Paul Scholes: Quiet man of Old Trafford instilling some sage advice
Paul Scholes is using his retirement to inspire United's next generation of stars, writes Paul Hayward
Published 02/10/2011 | 05:00
paul Scholes' 85-year-old agent, Harry Swales, picks up the phone to discuss his client's enduring appeal. Swales, who wears extravagant mutton chop whiskers and is known as an "old-school" representative, has enjoyed a quiet life with the deal-phobic Scholes but wouldn't want it any other way.
"He's always been a player who wanted to play and train hard and when he'd finished go home to his family," said Swales, the day after Scholes had launched his memoirs, at Old Trafford. "All he wanted to do was what he did. He just wanted to pick up his kids from school. His satisfaction came from training and being associated with great players and a great manager. The book is the first thing he really did and he's enjoying it because he can express himself. It's not an autobiography, it's a picture story and he likes it that way."
So no commercial tie-ups at all, then? "The offers didn't come because they knew it was Paul."
Just when he thought he was safe, along came a scandal, a talking point Scholes was obliged to comment on. By a cosmic twist the shyest of all great English players ("my hero," Bobby Charlton calls him) is forced to recall the day he refused to play in a Carling Cup game at Arsenal in a brief fit of pique at Alex Ferguson. The context was Carlos Tevez's wildcat industrial action during the Bayern Munich-Manchester City Champions League fixture on Tuesday night.
"As soon as this came up with Tevez I thought: 'Oh shit'," says Scholes. "It's not that I thought I was going to get asked about it, it's just something I regret doing."
But more of that later. Scholes is now two weeks into a loose coaching role with the Manchester United reserves and has news to impart. In a BBC interview last week, Ferguson picked out Paul Pogba, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Will Keane as United starlets.
Scholes endorses those picks and adds a fourth. "Three excellent players who you'd hope will get a chance in the first team," he says of the manager's selections. "Tunnicliffe's gone down to Peterborough [on loan] and has done okay down there. Pogba has got amazing talent. He's such a big lad for his age. The physique he's got is unbelievable.
"I think Will Keane has the capability to be a top-class centre-forward. He's one of the lads I've been working with. He was always someone I liked when I was watching the youth teams. He's just got a presence about him, he's a strong lad and has great feet -- the ability to strike a ball. The kind of things [Ruud] Van Nistelrooy had. The first time I saw him I thought 'Jesus Christ' because he was smashing balls in from anywhere. Keane has the potential to do that."
For United's youngsters there could be no greater stimulus than being coaxed by the embodiment of the club's ethos. But there is no guarantee he will keep the tracksuit, the warm coat for cold midweek nights at Rochdale and Bury. "There's no particular job I'm doing, I'm just helping out here and there," Scholes says. "I haven't really done any coaching as such. I've just been having individual words with players and going to the reserve games. Warren Joyce [the reserve team coach] is helping me a lot. We've had two games and two wins so I can't complain.
"I'm not sure yet. I want to find out whether I really have the desire to do it. It might be three or four months before I know. If I go into something I want to be good at it. I don't want to be a bit-part in something. It's totally different talking to a group of players."
For Scholes, not playing has painful undertones. He admits to struggling in his later years with a cameo role and knew it was time to escape that torment last May, at 36. Inevitably now he is adjusting to the life of a spectator. "It took three or four months for me to miss playing again. I knew I wasn't going to be playing in the Champions League final [at Wembley, against Barcelona]. You know it's time to go when you're not even under consideration for selection, when you'll do well to get on the bench. You want to think you're good enough to start in a game like that."
Scanning the changes since he, Gary Neville and Edwin van der Sar stepped back, he says: "The club just rolls on." In this phase, to a faster, younger, more attacking style than last season, when United were sometimes more mechanical than the best sides Scholes graced in 552 games, in which he scored 150 times.
"This is such a young and vibrant, quick team. We look like we're going to score goals all the time. We look like we'll concede them a bit too often as well. I like the attitude that we're just going to score more goals than they do. It's not always great for your back lads and your 'keeper but we go through games looking like we could score five or six. To do that against Arsenal [in the 8-2 game] is just a pleasure to play for a striker or an attacking midfielder."
Scholes says the impact made by Ashley Young and Phil Jones is easily explainable: "The biggest thing is that they're playing with better players -- the best in England. We've won the leagues to prove that. I don't think there's any rocket science to the way we play, it's just good attacking football. It's not complicated or difficult to understand. When you get clever players like Ashley or Phil Jones it's no problem for them to slot into the team."
The hole left by his own retirement is, he says, too often fussed over and inflated. "I think people are too obsessed with the idea of a replacement. They always talk about replacing a player who scored 15 goals a season. For the last five years I was never that type of player, especially for the last two years, when I was only playing 25-30 games a year."
Nor does he accept that United could still need a specialist defensive midfielder to support the forward play and protect the marauding Jones: "It's a position clubs have become obsessed with. I always feel that if you've got two in midfield and one goes forward the other one stays, it's as simple as that.
"That's the way we played for a long time. Since [Claude] Makelele made himself famous in that position everyone wants a Makelele. To be fair to him, he had to do that in that Real Madrid team because there were five lads who wanted to go forward and he was the only one who even entertained the thought of staying back."
There is a warm word, though, for Tom Cleverley, the young midfielder who has staked the strongest claim to Scholes's jersey: "Going to Wigan last year helped him a lot. At the start of the year the manager just
gave him his head, his four or five games, and he's been fantastic, a breath of fresh air. When he came on in the Community Shield he changed the game and he went on from there. It's just a shame he got that injury when he did."
The best reason to connect Tevez and Scholes is not to categorise them both as Bolsheviks but to highlight the one-club devotion of the more modest of the pair. But Scholes understands rejection. He says of the Tevez strike: "When you're playing you think sometimes your manager is messing you about a bit. I got that feeling then [10 years ago]. Wrongly. The next day I wasn't going to Arsenal. The manager probably wasn't messing me about. But there all kinds of things going through your head.
"It was the Liverpool game on the Sunday and we were getting beat 2-0. In the League Cup I knew we would be playing a younger team. He [Ferguson] didn't bring me on against Liverpool until seven or eight minutes to go and I was disappointed not to be playing in the first place. I just got it in my head, maybe as Tevez has now, that I was being messed about.
"The thing with Tevez is that [Roberto] Mancini's definitely messing him about, which, when you're a player, you don't take kindly to. He's definitely trying to punish him for saying he wants to leave, because without doubt he was City's best player last season. To me it looks like he wants to play, but he can't cope with being sub. When you're a player you get the sense that -- he's messing me about, I maybe have to show him I can't be messed about."
When it ends the publisher mentions the pictorial nature of the publication and stresses: "This is the only book. There won't be another one." Much as there won't be another Paul Scholes.
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