Football can be a real b**** sometimes. Less than a year ago, some Manchester United fans were wondering if Paul Scholes, the “ginger-haired ninja” (and why ninja, I’ll never know) should just fall on his own sword and call it quits.

But after his two man-of-the-match performances a couple of weeks ago, it seemed like everybody’s favourite asthmatic footballer was about to be given the status of saint – the British media had everyone from Roy Keane to Zinedine Zidane to a member of the Middleton Cricket Club (where Scholes played as a kid) to say something nice about him.

And you know you’re going just a teensy bit overboard with the praise when you say “Paul Scholes can tackle”, which Keane inexplicably did. Apparently he just “mistimes a few”. Maybe Keano was just being funny, but does Roy Keane EVER have a laugh? About tackling? Not likely.

Anyway, it would’ve been cool if they did make Scholes a saint, not least because of the fact that it would make him St Paul; and it doesn’t matter that Arsene Wenger thinks Scholesy has a little Anakin Skywalker in him. To listen to a man whose team has clocked up 72 red cards in 14 seasons (actually it’s 12 seasons… didn’t realise the list I found doesn’t include 2009/2010…) talk about others having a “dark side” is about as laughable as Yaya Toure lecturing young footballers about how the beautiful game is not about the money whilst banking in his £220,000-a-week salary.

Wenger’s boys might have been pretty good (they’ve done VERY well in the Fair Play league) over the last few seasons, but before that, they were definitely the bad boys of the Prem… Compared to Patrick Vieira, Scholes is a veritable saint.

But back to Scholes. Everybody’s been going on and on about how he is simply irreplaceable. The English national side are seeing evidence of that with every game Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard “play” together, as are United with every game he does play for them.

But as a wise woman once said, “don’t you ever for a second get to thinking … you’re irreplaceable.” Beyonce’s words became almost prophetic in hindsight as Scholes was shunted – to the left, of England’s midfield – towards the end of his international career to accommodate younger talents.

So in a way, England were able to replace him. Few could argue with the merits of choosing the dynamic Gerrard or the uber-consistent Lampard over an ageing Scholes at the time – it just took them a few years to realise they shouldn’t have chose them together.

The question now is whether United will be able to replace him when the dreaded day of his retirement comes.

To answer that question, and I know this comes pretty close to blasphemy for United fans, I thought I’d list down a few young midfielders who might be capable of replacing the sacred St Paul:

Cesc Fabregas

His is the first name that springs to mind. At the same point in his career, Scholes was often playing as a withdrawn striker, so one could argue that for Fabregas to have been pulling the strings from midfield all these years puts him even ahead of Scholes. There are few who can pass the ball around with the same precision and ease as Scholes, but Fabregas is one of them.

Possibility of joining United? Just a bit more likely than Carlos “Caveman” Tevez making an emotional, tearful run-out in red at Old Trafford.

James Milner

He’s young, he’s energetic, he can pass the ball around decently, he scores goals from midfield, and he’s English. Seems like a perfect fit for United, until you consider that he’s a Manchester City player now.

Possibility of joining United? Zero, now that he’s chosen money over common sense.

Mesut Ozil

Ozil was the one player most United fans wanted to sign on with the team, usually with replacing Scholes as the main reason.

But people need to remember – Real Madrid’s latest signing has had one good tournament, and that was within a brilliant system with the German national team. He could still very well be a flash in the pan or, like Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose, just particularly good playing for his national side.

He’s an exceptional talent, no doubt about that. But we’ll have to wait and see if he can produce the goods at the highest level of club competition.

Possibility of joining United? When (not if) Jose Mourinho joins United, he might just bring Oz along as well!

Yoann Gourcuff

Personally, the Frenchman would be my pick to join United. He’s proven himself at club level, is physically built for the Premier League, and has that bit more flair than Ozil.

He is a slightly different player than Scholes in that his passing isn’t exactly his strongest suit. It’s his skill on the ball that gets him into positions to make passes.

United could sure do with his skills in midfield now, seeing as they already have accomplished passers of the ball in Darren Fletcher, and Michael Carrick, laugh as you may.

Possibility of joining United? Much higher than the rest. This will be his last season with Bordeaux, that is if his club can keep his suitors away before the transfer window closes.

*** UPDATE *** It seems Gourcuff is on his way to Lyon in a 22 million euro transfer. Sigh…


Finally, United can also look within their own ranks for a replacement. Like Gourcuff, passing isn’t the biggest part of Anderson’s game. He doesn’t ping the ball around like Scholes, Fabregas or Xavi, but he has skill, good balance, and a whole lot of running in him.

His progress has been slowed in recent years by a succession of injuries plus a little spat with Alex Ferguson; but Fergie recently spoke up about what a “wonderful player” he is, and that he would get his chance this season to mend their bridges by proving himself worthy of replacing Scholes.

Fergie also reported that his recovery is on schedule, so United fans could very well witness the coming-of-age of Scholes’ successor this season.

Tell us what you think!

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