Paul Scholes: from young hopeful to ‘midfield genius’

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Paul Scholes is highly regarded as one of, if not the greatest midfielder to grace the Premier League, not just by fans and pundits alike, but some of the world’s best footballers rate the Oldham-based star as the world’s best in his prime.

In this feature-length story on the career of Paul Scholes, we’ll hear from former-team-mates, some of the best players in world football and just how Scholes emerged from a young hopeful from the class of 92′ to becoming one of the best players to grace the English game.

Praise

What they said…

“There is no doubt for me that Paul Scholes is still in a class of his own. He’s almost untouchable in what he does. I never tire of watching him play. You rarely come across the complete footballer, but Scholes is as close to it as you can get. One of my regrets is that the opportunity to play alongside him never presented itself during my career.” – Zinedine Zidane

“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.” – Luis Figo

“In the last 15 to 20 years the best central midfielder that I have seen — the most complete — is Scholes. I have spoken with Xabi Alonso about this many times. Scholes is a spectacular player who has everything. 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.” –Xavi Hernandez

“At Arsenal me and Patrick (Vieira) didn’t want to face Scholes. We would avoid him.” – Emmanuel Petit

“When he passes the ball it stays passed. The ball goes exactly where he wants it to. I have always loved him for that. I played against him once or twice and he is an absolute genius. He is a role model for anyone who wants to play football. He is a joy to watch. In fact, I wish he was 21, then I could see his career all over again.” – Ian Holloway

Miralem Pjanic believes Cristiano Ronaldo learned to keep things simple from Manchester United great Paul Scholes as the Juventus midfielder praised his superstar team-mate.

“If you look at Ronaldo when he was in Manchester and then at the Ronaldo who became the best player in the world, you can see his game has changed. His game became more concrete,” Pjanic told the Guardian of Ronaldo, who scored his fifth Serie A goal in nine games in Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Genoa.

“I’ve read a lot of things [Ronaldo] has said about Paul Scholes and how he trained. Everyone talked about Scholes as being extraordinary, but not because he was out there doing dummies.

“By keeping things simple, he made himself special. I think Ronaldo learned from players like that.”

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Early life

Born in Salford, Scholes later moved to Langley, Manchester aged just 18 months old. The first football team that the Mancunian played for was his local side, Langley Furrow. Also an avid cricket player, Scholes chose football as his career path and aged 14, he joined Manchester United as a trainee upon leaving the Cardinal Langley Roman Catholic High School in Middleton during the summer of 1991, in his final term of high school, Scholes was selected to play for Great Britain National Schools.

1994-1999

Scholes wasn’t a member of United’s 1992 FA Youth Cup-winning squad that included the likes of Beckham, Butt, Gary Neville and Giggs, but he played a crucial part of the youth side that reached the final the following season, alongside Phil Neville. Scholes turned professional on 23 July 1993 and was issued with the no.23 shirt, but Scholes didn’t make his breakthrough into the senior squad until the 94-95 campaign in which he made seventeen Premier League appearances, finding the net on five occasions.

His first-team debut came in September 94′, where he scored both of United’s goals in a 2-1 victory over Port Vale in the Football League Cup. There wasn’t time for reflection for Scholes as his league debut came just three days later as the reds travelled to Portman Road to take on Ipswich Town – losing 3-2 with Scholes scoring a consolation goal.

Scholes’ goal-scoring run continued as the midfield ace found the net twice in United’s 3-2 victory over Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road on December 10. Scholes’ first Old Trafford goal came in a 2-0 win over Coventry City.

In the 95-96 campaign, after Mark Hughes made the switch to Chelsea, Scholes had more first-team opportunities, standing in for the suspended Eric Cantona as Andy Cole’s strike partner for the first two months of the season. Scored found the net on 14 occasions in all competitions as United became the first side in English football to win the double twice. He picked up another Premier League winners medal in 96-97 – changing his shirt number to 18, a shirt he held on to for 15 years.

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As the 95-96 campaign came to a close, when United unsuccessfully tried to sign Alan Shearer from Blackburn Rovers, the Ewood Park club demanded that United should offer Scholes as part of the deal if any bids were to be considered. By this stage, Scholes was rated at £5 million. Shearer went on to join Newcastle United for £15 million incidentally.

After Roy Keane suffered a knee injury in September 97′, Scholes moved to central midfield during the 97-98 season. However, it was unsuccessful season for the reds with no silverware. In the 98-99 campaign, Scholes played a key role in Manchester United’s Premier League, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League treble success.

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Scholes found the net against Newcastle in the FA Cup final, scored an away goal in the UEFA Champions League quarter-final against Inter Milan. He came on as a substitute in the second-leg of the semi-final versus Juventus as Sir Alex Ferguson opted for Nicky Butt in the starting line-up. Scholes picked up a yellow card which ruled him out of the final victory over Bayern Munich through suspension.

2000-2011

During the 99/00 campaign, Scholes scored one of the finest goals of his career against Bradford City on 25 March. Beckham produced a teasing ball towards Scholes, who was placed on the edge of the box, who volleyed the ball over Dwight Yorke and into the back of the net.

Just seven days later, Scholes scored his first hat-trick of his career in United’s rampant 7-1 win over West Ham United, a win which placed Manchester United ten points clear at the top of the Premier League.

Prior to the 01/02 season, United completed the signing on Argentina international, Juan Sebastián Veron. In order to accommodate both Scholes and the Argentine, Ferguson continued to use the 4-4-1-1 formation, with Scholes playing just behind Ruud van Nistelrooy, with Keane and Veron playing in central midfield.

