22. PAUL SCHOLES
|Birthdate:||16 Nov 1974|
|Joined United:||08 Jul 1991|
|United Debut:||21 Sep 1994 v Port Vale (A)|
You must have a rare and special football talent to impress the great Sir Bobby Charlton. The United legend summed up Paul Scholes perfectly: “He’s always so in control and pinpoint accurate with his passing – a beautiful player to watch.”
Part of the new wave of talent that ushered in Beckham, Giggs, Butt and the Neville brothers in the mid-1990s, Salford-born Scholes scored twice on his debut in the League Cup at Port Vale in 1994/95 – and on his first league outing against Ipswich – and never looked back. A host of golden seasons at Old Trafford include 1995/96’s Double-winning campaign, in which he covered admirably during Eric Cantona’s suspension, finishing second behind the Frenchman in the scoring charts with 14 goals; he was a cornerstone of 1999’s Treble-winners, although suspension ruled him out of the UEFA Champions League final, and in United’s Premier League success in 2003, his 20-goal haul was vital. Neat and compact, a misplaced Scholes pass was one of the rarest sights in football. His superb eye for goal and late runs from midfield also served his country superbly on 66 occasions. An eye problem kept the midfield magician out of action for a large part of 2005/06, but he burst back onto the scene during the 2006/07 title-winning campaign, playing a key role in helping the Reds reclaim the Premier League crown. Personal highlights included his opener in the 2-0 win over Liverpool in October 2006 and a volley of the highest calibre in the 3-0 win at Aston Villa two months later, which earned him the Goal of the Season gong at the club’s annual awards ceremony. His contribution in 2006/07 was recognised by players and press alike – he finished third in the PFA Player of the Year category and fourth in the Football Writers’ vote – both of which were won by team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo. Scholes’ good form continued the following season as he helped the Reds to a glorious double and finally buried the UEFA Champions League ghost of ’99 when his stunning strike against Barcelona in April 2008, booked United’s, and his own place, in the final in Moscow. Having started United’s first four Premier League games in 08/09, Scholes then missed two months of action after suffering a medial ligament injury in the victory away to Aalborg. When he returned for the festive period, Sir Alex proclaimed: “It is like having an extra player.” The Reds stalwart looked as influential as ever, and when he didn’t start he often came on to steady the tempo of games and help close out narrow league victories. His opener in United’s 3-0 victory over Fulham in February 2009 – a game he dominated – proved he hasn’t lost his deadly ability to score from distance. Carrick’s corner found Scholes in a familiar position at the edge of the area, and he rolled back the years to thunder in a 25-yard volley that was simply too hot for Mark Schwarzer to handle. He followed that with a vintage header away at Sunderland in April 2009, and, in his 600th game for the Reds, delivered a masterclass in ball retention against Portsmouth ten days later. He went on to claim his ninth title medal as United sealed a hat-trick of league titles. Little wonder he was rewarded with a one-year contract extension in April 2009, taking him through to June 2011. While Scholes questioned his own contribution to the United cause midway through the 2009/10 campaign, he went on to show he remains a hugely important cog in the Reds’ well-oiled machine thanks to a host of majestic midfield displays. His habit of bagging important goals clearly hadn’t deserted him either – just ask Manchester City. His strikes against the Blues, Besiktas and Wolves (his 100th Premier League goal) were all winners, and his contributions against Milan in the San Siro and City in the Carling Cup were further proof that the big players come good on the big occasions. Scholes had one more title-winning campaign left in him, although he unusually managed only one goal during the successful 2010/11 season, away to Fulham. That was his 150th and final strike for the Reds, while his last United appearance came as a substitute in the UEFA Champions League final defeat to Barcelona at Wembley. He signed off with an incredible 676 matches under his belt, leaving only three legends ahead of him on the all-time list – namely Bill Foulkes (688), Sir Bobby Charlton (758) and Ryan Giggs (876 at end of 2010/11). Scholes announced his retirement three days after the Wembley final, but made a shock return to the United fold on 8 January 2012 and came on as a substitute in the FA Cup third round victory at Manchester City. He admitted: “I’ve been pretty clear since I stopped playing that I miss it.” United, it transpired, had missed him too. Scholes slotted back into Sir Alex’s team almost seamlessly and featured in 21 of the season’s remaining 24 games. His touch, vision and passing was as good as ever and the midfielder will now play on until at least the end of 2012/13. Enjoy him while you can.
Video: Watch classic Scholes action