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|Birthday||November 16, 1974|
One of the most gifted players to ever grace the Premier League, Scholes remains an effective performer for Manchester United at the ripe old age of 38 and was even offered the chance to return to the England national team set-up at the 2010 World Cup by Fabio Capello, an offer he gracefully declined. Having suffered an ongoing problem with his sight during the 2005-06 season, the Salford-born midfielder’s continued success with United has been made all the sweeter by the fact that his career had once looked near an enforced end.
Part of the famous FA Youth Cup winners of 1992, he made his league debut against Ipswich Town in 1994, scoring twice in a 3-2 defeat. Scholes became a regular player during the 1994-95 term as Alex Ferguson blooded his ‘fledglings’, but he saw his position change as he moved from a forward to an attacking midfielder in the 1995-96 season, helping United claim the Double and proving the perfect foil for Roy Keane in a partnership that would last the best part of a decade.
Scholes had no problem stepping up to international level, scoring on his England debut against Italy in 1997 and also netting against Tunisia during France ’98. He represented England with aplomb up until his retirement after Euro 2004, as he chose to focus on his club football with United despite pleas from Sven Goran Eriksson and then Steve McLaren to reverse his decision.
An integral part of United’s Treble win in 1999, Scholes scored the Reds’ second goal in the FA Cup final against Newcastle United, but faced the agony of missing the dramatic Champions League final triumph through suspension. The 2000-01 season was perhaps his most consistent at United and he was voted Player of the Year by his Old Trafford colleagues, though his best goal haul came when he netted 20 in all competitions in 2002-03.
Scorer of some sensational goals, including belters against Bradford, Aston Villa, Panathinaikos and Barcelona, his career was placed into doubt during the 2005-06 when he missed several months with blurred vision. However, he returned to the game renewed and although he has struggled to command quite the same level of influence since, he played an important part in United’s three back to back titles and the 2008 Champions League success – netting a crucial winner against Barcelona in the semi-final second leg.
Scholes finally decided to call time on his illustrious career after United won a record 19th league title in 2010-11 and took up a coaching role with the Red Devils. But in January, 2012, eight months after kicking what he thought was his last ball for United, the ginger maestro made a sensational return – Ferguson re-signed him for the rest of the remainder of the campaign and he took up the No. 22 shirt, which had been his first at Old Trafford. After a rusty-looking first display against Manchester City he once again became the creative fulcrum of the United side and was such an influential presence that he was offered, and accepted, another one-year deal.
Scholes is an Old Trafford legend, having made 697 appearances for the club as of the end of the 2011-12 season and Ferguson has showed no signs of losing faith in a player whose sensational ability on the pitch has always been in stark contrast to the unremarkable and modest way he goes about his life off it. Though he still can’t tackle, his experience and guile remain valuable assets and he will be sorely missed when he eventually decides to hang up his boots for good.
Strengths: The midfielder has been forced to adapt his game over the years but his eye for a pass and ability to score goals from distance are still as razor sharp as ever.
Weaknesses: Tackling has always been Scholes’ Achilles heel and has led to a number of yellow and red cards.
Career high: Scholes’ winning goal in a 1-0 win against Barcelona in the 2008 Champions League semi-final gave him a chance at redemption for 1999, while an honourable mention must go to his Euro 2000 qualifying hat-trick for England against Poland.
Career low: Missing out on the 1999 Champions League final through suspension.
Style: Intelligent, unflustered, tenacious; Scholes is a classy operator with the ability to create and score goals.
Quotes: “Paul Scholes is the complete midfielder. He is undoubtedly the best midfielder of his generation.” France legend Zinedine Zidane praises the midfield maestro.
Trivia: Scholes is the only England player to have been sent off at Wembley – old or new – after his dismissal in a World Cup qualifying match against Sweden in 2000.