With Paul Scholes retirement we are invited again to confront the nature of footballing greatness. Over on TiFF someone has made the point that Best and Charlton are legends, not Scholes. But surely this is incorrect.
Footballing history as we know it is based on 120 or so years of competitive play. In that time a handful of great sides have emerged. A list of teams that have been good for at least three seasons might go something like this: Preston, Villa, Sunderland, Newcastle, Huddersfield, Arsenal, Wolves, Liverpool, Liverpool, United, Chelsea.
I’ve missed off a few there, but if you look back there are remarkably few teams who have a) been really good and b) been really good for a long time. The modernish era essentially comes down to Liverpool’s late seventies team, United’s 90s dynasty (still going) and perhaps (albeit briefly) Mourinho’s Chelsea side. Arsenal had very good teams in the middle of all that (91 and 04) but in historical terms haven’t been able to sustain anything. Liverpool had a good team in the late 80s but didn’t test it in Europe. I don’t know that there’s a strong case to go far beyond this Liverpool and United (which makes sense given their success).
It’s hard (impossible?) to argue that the United side we’ve watched in the last 15 years or so is not among the best club sides this country has seen. You would need to pick out individual teams to go beyond this, but the Ronaldo United sides and the 1999 side (to name two) are surely right up there.
And if they are among the best couple of sides we’ve ever seen, what does that tell us about the players who played in this team from the start of its greatness to the end?
Paul Scholes not a legend? Don’t make me laugh.