Remembered for his long range shooting and his ability to always have a few aces up his sleeve, he was a treat to watch. With his sudden retirement, football will never be the same again. SUHRITH PARTHASARATHY
It had to happen some day, but Paul Scholes’s retirement has stricken me beyond imagination. Sport has been my getaway for as long as I can remember, and no sportsperson has provided me as much joy as Scholes has. It is the end of an epoch, not merely from a sporting sense, but from a personal standpoint, too.
Strikingly, most tributes to Scholes are juxtaposed with comments from footballers, current and past, ranging from Xavi to Zidane, and Guardiola to Lippi, as though his ability did not speak for itself. The high regard that Scholes was held in by the footballing fraternity marks a good starting point, but it fails to convey the pure joy of watching him play. Indeed, he was a great player, but that is a given when one considers the sheer numbers winning ten league titles, three FA Cups and two Champions League titles is immense by any account. That he played 676 times for Manchester United in its most successful era is enough vindication of his greatness and the numbers will ensure that his name remains firmly etched in the sands of time.
But what it will never convey is the sheer joy that one experienced from watching him play. His understanding of time and space was peerless. Today, we marvel at Barcelona’s mastery over possession, but Scholes was the old master at retaining the ball. He played the sport like a game of chess, always a few moves ahead of the opponents. If you had observed him closely, you would have seen him scanning the entire compass and moving to free spaces before receiving the ball with a touch as immaculate as a newborn’s caring mother. And once in possess in, his passing range – second to none – would assume control. He could keep it both neat and tidy, pinging one-twos with those close to him, play raking diagonal balls to either wing with the accuracy of an ace marksman, or rip apart the heart of the defence with eye-of-the-needle precision.
Everything Scholes did on a football pitch – sans his tackling – was done with joie de vivre. Even in the most trying of circumstances, he made the game look like what it was – a game. Football, Bill Shankly famous said was not a matter of life and death, but more than that. The accuracy of the statement, bathed in irony, has been debated with extensive monotony. Indeed, when Scholes got on to a football pitch, his commitment suggested he himself viewed the game thus, but in reality it was but a job for him, albeit one that he took immense pleasure in. One in which the skill, the intelligence and the nous that he displayed were unequalled in their generation of thrill and delight.
Perhaps what Scholes will most fondly be remembered for is his long-range shooting, which he displayed with outstanding regularity. Again, there have been numerous finishes of astounding power and accuracy, including a rasping volley at Villa-Park, the famous goal against Barcelona in the 2008 Champions League semi-final, a magnificent top-corner effort against Middleborough, to name a few amongst a multitude. But the one that stands out is a volley straight off a David Beckham corner against Bradford City at Valley Parade. One moment, Scholes was sauntering near the edge of the box, scratching his head, and next moment, he had unleashed a ferocious volley that ripped through a stream of City players and into the back of the net.
Rewind and replay
It is difficult to pick particular moments of his brilliance, for he really has been bounteous in that regard. There was a goal against Panathinaikos when Scholes completed a 35-pass move with a chip over the goalkeeper that was as imperious as it was impudent. There was the ‘assist’ to Rooney against AC Milan, which simply reeked of class – matchless vision combined with wonderful execution. But singular moments do not an ounce of justice to his mastery over the game. I could watch whole games without taking my eyes off him, only to see his command over the pitch and his ability to keep the ball moving with simplicity and grace.
In recent years, Scholes had transformed himself into a deep lying midfielder, an Italian style regista – he hadn’t the energy to pace up and down the pitch. But his appreciation of space and technical proficiency saw him easily excel in the new position. But a decline in speed, even if his footballing brain has remained as shrewd as ever, meant that the retirement wasn’t unexpected. And also along predictable lines was the manner of the announcement — Scholes, a player devoid of modern-day football’s celebrity trappings was already on holiday when the declaration was made.
Name: Paul Aaron Scholes
Nick: Scholesy, Ginger Ninja, Ginger Prince
Place of birth: Salford, Greater Manchester.
Team(s): Manchester United, England.
Years active: 1994-2011 (Manchester United); 1997-2004 (England).
Goals: 102 in 466 league matches for club and 14 in 66 matches for country.
Trophies: 10 league titles, 3 FA Cups and 2 UEFA Champion League titles.
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