Jamie Carragher’s recent rankings are wrong and says much about the English view of the game.
Scholes’ superiority is due to his possession of qualities rarely seen in an English player. His passing range and accuracy were phenomenal, but most impressive was his intelligence and ability to dictate a game.
There are countless midfielders capable of spraying a 40 or 50 yard pass but few with the footballing brain to assess when to use it and when to favour the short. This is where Gerrard and Lampard fall short.
Yes, it is possible to find examples where they have found teammates with similar accuracy to Scholes, but there is an overwhelming catalogue of evidence where they are too quick to go long.
Any regular spectator of England in the last six years can testify that despite the obvious qualities of duo, neither have had Scholes’ ability to ensure that his team dominate possession. That instinct that allowed him to slow play or inject pace into the game at will, and always at the right time.
The counter offered by Gerrard’s loyal allegiance is that he has more recently adopted a similarly more measured approach. However, despite a notable positional shift to a deeper role in Liverpool’s midfield, he is yet to exhibit anywhere near Scholes’ mastery.
The way that an ageing Scholes was able to run the FA Cup game at Anfield in 2012 is a frank
reminder of this. Lampard, for all his professionalism and the admirable commitment he has shown in his development of his game has never had the talent to achieve this.
Carragher’s main argument supporting the supposed supremacy of Gerrard and Lampard is that they have scored more goals at important times for their teams.
Firstly, scoring an important goal does not make you a better midfielder. Xavi has never scored a goal in a major international tournament, yet was there a better midfielder at Euro 2012 & 2008 or the last world cup?
Even if scoring goals is to be considered key criteria, Carragher and Scholes’ critics forget one thing: Paul Scholes scores goals. His goal tally of 107 in 499 games for United equals a ratio of 0.21 goals a game, pretty similar to Gerrard’s 0.22 ratio with 98 in 444.
In terms of goal scoring, Lampard wins the battle for quantity with 0.34 a game for Chelsea. However, this includes 48 penalties, without which his ratio falls to 0.23. He has also achieved this while playing most of his career with protection from two midfield pivots, allowing for greater attacking freedom. Also, as stated earlier this is not the principle attribute midfielders should be judged by.
Gerrard’s ability to rise to the challenge of a big game is now legendary and allows him to usurp Lampard in the rankings. Goals in the 2005 Champions League final and 2006 FA Cup final will forever hold their place in Liverpool folklore.
Yet, again this is an area where Scholes has been underestimated. Carragher championed Lampard’s, now meaningless, goal in 2008 Champions League final which Paul Scholes’ United won. How did United get to that final? An exquisite blast from the outside of Scholes’ right boot that swivelled into the top corner, leaving Barcelona beaten.
Whilst Gerrard’s goals were often fired in more dramatic circumstances, Scholes has made similar contributions to United’s trophy haul. For example, the 1999 FA Cup final was won through a Paul Scholes goal and assist for Teddy Sheringham.
England selection choices is an unavoidable issue. Yet, Eriksson’s choice to move Scholes to the left in favour of a Gerrard- Lampard partnership in the centre is hardly definitive evidence. This is the same man who played Owen Hargreaves, who when fit was one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe, on the left wing.
This is the same man who selected a teenage Theo Walcott, with more GCSEs than England caps and Arsenal appearances, over Defoe and the top scoring Englishman at the time, Darren Bent.
In many ways, it was as Gary Neville said, “the easy choice” with Scholes, being the meekest, the least likely to complain and attract controversy. Eriksson’s decision is perhaps one of his biggest mistakes but, in a way, is actually a compliment to Scholes’ more cultured technical ability.
Scholes was seen as the most intelligent and asked to make the same adaptation that Zinedine Zidane was asked to make for France: playmaking from the left.
Overall, Scholes was the conductor and the architect, effortlessly dictating the play for a United team that won everything in his 20 years at the club. His medal collection, featuring 11 Premier Leagues, three FA Cups, and two Champions Leagues, dwarves that of his rivals.
Yet, what elevates him beyond being a great English midfielder and allows him to take his place amongst the upper echelons of world greats is far a more intangible magic; an element of control, an aura of composure on the ball that puts him alongside the Xavis and Pirlos.
Carragher’s undervaluing of Scholes encapsulates much of what’s wrong with English football.
To rate those two over Scholes is to value power and graft over technique, finesse, and intelligence. Gerarrd is a great leader, Lampard is a great pro, Scholes is a genius.
While Gerrard and Lampard are very good players, compared to Scholes' artistry, their style of midfield play is brute and vulgar. It is like comparing vodka to fine wine.
Scholes, Gerrard, Lampard. In that Order.
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