fast little loans
London – Two weeks ago we watched a football match in which a £25million new signing scored a hat-trick and came off the pitch to announce that a 37-year-old substitute should be Man of the Match. That, of course, was Robin van Persie talking about Paul Scholes, who on Saturday played his 700th match for Manchester United.
He had come on for just 30 minutes against Southampton but, in the words of Sir Alex Ferguson, he “brought order to the game”. That ability, for one player to be able to set the direction of a match and to control its tempo, is extraordinary. Paul Scholes is one of the very few in the world who can do it.
I must have trained and played with him thousands of times and in every one of those training sessions and matches that’s what he was doing: bringing order to the game.
The best illustration I can give of his talent is that at Manchester United there was always a possession drill in training designed to develop our passing ability, which might be three players against another three players, or six versus six, or nine versus nine. But no matter what the numbers were, the side with Paul Scholes on their team would always win by keeping the most possession.
On Saturday he reached that historic landmark for United, one of only three men to have made that many appearances for the club, along with Sir Bobby Charlton and Ryan Giggs. And on Saturday night, despite the fact that he scored the opening goal, he will have quickly headed home, ignoring the fuss, just as he has done after the previous 699 games.
In fact, his only concern would have been whether his 700th game had brought a victory for his team.
You have to search deep into football’s history to find someone of his kind of class and honour. Players like that don’t seem to exist any more. There might be no knighthoods, no MBEs or OBEs, but every single teammate will say he is the best they have ever played with. And every player he had played against, including Xavi and Zinedine Zidane, would say he is the best midfielder they have faced. Every fan or every club, no matter who they support, loves the way Paul Scholes plays.
He’s a private man, a family man, and those are the parts of his life he values most. He doesn’t have an agent, he doesn’t employ a PR guru and there are no celebrity mates. He’s just a kid from Middleton who grew up playing football on the streets and achieved his dreams. He is certainly the best player I’ve ever played with and the best English player of his generation.
He’s a model performer for younger footballers to look to in how he plays on the pitch. And given that he’s approaching his 38th birthday, and coming to the end of his career, I would urge anyone who loves football, particularly if they have a child who wants to learn from professionals, to go along to watch him play in the flesh this season.
Don’t watch anyone else. Just watch him for 90 minutes. Sacrifice your gate money and don’t look at the ball, unless Scholes has it. Don’t worry about watching the goals or any other player. Just look at his positioning, where he places himself, his body shape when he receives the ball, where he moves when he hasn’t got the ball and how he sets himself to play the ball. You’ll learn more about the game in 90 minutes than you will from any coaching video or training session.
There’s just one thing I’m worried about. As soon as he finds out that I’ve written this article about him, he will be texting me to say:’What the hell did you do that for?’ But for once I have to ignore his concerns. Today he should be in the spotlight.
It doesn’t seem that long since we were all stunned and impressed by that extraordinary night in Munich when Chelsea won the Champions League. And it seems strange to recall that for much of last season we were talking about the decline of English clubs in the tournament.
Even after Manchester City and Manchester United were knocked out in the group stages and Arsenal went out in the last 16, I did mention in this column that it could still be a good year for Chelsea. But nobody really expected them to win the tournament as they proved that you can never write off English clubs.
And I think it’s possible we will see a more concerted revival of the English this season. Certainly I fully expect all four clubs to qualify for the knockout stages, including City, who again have a dog of a group.
In fact, I think we might be in for a good era for English football. With the new TV deal the Premier League signed this summer, worth £1billion a year from next season, with the overseas TV deal being negotiated at the moment, English clubs are well placed to return to their glory years of the late Seventies and early Eighties, when they provided successive winners, or from 2005-09, when they dominated the semi-finals and provided two winners.
This week saw Uefa take prizemoney away from 23 clubs, including Europa League winners Atletico Madrid under their Financial Fair Play rules, which limit spending to the amount of money you can generate. And though City might suffer under those rules, the new TV deals mean most English clubs will be in a better position than ever.
That money is for the future, though. This season Real Madrid and Barcelona remain the biggest threat, but you sense Jose Mourinho is the one manager in Europe who almost has to win it. The expectation on him will be immense. But I also believe this will be a vintage year for English clubs in which I fully expect to see all four of our clubs in the quarter-finals and two in the semis.
Some events go beyond football and the traditional rivalries we have. Wednesday’s report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel was one of those moments. Whoever you support and wherever your allegiance lies, it was impossible not to be moved by the revelations. What we heard was shocking and disgusting. – Mail on Sunday