Paul Scholes: one of the greats

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.

7 thoughts on “Paul Scholes: one of the greats

  1. Paul Scholes has been so good for so long that he has sort of become under appreciated.

    In truth, he is one of the best players in his position of all time.

    I was a bit young to appreciate him when he was in his free scoring days of the 90’s but have always enjoyed watching him over the last 5 years or so, with his long range screamers being a particular highlight of mine.

    I don’t usually jump out of my seat when a player from another team scores a goal, but his goal against Barcelona in 2008 when they beat them in the semi-finals had me out of my seat and running around the room.

    A truly great player.

  2. A legend is a player you can be proud to tell your grandchildren “I saw x play”. Best & Charlton fit this category for me (& Law). Time comes into it, plus international appearances.

    I thought Scholes could have been more of a ‘legend’ had he played more for England – his early England appearances contained lots of goals. But I have never understood a player retiring himself from internationals. How can you not want to play for your country?

    1. My recollection is that he decided to retire from int’l duty is when Sven decided to move him out of central midfield to make room for Lampard and Gerard. Scholes hated being stuck out on the left, partially because it was out of his conmfort zone and he probably also felt like he was the best player of those three. Hard to argue with that, given how both Lampard and Gerard have underperformed for England.

  3. No doubt a legend, I say.

    The good majority of the people I speak to enjoy and rate club football over international football, and some by a good margin. I often wonder how many players feel the same and, contrary to what they may say, find it to be an inconvenience, a necessary evil so to speak. Some say the key to Scholes longevity was his early international retirement, and there’s probably something to that. I’m not a Utd fan (not by any stretch) but I enjoyed watching him more for that team than for England.

  4. Well don’t forget he scored his last ever goal at The Cottage.
    Even as a United fan I felt I never really appreciated Scholes as much as I should. He operated in that midfield hole, kind of the same that Murphy patrols, that I’ve never personally been able to grasp. I’m sure that in time we will look back at the dream three of Scholes, Giggs and Beckham (sorry Gary) – I doubt very much that Best was considered a legend when he drank his way out of Old Trafford, but eventually gained the status with a bit of perspective.

  5. It was always odd when you heard that England wasn’t producing any technically great players. I always thought that in the right setting, Scholes and Murphy could have been a earlier version of Xavi and Iniesta.

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