When I was about fifteen I saw an interview with then United youth team coach, Eric Harrison. The United youth team were in fine form and playing some brilliant football, that year the team would go on and lift the FA youth cup. During the interview he was asked what he thought made the team so special.
Without blinking he said ‘Paul Scholes’. When asked why, Harrison said that Paul was just as important to the youth team as Eric Cantona is to the senior squad. I’ll admit I laughed, out loud, to myself. This was when Cantona was in his full pomp and glory and unable to put a foot wrong. I knew of Paul Scholes. There had been fleeting glimpses of him on the bench for United. In my ignorance I thought ‘Well yeah if he’s that good he’ll be in the first team?’ The next season he was and the rest, as they say is history.There’s no disputing the little gingers talent and the list of honours is outstanding, but it was more than that for me. It was him as a bloke I liked, just as much as his passing and vision. Football has changed so much since his arrival in the premiership, but he didn’t. Paul was as old school as you could get and I strongly believe that he is the last of a dying breed. He loved playing for United, there was never a problem when it came to a new contract, he was never the highest earner at United, but I consider him to be our most consistent player. Not one to hog the limelight and play down his staggering abilities as a footballer, he just didn’t seem that concerned bout the fuss that followed him. He was never spotted walking round the Trafford centre with a two hundred pound hair cut, or caught wearing a sarong. He’d be at home with his wife and children or watching his mates play Sunday League football at one of the pitches around Oldham. No tattoos, no bling and no press or private life drama. It was just about the football.
Far from dull, Paul was known for his wicked one line put downs and dry sense of humour. Alex Ferguson recently said one of the funniest things he has ever seen was Paul hitting Gary Neville on the back of the head with a fifty yard chip whilst the left back had a pee during a training session. Away from football his other love was Cricket, he turned out for Middleton Cricket Club on a number of occasions, under the name “Arthur Askey” until Alex Ferguson found out and put a block on it.
The critics could say he retired from international football too early, leaving the England set up at just twenty nine. At the time the reason for his departure was he wanted to spend more time with his family. Since his retirement he admitted he became dissatisfied with the attitude of some of the players. Who, he thought, were using the England squad as a spring board for better things. He also spoke about how some players were less concerned about England results than their club results.
His tacking could leave a lot to be desired; in all honesty at times it was terrible. These are all minor criticisms of a footballer Bobby Charlton called “One of the very best.” United now have the near impossible task of trying to replace him. Paul bowed out at Old Trafford against a born again New York Cosmos. The Team Eric Cantona hopes to have back in the American MLS by 2013. When asked at his testimonial what legacy he hoped to leave behind? With a shrug of his shoulders he said “A few good memories.”
© Words Ian Park / ZANI Media