Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Paul Scholes Retires

Paul Scholes has retired and suddenly, Manchester United's summer transfer activity has become much more frantic. The Great Ginger One has been irreplaceable for nearly twenty years and it is now that Sir Alex is finally forced to choose a successor. It speaks volumes of Paul Scholes that the search for his replacement will include only the world's very best players. They still may not fill his shoes.

That's because Paul Scholes leaves behind a very unconventional set of footwear. Part of his appeal has been not his wonderful play, but the combination of factors which made his career unique - endearing "local lad" status, a combination of skills ranging from truly sublime passing to simply awful tackling, his generation - the last of Fergie's fledglings, his reserved off-park nature and finally, most importantly, the fact he never rocked the United boat. Paul Scholes, while being amongst the best midfielders in the world, always had a great sense of where he belonged in the game: no transfer requests, no major protracted contract snits, no dramas. The Great Ginger One was a one-club man, content - and what's more - proud of it. He just fit in.

Paul Scholes' ability to pick out a pass may be his defining on-field feature, but that can be replaced. His innate knowledge of how to fit in around Carrington can't be taught, meaning his replacement is unlikely to go down in United folklore as he has done. No matter his onfield exploits, his mix of on- and off-field character means for a special place in the Red Devil army's hearts. The Great Ginger One knew how to fit in: to a system, a formation, a team, a brotherhood, a city and a family.

It's that knowledge of fit that empowered him to walk away when the time was absolutely right. As he timed passes, he timed his retirement. It's been obvious to all who watch United that the great man was slowing down, no matter how spectacular his first two months of season 2010-011 were. As much as it pains to admit, he didn't deserve a starting berth during Saturday's Champions' League final and even had his play warranted it, he wouldn't have been able to maintain the frantic pace for much over 60 minutes. His legs have gone and it's the right time for him to move on. For him to stay - which he'd be welcome to do, of course - he would perhaps hold United back.

Harsh words? Perhaps. Ring of truth? Unfortunately, yes. Scholes would have been welcome to continue - indeed Ferguson has tried to convince him to play on several times without luck - but to do so would involve Scholes' inclusion in United's 25-man squad and perhaps prevent United reinforcing the centre of midfield. Paul Scholes, with his innate "feel for the game", felt he could reasonably give no more to the team as a player. As such, the honourable decision was to move on.

When discussing The Great Ginger One, it's impossible to forget his skills. As soon as he burst onto the scene in a League Cup match against Port Vale in 1994, his armoury was nearly complete, boasting constant movement, a short-range game and longer passes which moved as if directed by radar. Add to that a fearsome shot and defensive ... err ... excitability (?) and it's no wonder Fabio Capello attempted to persuade him to end six years of International retirement and go to the World Cup at age 35. Capello thought him one of England's best centre mids: given the Three Lions' performance, he may have been right. Again, Scholes was aware of the fit, however - such a demanding campaign would have played major havoc with his (and therefore United's) early season form.

Paul Scholes will continue as a coach at United and for that, we should be glad. Don't expect visibility, but bet on improvement in United's youngsters. As Wayne Rooney said last week, "He doesn't say much, but when he does, you listen". Paul Pogba, Ravel Morrison and Tom Cleverley would do well to heed a man like The Great Ginger One. While his playing days have drawn to a close, his contributions to Manchester United are far from over.

Image one courtesy: http://www.soccerbyives.net/, second courtesy: mirror.co.uk

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