Owen Hargreaves knows one or two things about playing with world-class footballers.
Speaking ahead of Manchester United‘s Europa League final clash with Villarreal, the ex- Red Devils midfielder looked back on some of his greatest ever teammates with GIVEMESPORT.
With everyone from Cristiano Ronaldo to Oliver Kahn sharing a dressing room with Hargreaves over the years, the England ace had the privilege of playing alongside footballing royalty.
Premier League Hall of Fame
But it was his time with both United and the Three Lions that gives him a particularly fascinating insight into one of football’s biggest debates: Steven Gerrard vs Paul Scholes vs Frank Lampard.
While that unending back and forth is only ever a few seconds away from exploding into life, it was on the lips of countless United fans on the back of last week’s Premier League Hall of Fame announcements.
The next six inductees to join Alan Shearer and Thierry Henry were named with both Gerrard and Lampard making the cut, but much to the dismay of the Old Trafford faithful, there was no sign of Scholes.
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Hargreaves on Scholes vs Gerrard vs Lampard
And when I explained the situation to Hargreaves, he proceeded to give a gripping answer on how Scholes, Gerrard and Lampard stack up having played with all three of them at their peak.
In an age where comparisons are stapled to every footballing topic, it was both refreshing and apt that Hargreaves pedalled the message to appreciate all three of them for their respective brilliance.
When asked what it was like to play with him, Hargreaves answered: “Honestly, so good. All three of them. So different, but all so good. It’s like comparing a French wine with an Italian wine. They’re all great in their own right.
“But again, football is only about putting the pieces of the puzzle together and I think with that England team that we had, we had too many good pieces of the puzzle and at times they didn’t fit.
The brilliance of each player
“But for me, Scholesy is one of the smartest players I’ve ever seen kick a ball.
“Even in England training in that generation – we had Becks, Gerrard, Lampard, Rooney and so on – whoever’s team he was on won. He just had a thing where he made football look so easy.
“But again, Stevie was different. Stevie was good at everything and he could kill you. Physically so strong. He could tackle, pass long, pass short, drive from midfield, come up with huge goals – personality to die for.
“And then you’ve got Frank. Frank was the ultimate winner. He made the absolute most out of everything he had. I loved that about Frank.
“I just used to watch him work all of the time. In England training: work, work, work. Just to improve to get better.
“So, it’s not a fair comparison because they’re all so special and if Scholesly had got in [the Hall of Fame] first, I don’t think Frank or Stevie would have been upset.
“I don’t think Scholsey would have been upset that Frank and Stevie got it in because we’re talking about three really iconic players.
“It’s just a shame that back then we played 4-4-2 and one of them got shunted out onto the left because that’s just how it was back then. I think with modern tactics, we would have had a trophy or two to share.
“I mean, Scholesy for me is one of the greatest players I’ve ever seen kick a ball. So, United fans who want to see him in the Hall of Fame, that’s pretty understandable.”
Appreciate all three of them for their talents
Too right, Owen and it must be assumed that Scholes will be inducted into the Premier League Hall of Fame during the next round of inductees because, well, he’s English footballing royalty.
And it really goes to show that in a world where football is so often defined by stats and data that the majesty of Scholes once again lives on in those who played with him and against him.
It speaks volumes that player after player after player certifies Scholes as one of the most gifted footballers of all time regardless of how his goal and assist numbers are analysed.
And as for his standing in the broader Scholes vs Gerrard vs Lampard debate, you can’t help subscribing to Hargreaves’ message of appreciating them all for their unique and idiosyncratic talents.
So, maybe it really is like comparing wines because although Scholes, Gerrard and Lampard were certainly different blends, we can touch for the fact that they all sparkled.
BT Sport will show Manchester United vs Villarreal in the UEFA Europa League final live from 6:30pm on Wednesday 26th May. Whoever you watch the final with, watch it together with BT. For more info go to btsport.com/final