Has the recognition of Paul Scholes’ brilliance in recent seasons been aided by the all-conquering, ball retaining magic of Xavi, Iniesta and the rest of the Spanish team who Internationally, and in the case of several of the players for – for Barcelona, got the World purring?
This may sound like a nonsense question. Many people will say that Paul Scholes has always been appreciated. Well for me, that doesn’t quite ring true. I remember Scholes being shifted out to the left of midfield for England to accommodate the Lampard and Gerrard ‘partnership’. I also remember all the calls for him to retire in 2005/2006 when he developed an eye problem that saw several games pass him by.
Fast forward 3 years and those who were complaining that he had lost his ability to move from box to box, that he no longer had the predatory instincts that saw him arrive late into the box to slam in a pile driver were praising the brilliance of his touch, the fact that he always seems to have time on the ball and the fact that his pass completion often shows a greater percentage of accuracy than DNA testing.
The players who were deemed superior to Scholes, the Gerrard’s and Lampards, are suddenly being criticised for not having the kind of vision or passing range that their Spanish contemporaries posses. It’s been noted that Scholes is the only player of his generation that can bear comparison with Xavi.
So has it taken Xavi’s brilliance, the ball retention of Barcelona and Spain to make people appreciate Scholes?
The appreciation of players by the media that makes the most noise – TV – seems to be driven by the flavour of the week, or at least the year. They go with what they deem to be the popular opinion and it takes overwhelming evidence of anything to the contrary to make them change their opinion. The fact that the deep lying playmaker is constantly referred to as “playing the Makelele role” in this country gives a fair indication of how far behind we can be.
In 2005 goals suddenly disappeared from Paul Scholes game. After scoring 20 in 2002/2003 and then 14 and 12 in the 2 years that followed he has yet to get into double figures since. With Gerrard and Lampard scoring for fun and other midfielders getting in on the action the ratings dropped for Scholes. He was past his best. He’d lost it. United needed a new, box to box midfielder with the legs to cover the distance. Now however there seems to be more of an appreciation of the way that he makes United tick. The way he can help to retain the ball when others would give it away. People have started to see that having a midfielder who can charge an extra 2km over the course of the game isn’t much good if he has a pass completion of 70% and is consistently making the wrong choices. Goals are important, of course they are, and they win games. But if the team is scoring them and the team is winning, then does it matter if you have a central midfield dynamo scoring 20 a season? For me it doesn’t matter one little bit.
It doesn’t matter to Barcelona either. Or Spain. The player that makes both of those teams tick is Xavi Hernandez, a player with metronomic passing, the ultimate one-two machine. Xavi is a graduate of La Masia and grew up watching his current club manager, Pep Guardiola, when he was running the midfield for Cruyff’s great Barcelona side (Another example of the deep lying playmaker existing before Makelele). Some of Xavi’s quotes in always articulate and insightful interviews show the admiration that he has for Scholes :
“In the last 15 to 20 years the best central midfielder that I have seen — the most complete — is Scholes. I have spoken with Xabi Alonso about this many times. Scholes is a spectacular player who has everything.”
“He can play the final pass, he can score, he is strong, he never gets knocked off the ball and he doesn’t give possession away. If he had been Spanish then maybe he would have been valued more.”
The final comment is the one that strikes me the most. Gerrard and Lampard are very good players, they really are, that they score 20 goals a season on such a frequent basis is fantastic. It’s just nice to see that with recognition of Spain’s undoubted brilliance is now coming recognition that there’s more to playing central midfield than being a cross country runner who can shoot. This recognition came too late for the international careers of Hoddle and Scholes, but thankfully just in time for Jack Wilshire.
If Paul Scholes actually cared about the compliments and the accolades he might thank Xavi and co for the recognition that he is now receiving by association. But as a student of the game he might go a bit further back, and thank Cruyff, the man who brought Total Football to Ajax and focussed all of his efforts on La Masia, on producing a huge chunk of the World and European Champions and almost all of the ‘Best Club side in the World’. But Scholes doesn’t really care about accolades and compliments, he’s quite happy just doing his thing. In fact, if you told him what Xavi had said, if you told him that he was still one of the best midfielders in the league, he’d shrug shyly and try to move the conversation away from him and onto anything else.
The fact that he’s so self deprecating just makes it all the better. Watching youtube videos of Scholes from a few years ago makes me go a little bit weak at the knees, but watching him effortlessly keep the ball now, I don’t even mind that the goals have gone; it’s just a pleasure to watch.