Scholes netted a career-high 20 goals in all competitions during the 02/03 campaign, including a fantastic hat-trick during United’s 6-2 win over Newcastle United at St James’ Park.

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Scholes scored the winning goal during the 03/04 FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal, and played during the final which United won 3-0 against Millwall, his final FA Cup winners medal. Scholes also played in the 2005 FA Cup Final, but saw his penalty saved by Jens Lehmann as they lost to the London side in a penalty shootout.

Scholes was ruled out for the second half of the 05/06 season with blurred vision. The cause of this was initially inconclusive, sparking fears that it could end Scholes’ career prematurely. However, Scholes overcame the problem and featured in United’s final game of the season against Charlton Athletic.

History Maker

On 22 October 06′, during United’s 2-0 victory over Liverpool, Scholes became the ninth Manchester United player to play in 500 matches, joining the likes of Bobby Charlton, Bill Foulkes and Ryan Giggs.

In the 06/07 campaign, Scholes experienced one of his finest seasons at the club – and was included in the PFA Team of the Year, and was shortlisted for the PFA Players’ Player of the Year. One of Scholes’ finest performances of the season came in a 4-1 win over Blackburn Rovers, in which United trailed 1-0, but the majestic midfielder “got hold of the game by the scruff of the neck” and scored United’s equaliser.

Injury setback

Scholes suffered knee ligament damage during a session the night before United’s UEFA Champions League tie with Dynamo Kiev in October 07′, and was ruled out of action until February. He returned as a substitute during the reds’ 3-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

on 23 April 08′, Scholes made his 100th UEFA Champions League appearance in a goalless draw away to Barcelona in the semi-final first leg, and scored the only goal in the second leg at Old Trafford, scoring an audacious goal to send United into the final.

On March 6 2010, Scholes became the 19th player in Premier League history to score 100 goals, and also the third United player after Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney to do so. Just over a month later, Scholes signed a new one-year contract with United, keeping him at the club until the end of the 10/11 season.

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Scholes began the 10/11 season strongly, winning the man-of-the-match award in United’s opening two matches against Chelsea and Newcastle United. He went on to score his 150th goal for the club in a 2-2 away draw against Fulham on 22 August. Scholes’ tremendous form at the start of the campaign was rewarded as he picked up the Premier League’s Player of the Month award for August.

In May 2011, Scholes announced his retirement with immediate effect and joined the coaching staff at Old Trafford. On August 5, United held a testimonial match to honour his 17 years of service to the club. The match was played at Old Trafford against New York Cosmos. United won the match 6-0, with Scholes opening the scoring with a trademark strike from 25-yards, in front of a sell-out 74,731 crowd.

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Out of retirement

In January 2012, news broke out that Scholes had reversed his decision to retire due to the injury crisis at Old Trafford and made his return as a substitute during a memorable 3-2 win over Manchester City in the FA Cup, wearing the no.22 shirt. It’s a fascinating story and one that Scholes to this very day often looks back on. After speaking to BT Sport recently, Scholes admits that he had to go and buy a pair of boots as he didn’t own any after initially retiring.

Scholes made his first start since rejoining the club against Bolton Wanderers, where he got on the scoresheet, converting a Wayne Rooney pass; this meant he had scored at least one goal in every season in the Premier League since 94-95. On 30 May, Scholes signed a one-year extension with the club, keeping him at Old Trafford until summer 2013.

He marked his 700th appearance for Manchester United by scoring in a 4-0 win over Wigan Athletic at the start of the campaign. This goal meant that Scholes had scored in his 19th consecutive Premier League season, a feat only surpassed by teammate Ryan Giggs, who holds the record of 21 consecutive seasons.

In May 13′, Scholes announced that he would make his second and final retirement from football at the end of the season. Scholes made his 499th and final league appearance on 19 May 2013 against West Bromwich Albion as a substitute.

In August 2018, Scholes briefly came out of retirement for a second time at the age of 43 as he played one match for his son Arron’s team, Royton Town against Stockport Georgians in the Manchester Football League.

Personal Life

Scholes married his childhood sweetheart, Claire in Wrexham back in February 1999, they have a daughter and two sons. Scholes’ eldest son, Arron plays football for Chadderton football club with their daughter, Alicia representing England netball, playing for Manchester Thunder.

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Managerial Career

In February 2019, Scholes was appointed manager of his local side, Oldham Athletic. Scholes revealed he had thought long and hard about embarking on a managerial career and was delighted to get started. “I couldn’t be any happier at the minute,” he said. “It’s been a while. Obviously there’s been talk of it when I finished my [playing] career. It wasn’t something I was quite ready to do and there’s obviously been three or four times over the last six years where it could have happened and I’ve not been quite ready. But now I feel, I hope, the time is right to give it a go and hopefully we can be successful together.’

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For Scholes, his managerial role at the club was short-lived and left the club just over a month later.

Scholes said in a statement that he had decided to resign with “great regret”.

“It unfortunately became clear that I would not be able to operate as I intended and was led to believe prior to taking on the role,” he continued.

Scholes took over with the Latics 14th in the table, nine points off the play-offs, and leaves with them in the same position.

He began his reign with a 4-1 win over Yeovil Town, but three draws and two defeats followed prior to his final match, a 2-0 defeat by league leaders Lincoln City on Tuesday.

“I hoped to, at the very least, see out my initial term of 18 months as the manager of a club I’ve supported all my life,” he said.

“The fans, players, my friends and family all knew how proud and excited I was to take this role.

“I wish the fans, the players and the staff – who have been tremendous – all the best for the rest of the season and will continue to watch and support the club as a fan.”

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