Thank You Scholesy!

Written by  //  June 1, 2011  //  Sport  //  5 Comments

It had to happen someday, but Paul Scholes’s retirement – announced yesterday – 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, the tributes to Scholes with which the Internet is awash are all juxtaposed with comments from footballers, current and past, ranging from Xavi to Zidane, and Guardiola to Lippi, as though Scholes’s ability does 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 only given when one considers the sheer numbers: ten league titles, three FA Cups, two Champions League titles – 1999 can by no means be excluded – in a career spanning seventeen years, is quite remarkable by any account. That he played 675 times for Manchester United in its most successful era is enough vindication of his greatness and the numbers will see to it that his name remains firmly etched in the sands of time.

But what the statistics will never transport is the pristine joy that one – or at least I – obtained 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, he was acutely aware of what was around him.  If you had observed his play 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 possession, 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 opposition’s defence with eye-of-the-needle precision.

Everything Scholes did on a football pitch – sans, perhaps, his tackling – was done with shimmering 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 truism 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. It was about those ninety minutes on the pitch and nothing else. But within the dimensions of the playing area, the skill, the intelligence and the nous that the displayed were unequalled in their generation of thrill and delight.

In his early days, Scholes belonged to one of those ever-so-rare breeds of footballers – a box-to-box goalscoring, playmaking midfielder.  In spite of being asthmatic, he showcased plenteous energy, rushing up and down the midfield with both vitality and intelligence. He had the gift of timing, and he would arrive late into the box unnoticed and finish more often than not with power and precision. For a small man – Scholes is only 170 metres tall – he was excellent in the air, netting scores of goals with his head including the famous stoppage-time winner in the Manchester Derby last year. This he achieved through a combination of timing and technique. His ability to arrive in dangerous areas at the most opportune of occasions meant that he found himself with more chances to head on goal than most players his size. But, once presented with an opportunity, there were few better than him at finding the goal.

Perhaps, the feature of his game that Scholes will most fondly be remembered for is his long-range shooting, which in his pomp he displayed with remarkable 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 top-corner effort of astounding magnificence 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 the Valley Parade ground. One moment, Scholes was sauntering near the edge of the box, scratching his head, and next moment, he unleashed a ferocious volley that ripped through a stream of City players and into the back of the net. It was an exhibition of rare ingenuity and even rarer technique.

It is difficult to look back upon my time watching Scholes play to pick particular moments of brilliance, for he really has been bounteous in that regard. There was a Champions League goal against Panathinaikos when Scholes completed a thirty-five-pass move with a chip over the goalkeeper that was as imperious as it was impudent. There was the ‘assist’, to use the modern-day terminology, to Wayne 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 Scholes’s mastery over the game. I could watch whole games not taking my eyes off him, only to see his command over the football pitch and his ability to keep the ball moving with marvellous 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 footballing nous and his appreciation of space saw him excel in a position that was new to him. Technically so proficient, he was able to dictate the pace and tempo of games with wonderful efficiency. But a decline in speed, even if his footballing brain has remained as shrewd as ever, meant that the retirement was not unexpected. And also on expected lines was the manner of the announcement – Scholes, a player utterly devoid of modern-day football’s celebrity trappings was already on holiday when the declaration was made via a press release.

They don’t make them like him anymore and indeed they haven’t for a while now. From a personal standpoint, this brings to an end many years of watching him play and marvelling at his supreme technique, which rarely failed to inspire awe. As they say all good things do come to an end, and sadly I will be left only to reminisce at what was a golden era – one, which belonged to the great Paul Scholes.

5 Comments on "Thank You Scholesy!"

  1. Arghya June 1, 2011 at 9:14 am ·

    Great post Suhrith. Like Alok’s comment on football, mine’s similar- I never was a fan of Scholes but as I read the piece, I questioned whether I should have been. Brilliant stuff!

  2. Amey June 1, 2011 at 12:53 pm ·

    Excellent article.Been a Scholes fan since 10 years now,and yesterday was the most heartbr eaking day for me as a United fan.

  3. ganesh June 2, 2011 at 5:56 pm ·

    the article is as good as scholes…once again, great work dude..:):)

  4. Suhrith June 3, 2011 at 3:58 am ·

    Thank you! Very kind of all of you. 🙂

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