Truly great footballers let their feet do the talking – and no one in the history of the beautiful game has epitomised that sentiment more eloquently than Paul Scholes.
The ginger-haired genius even managed to serve up a glorious strike in his testimonial match at a sold out Old Trafford tonight as the Manchester United side he has served faithful for nearly 17 years gave New York Cosmos a 6-0 thrashing.
Watched by one of his idol’s Pele, arguably the greatest footballer of all-time, and the incomparable Eric Cantona, Scholesy unleashed a trademark rasping drive past Brad Friedel to open the scoring inside the opening 10 minutes.
It was pure theatre as Unted’s shy and retiring midfield maestro bowed out with a flash of brilliance that brought the house down. It reminded everyone just why Scholes has earned the highest of accolades from so many of the greatest names in football.
Anyone who knows anything about football will appreciate why the unassuming Salford-born 36-year-old is rated as the best English footballer since Sir Bobby Charlton.
Had Scholes been given more respect by the bespectacled Swede Sven Goran Eriksson when he was England manager, who knows, our so-called golden generation may have emulated Sir Bobby’s feat of winning the World Cup in 1966 instead of falling to Portugal in the quarter-finals 40 years later in Germany.
The greatest players around the world have never understood why Scholes was allowed to retire early from the England team. Eriksson should have been down on his hands and knees begging him to carry on.
It is criminal that Scholes earned the last of his 66 caps against Portugal in the quarter-finals of Euro 2004. Fabio Capello came to his senses much too late when he waited until the last minute to sound him out for a dramatic comeback at last year’s World Cup in South Africa.
“I had only been given a couple of hours, so it was a bit of a rush job,” said Scholes. “But the World Cup is the biggest tournament you can be involved in. I wish I had gone. I did feel as though I had made the wrong decision. There was a touch of regret, but it doesn’t matter now. It’s gone.”
Sir Alex Ferguson has hailed Paul Scholes as one of Manchester United’s greatest players of all time”. And many legends of the game have added equally gushing praise for the man who is surely the most modest footballing genius in living memory.
“My toughest opponent? Scholes of Manchester. He is the complete midfielder. Scholes is undoubtedly the greatest midfielder of his generation” – Zinedine Zidane
“For me, it’s Paul Scholes. He’ll do ridiculous things in training like say: ‘You see that tree over there?’ – it’ll be 40 yards away – ‘I’m going to hit it.’ And he’ll do it. Everyone at the club considers him the best” – Rio Ferdinand
“Paul Scholes would have been one of my first choices for putting together a great team – that goes to show how highly I have always rated him. An all-round midfielder who possesses quality and character in abundance” – Marcello Lippi
“I tell anyone who asks me – Scholes is the best English player” – Laurent Blanc
“Without any doubt the best player in the Premiership has to be Paul Scholes. He knows how to do everything, and he is the one who directs the way his team plays. On top of that, he has indestructible mental strength, and he is a genuine competitor” – Thierry Henry
France’s World Cup winning goalkeeper Fabien Barthez: “He’s the best player I ever played with.”
“Everyone of us should emulate him. We can all learn from Paul Scholes” – Edgar Davids
“I have no hesitation in putting a name to the embodiment of all that I think is best about football. It’s Paul Scholes.” – Sir Bobby Charlton
The last word goes to Scholesy – delighted with his farewell goal on his final appearance – who told the fans at the end of his testimonial: “I just want to say ‘thank you’ to everyone. The goal was nice, that’s what I say it’s about. Memories. I just hope I’ve given the fans some decent memories. It was a really nice goal and I was pleased with it.”