Saturday 16 December 2017

Scholes' restoration looks appealing from every angle

Man Utd 3
Bolton 0

Manchester United's Paul Scholes celebrates scoring the 151st United goal of his career, his first since August 2010
Manchester United's Paul Scholes celebrates scoring the 151st United goal of his career, his first since August 2010
Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

It was neither an act of desperation nor a masterstroke. The decision by Alex Ferguson to re-sign Paul Scholes was a no-brainer, a deal which involves not a single drawback. Indeed, one that returned an early dividend yesterday which will go some way towards silencing the doubters.

It some quarters it was seen as a kick in the teeth to the current squad, a sorry indictment of their shortcomings. An admission by Ferguson of the weaknesses of his current midfield options and an indication he has no faith whatsoever in the talent emerging from last year's FA Youth Cup-winning side.

And if you really want to read into it a little further, it shows the club hasn't a shilling any longer and a signing of this nature can only signify the beginning of the end. The squad is so weak and the club is so broke that a retired 37-year-old can actually improve the situation. The game is finally up.

Alternatively, you could just relax. Towards the end of last season Paul Scholes was offered a one-year contract extension by United which he declined. It was a disappointing decision from Scholes, and the club has been roundly criticised for failing to replace him with a player of his type since then.

This season, they have failed on many occasions to dominate games in midfield, so with the current injury problems at the club only a fool would decline Scholes' request to return. If it emerges the six months he has spent without competitive football have robbed him of all his quality, he won't be used in games that often. If he is still able to influence a game and those around him in the manner he did yesterday, he will. For United, it's win-win.

The negativity surrounding the move was similar to that of Thierry Henry's return to Arsenal. Rather than acknowledge the very low cost and potential high benefits for each of the clubs involved, many focused their concerns on the damage each player could be about to do to their Premier League legacy. However, diminishing returns accompany the onset of age and most people appreciate that.

Henry's initial contribution against Leeds was positive, as was Scholes' performance last weekend. I doubt if either player is overly bothered by fear of failure, for neither have shown signs of it before now. Nor have Ferguson or Arsene Wenger for that matter.

Just as the criticism of Scholes' return seemed over-the-top, the praise from some quarters was equally hyperbolic. Nicky Butt believed it was a psychological masterstroke to hold the announcement until an hour before kick-off last weekend, shifting discussion from City's home record and the bookies' odds to talk of Scholes and his abilities. I do find it remarkable that the United players had no idea of his return until they saw a 'Scholes 22' shirt hanging in the dressing room, but the result was decided before he entered the field in the second half.

As limited as they have appeared to be on many occasions this season, the current league table suggests they are being judged to a standard that no longer exists. United players are always compared to their most successful predecessors. Either this squad isn't getting the praise it deserves or the standard of the Premier League is getting far too much airplay, because United's points tally is somewhat at odds with the criticisms aimed at Ferguson and his players this season.

Their failure to progress in the Champions League was matched by Manchester City, and while last weekend's FA Cup success was overshadowed in some quarters by the discussion of a correct decision by the match referee -- as well as the return of Scholes -- United are coping remarkably well, working with depleted numbers from a supposedly average squad.

There may well be other arrivals of significance at Old Trafford this month, and they may well be midfielders. Scholes was not signed to be the long-term replacement for anybody, nor was he the signing that rules out the need for any other. You could argue that the short-term nature of the deal shows Ferguson has every faith in the youngsters coming through if you like, or you could say Ferguson is deluding himself if he thinks his issues in midfield have now been resolved.

Either way, the United dressing room has more quality in it since Scholes made his return, and Ferguson has more options because of it. There's really no need to look into it beyond that.

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