Scholes to shape next generation
Paul Scholes will turn his attention to shaping Manchester United's stars of the future next season, having rejected Alex Ferguson's offer of a one-year playing contract.
Scholes, who informed Ferguson of his decision to retire earlier last month, will instead take up a coaching role with United when he returns from a family holiday. The announcement confirms that his 676th appearance, in the Champions League final defeat against Barcelona, was also his last.
"This was not a decision that I have taken lightly, but I feel now is the right time for me to stop playing," Scholes said. "To have been part of the team that helped the club reach that 19th title is a great privilege.
"Playing football is all I have ever wanted to do. To have had such a long and successful career at Manchester United has been a real honour."
At 36, and with a catalogue of injuries behind him, Scholes has become increasingly exasperated by his failure to claim a regular starting position in recent months.
He has admitted to struggling to adjust to "dipping in and out" of Ferguson's team and the battle to overcome a mid-season groin injury proved hugely frustrating. And despite Ferguson's determination to talk Scholes into one more year, having persuaded him to postpone retirement 12 months ago, the reality is that the player's mind was made up weeks ago.
Scholes' conversations with close friends recently centred on his frustration at not being involved as regularly as hoped and the prospect of another pre-season, another lengthy summer tour, ensured Ferguson did not have a chance.
Scholes made it clear to Ferguson in the wake of the 1-1 draw at Blackburn on May 14, which secured United's 19th league title, that he would not be signing the one-year contract on offer. But mindful of the Champions League final, he chose to keep his decision under wraps until the end of the season to avoid any unnecessary distraction.
Having emerged alongside the likes of David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Gary and Phil Neville as part of United's 'golden generation' of the early 1990s, Scholes was forced to overcome a debilitating asthma condition before establishing himself.
And although his England career ended suddenly, with Scholes retiring from the international scene at the age of 29 following Euro 2004, he leaves United having won every major honour in the game, with glowing tributes from the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Xavi and many of his contemporaries.
The only surprise in Scholes' announcement was the timing. Nothing would have suited his dry sense of humour more than the news being quietly released during England's clash with Switzerland on Saturday, when he would have hoped to have escaped with just a passing mention.
Instead, he chose to tie up his loose ends with United on Monday before escaping the country on a family holiday with his wife and three children, leaving the club to confirm his decision at 9.0am.
It was typical Scholes. No fuss or milking the adulation with a final round of emotional interviews. Open and accessible, despite the shy and retiring image, Scholes joked last week that he was considering having his United testimonial in August "beamed live on video-link to Oldham" so that he could watch from home rather than endure the spotlight for one last time.
Turning up for his own testimonial is the one concession he will make at the end of a career defined by his single-mindedness as much as his ability.
Scholes has always followed his own mind. Ferguson often referred to his 'stubbornness' and once forced him to play in a testimonial for Eric Winstanley at Barnsley following his refusal to play alongside a host of youth-team players in a Worthington Cup tie at Arsenal in 2001.
England managers Sven-Goran Eriksson, Steve McClaren and Fabio Capello have all tried and failed to tempt him out of international retirement, yet despite the perception that the aching boredom of life in soulless hotel rooms prompted Scholes' international retirement, the real reason was a football one, with a dissatisfaction over his role prompting his decision.
Seven years on, the same motivating factors have led to Scholes ending his 17-year career in United's first-team. He simply wanted to play. (©Daily Telegraph, London)