scholes was that good. All of which leads me to wonder, how many other footballers are there out there, who are actually a lot better than I think they are? Do I even know what to look for? Can I trust what I see with my own eyes? Or do I need somebody else to tell me who the best footballers in the world are?

It would appear I do.

Comment by Coral 2011-06-13 15:19:28

Xavi: Young and probably has never watched Hoddle.
Zinedine Zidane: last seen promoting Qatar 2022.
Edgar Davids: Bombed out by Palace and has been left in the wilderness. (Yeah I know, but if being a good player is an qualification to over rule a fan's view then it is important to point out he has been poor, very poor, recently).
Cesc Fabregas: Also said "For any football player in the Premiership, Scholes is a player you want to emulate" oddly enough it was the day before a game against Man Utd. Ask a leading question...

After that I got bored as most of them have probably said the same thing of Gary Neville, Ferdinand or even the kit man the day before a game. The only other highlight was Alan Shearer, he of bland views on MOTD and taking Newcastle down.

Comment by Dalef65 2011-06-13 17:18:46

Coral,
Have you got an actual opinion on Paul Scholes or not.....?????

Comment by Coral 2011-06-14 00:10:29

Yes, have you?

I know it is a bit naughty but I followed the thread of this and decided to point out that good players don't implicityly mean they know about footy. You may have noticed that on TV there are more of these analyst folks whose qualification is they played they game. Yet a number of them are failed managers or never been managers. I get annoyed with their views being percieved as correct. This was not the article, I conceded that but I sort of went with how things were going. Sorry mate.

Comment by jameswba 2011-06-14 08:24:22

Dalef65, wouldn't you do as well to ask the author of the article what his 'actual opinion' is? Because it strikes me that he set out to 'slay a sacred cow' yet ended up saying Scholes' name will go down alongside those of Law, Keane, Robson and Giggs. That's not bad for a player who was over-indulged, couldn't tackle, was embarrassingly one-footed etc etc. It struck me as one of those articles whose author didn't quite know what he wanted to say but thought he'd say it anyway.

Comment by bugbear 2011-06-15 14:58:03

As the author of the much-maligned original article, I’d like to explain my motivation for writing it and respond to some of the rants and ill-conceived comments above:

My piece was really a reaction to all the overblown hype surrounding the retirement of Scholes and his impact on English football retirement. I took exception to the likes of Dwight Yorke saying that Gerrard wasn’t fit to lace his boots. Everyone was getting carried away, and as each commentator eulogised the man, so the next would exaggerate to outdo the one before. It was boring, one-sided and predictable. I yearned for a pundit to say: ‘Yeah, he was good but a dirty litter bugger and a bit overrated if you ask me’. But of course none did. To do so would be considered outrageous and politically incorrect, in a football sense, which of course was borne out by the extreme reaction in these pages to my modest, inoffensive little article.

I found laughable those comparing Scholes with Xavi and Iniesta, then, in the same breath, denigrating 'work-rate, energy, pace, the ability to lead and inspire others, along with ball-winning potential...' as 'typical English stuck in the past'. Have you people seriously failed to notice that the two Barcelona geniuses possess these supposedly old-fashioned English attributes in abudance, along with a degree of ball control that Scholes could only dream of?

I think also some of the Man Utd fans writing have disregarded or forgotten (or couldn't care less) that he was pretty ordinary for England, and not a patch on Gascoigne or Beckham at this level.

Finally, few of you seemed to grasp the main point about my focus on his declining ability which was that his reputation continued to grow. This can only be down to sentimentality, nostalgia and affection for the quiet man of football. Fair play to you on that; it is refreshing to see someone, in a game so full of hubris, devoid of ego. But don’t be fooled, it doesn’t make you a better player.

Comment by Red Jaff 2011-06-15 23:06:39

If your main point was to lament the hyperbole surrounding the retirement of Paul Scholes then I'm afraid the way you structured the piece of writing failed to portray this aspect at all.

"I found laughable those comparing Scholes with Xavi and Iniesta, then, in the same breath, denigrating 'work-rate, energy, pace, the ability to lead and inspire others, along with ball-winning potential...' as 'typical English stuck in the past'. Have you people seriously failed to notice that the two Barcelona geniuses possess these supposedly old-fashioned English attributes in abudance, along with a degree of ball control that Scholes could only dream of?"

Referring to this quote, you initially failed to mention the element about ball control. It seems now you have attempted to re-frame your original quote to deflect the rightful criticism it received and it strikes me as being simple revisionism.

Once again you are also guilty of omitting crucial information. Xavi and Iniesta's ball winning prowess extends from the truly remarkable pressing game Barcelona employ as an entire team unit, which is as crucial to their style of play as their passing ability. It is not because the aforementioned players are great tacklers but rather that when they face down an opponent with the ball the entire team unit are pushing up on those in positions to accept a pass. It thus makes it extremely difficult for the ball player to find an outlet and usually results in loss of possession or a hoof forward.

Finally, if you honestly believe that Scholes in any way lacked "work-rate, energy, the ability to lead and inspire others" (I'll give you pace, just), then perhaps it is a waste of my time debating the merits of your opinion. I can probably correctly calculate from the fact that you surmise the gulf in ability to be "a degree of ball control that Scholes could only dream of" my time has indeed been irrevocably wasted.

Comment by alan ruffs dead budgie 2011-06-20 09:40:57

its about time someone looked at the whole Scholes myth when was the last time he got double figures in a season his assists and goals dont even come near to Gerard or lampard the praise has been through very rose tinted glasses you cant even compare him to Xavi hes simply not in the same class even in the premiership with regards influence effectivness then gerard or lampard are head and shoulders over him and i hate Lampard with a passion this is not to say he was not a good player but the world class term that is used all too loosley should be used for truely great players ie: zidane,xavi unfortunatly people have reacted to this article with there pro man united no one can attack us mentality with out looking at the article as it should be it is not denegrating Scholes its attacking the media for being very one eyed when it came to his retirement the same media that slagged him off for being one paced and unable to tackle while an England player and then when he retires they treat him like the greatest player the world has ever seen all the author is saying is lets have some balance something it seems that Man u fans find very difficult.

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