No one could ping it quite like Scholes
IN the build-up to Wayne Rooney's famous overhead kick against Manchester City, the striker attempted to pass to his team-mate but instead played a one-two with himself as the ball ricocheted from his ankle, up his shin and onto his knee and fell behind the two players he was aiming for.
Paul Scholes had little involvement in the move to that point but, from Rooney's inadvertent pass which Scholes had no right to expect to come near him, he took one touch to control the ball and, with five City players within 10 yards, produced a pass with the outside of his foot that landed on Nani's toe. Four seconds later, the ball hit the top corner.
Rooney took the acclaim of the 76,000 inside the Theatre of Dreams but, like so many other times in the 498 league games he played for United, Scholes was the director.
That cameo came three months before Scholes decided that he was no longer good enough to play and retired for the first time. Having enjoyed a second coming at the beginning of last year, Scholes yesterday had his second going and, with him, went one of the greatest sights in the Premier League.
They made a movie about bending it like Beckham, but nobody could ping it like Scholes.
There were never any half-measures, no fear that the speed of the pass might have to be tempered to ensure that it was accurate. It was head down, strike through and drilled at its target.
Coaches say that every pass should have a message attached to it, meaning that the direction or speed of the pass should make it obvious to the recipient what their next move should be. Such was the purity and accuracy of his striking, that if the player couldn't control a pass from Scholes it meant that he, rather than the pass, wasn't good enough.
At training, team-mates were wary of what part of the bushes they stood at when they needed to pee because, if they were visible and within a 70-yard range, the chances were that Scholes would take aim. Relieving yourself wasn't quite the right phrase when, at any moment, a ball could hit you in the back of the head.
"Paul Scholes is the sort of player who wants to execute everything to absolute perfection," said United's first-team coach Rene Meulensteen in a coaching video.
"But he will work to make every pass of the highest quality and that's a practice of itself because that's an attitude that you need to have."
With Scholes, and that attitude, the end of the traditional midfielder moves closer.
Like Roy Keane, Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard, Scholes could never be described as a defensive midfielder or an attacking midfielder. He was simply a midfielder, capable of influencing play at both ends of the pitch rather than specialising and hoping that the manager might sign somebody to cover up for his deficiencies.
Where Gerrard or Lampard could have an enormous impact on matches – and as he showed on Saturday, Lampard is still doing that – neither could control the game in the manner of Scholes.
It's a measure of how little he was appreciated in the England set-up that his 66 caps are a handful more than Emile Heskey and Phil Neville. "The best central midfielder that I have seen in the last 20 years," said Xavi, while Zinedine Zidane described him as "the complete player". Former team-mate Louis Saha believed that, as well as the rabbit and the parrot, Scholes was the only other animal that could see behind him without turning his head.
Like Zidane, Scholes' inability to tackle was an issue but it takes a certain kind of intelligence to go through a 20-year career convincing referees that your fouls are mistimed rather than malicious.
As he watched the game against Chelsea last week, Scholes must have winced at the naivety of Rafael's sending-off for a kick that, even had it made contact, wouldn't have done much damage.
In the same way that Zidane or John Giles rarely wasted a pass, they rarely wasted a foul or a card either. On the day that his team-mates found out Rooney wanted to leave, Scholes tackled him in training and left him with an ankle injury that took him out of the firing line while the dust settled on the former's statement that the club were no longer matching his ambitions.
"Coincidence," said Scholes. "Could have been anyone."
Had Scholes elaborated on the tackle he could have argued that he wasn't that kind of player although most people are just happy to have watched the kind of player he was.
In an interview with Gary Neville yesterday, Scholes dismissed the notion of joining Facebook or Twitter because "what's the point of just telling people what you're doing".
Unfortunatly, next season, Scholes will no longer be doing what he does better than anyone.