Paul Scholes: The reluctant legend

As Paul Scholes prepares to retire from the game, Vincent Ralph reflects on one of Manchester United's greatest players.

As was his way, Paul Scholes faded effortlessly into the Old Trafford shadows for one last time on Sunday.

Never one for the spotlight, he had already voiced his gratitude for the bigger stories that outshone his own retirement announcement. But neither the Manchester United fans nor their manager allowed him to leave without the praise his outstanding time at the club deserved.

His debut – a League Cup match at Port Vale in 1994 – had at the time prompted excitement and concern in equal measure. Here was a sight of the much-heralded fledglings. And yet what was Ferguson doing playing such an inexperienced side?

Seven teenagers appeared in that game, Roy Keane an elder statesman at just 22. But United won 2-1, with both goals coming from the flame-haired debutant.

716 games later, Scholes played the first-half against Swansea with the same determination as that predatory 19-year-old. It was clear he was desperate for one last goal, and his teammates equally keen to provide it.

Alas it wasn’t to be. Perhaps he will have one final chance in his and Ferguson’s last match for the club against West Bromwich Albion. But should we never see another Scholes goal, the 155 he did manage will live long in the minds of the fans.

Watching Scholes receive praise is like watching someone suffering something they loathe. Watching him on the pitch however, you witness someone doing what they love.

It is a bizarre contradiction in a man whose ways seem anything but complex. He plays the game, he disappears; a pattern he has repeated for nearly 20 years. It is a simple recipe that has led to numerous rewards.

And yet the rewards – or more specifically the individual plaudits – matter little to him. All that matters is the game.

Too many players have praised Scholes in too many ways to list them all here. It is enough to say he is regarded among the very best as being even better.

As Zinedine Zidane professed, Scholes is “in a class of his own”.

And now he retires for good, two seasons after doing so as if to remind United and the wider footballing community what they were missing.

We can be saddened by that, how one of the greatest and yet most understated players of the last two decades is about to kick his last ball. Or we can be glad we watched him.

He is a legend; a reluctant one most certainly, but one who will never be forgotten.

image: © Magnus D

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