On the 21st September 1994 in a near meaningless league cup tie against Port Vale a certain ginger haired attacker introduced himself to the United faithful with a brace of goals. Fast forward 18 years and although the diminutive little genius may no longer be bombing forward like he used to he’s arguably more influential than he’s ever been each time he takes to the pitch.
Paul Scholes’ returned from retirement last season, banged on his boots grabbed United’s season by the scruff of the neck and came within 30 seconds of delivering title number 20 onto the lap of his adoring fans.
There’s simply no question of Scholes’s value to the side, he’s an orchestrator, a conductor of almost mythical proportions, picking out passes mere mortals can’t even imagine let alone execute all the while making it look as effortless as Anderson does eating pasties. Put quite simply a side featuring Paul Scholes is a side that’s pretty much built around him, whether that’s the intention or not.
As the Bard once wrote “there’s the rub” United are moving towards an even quicker paced game, often revolving around fast, one and two touch football encouraging the likes of Tom Cleverley, Shinji Kagawa, Wayne Rooney and dare I say even Anderson, to pass and move around the middle. A player like Scholes can sometimes upset the fast paced flow of the play, not because he can’t keep up, but simply because as we’ve seen already this season, the other players defer to him constantly, even when he’s not the best placed man for a pass. I first noticed an issue with Scholes during the league game at Goodison that opened the season for United, sat discussing the defeat with my brother he alerted me to a tweet from a good friend who’d criticised the Ginger One’s performance. ‘R kid and I were both incredulous that a player who’d seemed so involved in the game- and a legend to boot- was somehow being looked upon as a reason for our failings that night in Merseyside. A quick check of the pass stats- even though ‘pass stats’ are often the last bastion of the footballing uneducated- seemed to back up the argument Scholes had played well- showing a near 100% pass completion rate. However that stat didn’t quite tell the full story and while I still don’t think Scholes played badly I could see my friends point, as there were times when he seemed to slow the pace of the game down to a point that was detrimental rather than beneficial to United.
Take the Spurs game earlier this season, there was a time with United chasing the game and a real cavalier-charge type attitude among the side, as we constantly attacked, that we were slowed down – because the players seemed at times, capable of ONLY passing to Scholes. It was a tad bizarre but there were spells when even though he’d just given them the ball and they were in space they couldn’t wait to give it him back. I remember actually feeling sorry for Scholes as this middle-aged man constantly received the ball even when under a bit of pressure as younger men zipped about him with youthful vigour- in complete space yet seemingly invisible to their team mates.
Recently Scholes has found himself dropped- or rested- for big games against Chelsea -twice- and Arsenal and in all three games, the midfield has often enjoyed a fast tempo with everyone sharing the possession and passing duties. There’s also an argument put forward that Michael Carrick seems obliged to always pass it to Scholes when he plays alongside him, seldom attempting the passes we know he’s capable of in favour of a simple one to his legendary team mate.
The trouble is when Scholes does play -even if United don’t play well, he often does and usually looks like the best midfielder on the pitch, yet the somewhat perverse argument is that without him some players step out of the shadow and perform better- without the constant need to give the ball the the nearest legend at every opportunity.
Scholes is class and I fully expect him to dominate the proceedings should he start against Aston Villa on Saturday, a game which is probably ideal for an orchestrator like the little maestro. However in some of the fast paced games United endure against the better sides in the Premiership – even with Kagawa absent, it seems Scholes may just be too good to ignore for his team mates and there-in lies the problem….