Thursday 18 July 2019

Scholes covets Oldham job for love, not money

Paul Scholes (Mike Egerton/PA)
Paul Scholes (Mike Egerton/PA)

Jim White

Paul Scholes has long held a singular ambition. Now he has retired from gracing the nation's football fields with his consistent brilliance, the man who won everything available in the game wants nothing more than to become manager of Oldham Athletic.

He first applied for the job in 2017, but was rejected in favour of his old Manchester United youth-team colleague Richie Wellens. Now Wellens has long ago moved on, it looks as if his desire is about to come to fruition. This week he is expected to sign an 18-month contract to become the new man in charge.

For Scholes this will be the ultimate labour of love. More than comfortably off, with a steady income stream from his punditry work, one thing he doesn't need is the money. Nor does he have a pressing urge to become a boss in the top flight; a naturally shy individual, he has none of the prima donna tendencies of the new generation of impresario managers.

This is something different: he just wants to do his bit for Oldham. A lifelong Latics fan, even when he was playing for Manchester United he would like nothing better than to slip unnoticed on to the terraces at Boundary Park. The season United were going for the Treble, 1998-99, he was spotted failing to disguise himself under a bobble hat at an away game. And recently he has been sighted on the touchline at Oldham academy games watching his nephew Ryan play for the club's junior sides.

Sure, his hangdog expression on the pundits' sofa when bemoaning Jose Mourinho's tactics at United suggested the scale of his affection for the club with which he won so much. Sure he has a slice of the equity at Salford City. But Oldham is something different.

That was business, this is personal. Oldham are in his blood.

When Scholes assumes responsibility, he will take comfort from the fact he will not be the only fan-manager in the Football League. Chris Wilder at Sheffield United and Dean Smith at Aston Villa are both in charge of clubs they have followed all their lives.

And oddly, he will take over from another Latics supporter. The academy coach Pete Wild has been in temporary charge since Frankie Bunn was fired last month.

But Smith and Wilder both arrived at their dream destinations after honing their trade elsewhere. Before they fetched up where it really mattered, they were already schooled in tough decisions, in financial reality, in the essential need for dispensing with sentiment.

And therein lies Scholes's problem. While his England contemporaries Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Sol Campbell have begun their managerial careers learning their craft at clubs with which they have no history, he is heading to a place that has long been of deep emotional significance.

Here not only will he face all the issues of the beginner, chucked in at the deep end, finding out the hard way what works and what doesn't, quickly discovering how best to deal with the chairman, agents and players far less skilled than himself, he will also have the added pressure of passionate attachment. It will be like a trainee juggler trying to keep half a dozen balls in the air, only suddenly to be chucked a live, beating heart to keep aloft.

His love makes an already tough job harder still. Not least when he faces his first defeat. Then he will have to restrain himself from doing what his inner fan will be urging him to do: go on Twitter to demand the manager be fired.

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