“My toughest opponent? Scholes of Manchester. He is the complete midfielder. Scholes is undoubtedly the greatest midfielder of his generation.” – Zinedine Zidane
Towering at a mighty 5 feet and 7 inches, Paul Scholes was asthmatic and did not have a particularly outstanding physique (Paul Scholes Statistics, BBC Sport Academy). Amassing the fourth-most yellow cards in Premier League history and the most in Champions League history, he was notorious for his inability to tackle (All Time – Referees Bookings). He did not have particularly great pace nor an incredibly skillful dribbling ability; yet footballing legends all sing the same tune: Paul Scholes is the best English midfielder of all time.
A messy tackle by Scholes on Jose Reyes (please excuse the language).
“I think Paul Scholes is the best player in England. He’s got the best skills, the best brain. No one can match him. There isn’t a player of his mold anywhere in the world. Paul is irreplaceable.” – Sir Alex Ferguson
Dubbed by many as “The Ginger Prince,” Paul Scholes could “[switch] play 60 yards while landing the ball onto a pre-specified blade of glass.” (Watson) With a trademark strike akin to an un-groundable lightning bolt, he would often score long-distance goals with the power of Thor’s Hammer and the accuracy of a surgeon. He had a psychic vision on the pitch that would prove to be unparalleled. His passing abilities defy the laws of nature – he could cross a ball to any of his teammates with pinpoint precision. That is why he was the greatest. His talent must be seen to be believed:
Showcase of Paul Scholes’ ability to shoot from long distances
One particularly influential Scholes-esque goal was one he scored against Barcelona in the second leg of the UEFA Champions League semi-finals. On a late April evening in 2008, Manchester United faced Barcelona – a worthy adversary.
With tensions high in the 14th minute at Old Trafford, Cristiano Ronaldo is seen running down the wing only to be intercepted by Gianluca Zambrotta, who falls to the ground as he attempts to clear the ball. To Barcelona’s misfortune, the poor clearance delivers the ball to none other than Paul Scholes, who at 30 yards away from the goal, strikes it with incredible force towards the top right corner. Victor Valdes leaps towards the ball, but to no avail. The ball clings to the back net and the crowd erupts with joy.
That was the only goal of the night. Manchester United advanced to the finals of the 2008 Champions League against Chelsea, whom they ultimately defeated. Without Paul Scholes’ magical touch, it seems unlikely that fate would have been in United’s favor (Rutledge).
Highlights of the 2nd leg of the 2008 UCL semi-finals
“No celebrity bullshit, no self-promotion – an amazingly gifted player who remained an unaffected human being.” – Roy Keane
Seemingly only appreciated by those who have played with and against him, Scholes was not the kind of player to have his poster enshrined on the walls of children around the world. Even I had only truly appreciated him as I grew older. As children, we often only appreciate those that put on a flagrant show – the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar – not a Paul Scholes. But Scholes was a real professional footballer, one that would make Eduardo Galeano proud. Besides the occasional Nike commercial (his athletic sponsors), he was not one to be found modelling an Armani suit. There was no glamor. There was no red carpet. He often shied away from the limelight and focused only on his craft. As such, his most admirable skills were off the pitch: his loyalty to his team (he spent his entire career – from youth to retirement – at Manchester United, (Premier League Statistics)) and his incredible modesty.
“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’.” – Thierry Henry
Having scored 106 goals in 466 senior club appearances, Scholes had hung up his boots and retired from football on the 31st of May 2011. But to everyone’s surprise, he returned to the pitch on the 8th of January 2012 (BBC News). An amazing story told in The Mirror about his return from retirement claims that due to the unexpected reappearance, he did not have any football boots to use in his return match against Manchester City. Instead of calling Nike or Adidas and making a lucrative sponsorship deal, he went to JJB Sports (a local sports shop), and bought a pair of takedown Nike Maestros for £40. He went on to achieve a magical 97% pass accuracy rate that game (Mirror Football).
“He is the one whose level I aspire to. He is the best player in the Premier League.” – Cesc Fabregas
Scholes retired again in May 2013, amassing 107 goals in 499 senior Manchester United appearances. With 25 trophies (11 Premier League titles and 2 Champions League titles), he is the most decorated football player in English history (Premier League Statistics), and as far as I’m concerned, one of the greatest performers in The Beautiful Game.
All quotes were obtained from GiveMeSport.
“All Time – Referees Bookings UEFA Champions League.” Statbunker Football, www.statbunker.com/alltimestats/AllTimeRefereeYellowCards?comp_code=UCL.
“BBC Sport Academy | Treatment Room | Athletes with Asthma.” BBC News, BBC, 21 Oct. 2002, news.bbc.co.uk/sportacademy/hi/sa/treatment_room/newsid_2340000/2340911.stm.
Football, Mirror. “Balotelli Myths Busted, plus Scholes’ New Boots and King Kenny’s Inspector Clouseau Impression.” The Mirror, 31 Mar. 2014, www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/transfer-news/steve-angleseys-funny-football-column-3310026.
GiveMeSport. “Paul Scholes: The Best Quotes.” GiveMeSport, GiveMeSport, 12 May 2013, www.givemesport.com/344869-paul-scholes-the-best-quotes.
“Paul Scholes Comes out of Retirement at Manchester United – BBC Sport.” BBC News, BBC, 8 Jan. 2012, www.bbc.com/sport/football/16460340.
“Paul Scholes Statistics | Premier League.” Statistics | Premier League, The Premier League, www.premierleague.com/players/336/Paul-Scholes/stats.
Rutledge, Lewis. “Scholes Seals Final Spot.” Sky Sports, 29 Apr. 2008, www.skysports.com/football/man-utd-vs-barcelona/102148.
Watson, Ian. “Why There’s More to Admire about Paul Scholes than Sublime Technique.” Planet Football, Planet Football, 20 Nov. 2017, www.planetfootball.com/nostalgia/theres-admire-paul-scholes-sublime-technique/.