GMF legends: Paul Scholes

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When Paul Scholes announced his decision to retire last summer, it encouraged me to revisit a number of eulogies given to the Manchester United icon during his illustrious career.

And, in doing so, I became rather misty-eyed when realising just how much I had idolised the midfield master during my teenage years, despite having no allegiance to the club for whom he plays for.

Growing up in Essex, supporting Manchester United was out of the equation - for me, at least - but I just found Scholes, with his unkempt ginger hair and baggy red shirt, a far more intriguing player than any of those representing my own club.

Witnessing Scholes orchestrate proceedings at Old Trafford would leave me mesmerised, unable to draw my gaze away from the television as the United midfielder blazed a trail of destruction but with a quite beautiful lightness of touch.

Deciding on your favourite player can be tempered by several factors and, as a subjective opinion, the choice you make is likely to be derided as much as it attracts agreement.

But I would like to think that my case for putting Scholes on a pedestal receives some significant kudos when the opinions of both Zinedine Zidane and Xavi are taken into account, who have led his numerous eulogies.

Zidane has championed the talents of Scholes more than many, and highlights never having had the opportunity to play alongside the latter as one of the greatest regrets of a sensational career.

“He’s almost untouchable in what he does," Zidane explained.

"I never tire of watching him play. You rarely come across the complete footballer, but Scholes is as close to it as you can get."

Barcelona maestro Xavi - the heartbeat of arguably the greatest club side ever - is also a huge admirer of Scholes, and believes he would have been more appreciated had he had a career in Spain.

"In the last 15 to 20 years the best central midfielder that I have seen — the most complete — is Scholes," said Xavi in an interview with the Daily Mail.

"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."

Xavi has certainly has a point about Scholes being undervalued, but one suspects this can also be attributed to generation in which he played rather than a lack of appreciation for pure football from English spectators.

The Spain international is a prime example of the high esteem in which the cultured central midfielder is held in at the present, with the exploits of Barcelona affording greater scrutiny on a player operating in the role of conductor.

Although midfielders like Zidane, Pavel Nedved and Luis Figo were all awarded the Ballon d'Or during the first phase of Scholes' career there is a sense that, had the latter been at his peak during the present day, he would be held in even higher regard than he is now.

While the above three players featured prominently at the Ballon D'Or during the late 1990s and early 2000s, Scholes was never even afforded a position in Europe's top three players over the course of his career. A quite baffling statistic.

There is a sense that, although Scholes is often lavished with praise, he will never be mentioned alongside the likes of Sir Stanley Matthews or Bobby Moore as the greatest players England has ever produced.

But, in reality, Scholes deserves his place at the very summit when compared to England's finest, and it is difficult to comprehend that the loins of these shores will ever bear a more complete player.

Yes, his detractors will point towards an inability to tackle as cleanly as some, and his desire for on-field retribution has often culminated in sanctions from referees.

However, never has there been an Englishman to possess such radar like vision or torpedo-esque accuracy when searching for the feet of a teammate over a any distance.

The 37-year-old was also blessed with the highly-valued commodity of being able to contribute frequently with goals from midfield, something he was could demonstrate from an early age, having scored 14 times in his first full season.

Scholes still has that knack of reading attacks to perfection and arriving in the area at precisely the right time, which he has shown with two goals in ten league appearances even in the twilight of his career.

Despite his supreme talents, Scholes has never had the wider appeal to non-football fans, and will never be considered to hold a superstar status like former teammates David Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo.

Perhaps that is why he was often neglected when it comes to recognising the game's very best players, but this has always suited Scholes just fine.

Scholes once described his regular day as "train in the morning, pick up my children from school, play with them, have tea, put them to bed and then watch a bit of TV."

It is this reluctance to revel in the trappings that accompany life as a professional footballer that make Scholes all the more impressive. Modesty is an often under-valued quality, yet he has it in abundance.

As a man, as a professional and as a talent, there are few players to have graced the game that will deserve the honour of being compared to Scholes in any of these categories.

Scholes is the full-package, and the eulogies will begin once again when he retires for the second time at the end of this season.

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Premier League
Manchester United
Paul Scholes

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