I never get tired of reading about players/football legends singing the praises of Paul Scholes, but when it comes from another of my favourite players, Xavi, I get goosebumps.
Xavi Hernandez is arguably the most successful footballer in the world at the moment in terms of major honours. He’s a World and European champion, two-time Champions League winner, and five-time La Liga champion.
Apart from a few other Barcelona teammates, no-one in world football at the moment has had as much success as Xavi at both club and international level – not even Lionel Messi.
But when talking about English players during an interview a few days ago ahead of Barca’s Champions League clash with Arsenal, Xavi was poitively gushing about Scholes, calling him the best central midfielder of his generation:
In the last 15 to 20 years the best central midfielder that I have seen — the most complete — is Scholes. I have spoken with Xabi Alonso about this many times. Scholes is a spectacular player who has everything.
He can play the final pass, he can score, he is strong, he never gets knocked off the ball and he doesn’t give possession away. If he had been Spanish then maybe he would have been valued more.
Xavi’s endorsement of Scholes comes just after another all-conquering midfielder back in his day, Zinedine Zidane, called Scholes “untouchable” at the start of the season, and said he regrets not having the chance to play with him:
There is no doubt for me that Paul Scholes is still in a class of his own.
He’s almost untouchable in what he does. I never tire of watching him play. You rarely come across the complete footballer, but Scholes is as close to it as you can get.
One of my regrets is that the opportunity to play alongside him never presented itself during my career.
He was an extremely tough opponent to play against. You didn’t get any time on the ball when he was around. He would close you down and make your life terribly uncomfortable.
He is the type of player you want on your side, not in opposition because he could do so much damage.
He is very gifted. He makes the game look easy because he’s so much natural ability.
I particularly like what Zidane says about Scholes’ defensive game (“You didn’t get any time on the ball when he was around”). Everybody loves to go on and on about how Scholes can’t tackle, but doesn’t mean he was one of those attacking prima donnas who never defended. Scholes was an all-rounder.
If you’ve seen Scholes play over the years, he’d always do his fair share of defensive work and get a foot stuck in whenever he can. In fact, he’s pretty strong on his feet and would never duck out of a 50-50 challenge; though most of the time he’d never have to get stuck in because he’d probably just neatly flick the ball out of trouble.
The funny thing is, no matter how many legends old and new call him the best midfielder of his generation, Scholes has never really been elevated to the status of top players through the years like Rivaldo, Zidane, Kaka, Ronaldo and Messi, at least not among the average football fan.
But for me – and you have the right to disagree with me on this – Scholes is the most gifted player of the Premier League era. His range of passing, his quickness of thought, his vision, his composure, that incredible first touch… And we haven’t even started talking about those goals yet!
He might not have the legs to get him in those advanced positions to score as much these days, but back in the day he’d score them with his left foot, right foot, with his head – he even scored one with his chest, if I remember correctly – and they’d be volleys, half-volleys, long-range screamers, tap-ins, tidy finishes, from any angle in the penalty area and way beyond it… He could do everything (except the sliding tackle…).
But the thing that sets him apart from other EPL legends like Bergkamp, Shearer, Henry, Cantona, Keane, Vieira, etc., is all in his brain, not his legs. His ability to find space, to dictate the flow of play, to always make the correct decision, to know exactly where the ball is going to fall in the penalty area with uncanny regularity – that’s where he’s miles ahead of everyone.
Anyone care to disagree? =)
Praise for Paul Scholes…
My toughest opponent? Scholes of Manchester. He is the complete midfielder. Scholes is undoubtedly the greatest midfielder of his generation.” – Zinedine Zidane
Paul Scholes would have been one of my first choices for putting together a great team – that goes to show how highly I have always rated him. Scholes is a player I have always liked, because he combines great talent and technical ability with mobility, determination and a superb shot. He is an all-round midfielder who possesses character and quality in abundance. In my opinion, he’s been one of the most important players for United under Sir Alex.” – Marcello Lippi
Without any doubt the best player in the Premiership has to be Scholes. He knows how to do everything, and he is one who directs the way his team plays. On top of that, he has indestructible mental strength and he is a genuine competitor.” – Thierry Henry
Why isn’t he playing for England? It is crazy. Only in England. Scholes is a great, great player. So experienced and still, for me, one of the best in the world in midfield. Manchester United are lucky to have him.” – Jose Mourinho
Fans in Spain rate him very highly and I admire him a huge amount.” – Xabi Alonso
England have lost their best player.” – George Best, after Scholes’ retirement from international football.
Paul Scholes.” – Juan Sebastian Veron, when asked who the best English player was.
Scholes is the best English player. Intelligence, technique, strength… all the attributes are there. At Manchester United I saw what he could do on the training field. Phew!” – Laurent Blanc
Paul Scholes has been the best England midfield player for 30-odd years. You’d probably have to go back to Bobby Charlton to find someone who could do as much as Scholes. When the ball arrives at his feet he could tell you where every player on that pitch is at that moment. His awareness is superb.” – Gordon Strachan
I have no hesitation in putting a name to the embodiment of all that I think is best about football. It’s Paul Scholes. Many great players have worn the shirt of Manchester United. Players I worshipped, then lost with my youth in Munich. Players like Denis Law and George Best who I enjoyed so much as team-mates and now, finally, players I have watched closely in the Alex Ferguson era. And in so many ways Scholes is my favourite. I love his nous and conviction that he will find a way to win, to make the killer pass or produce the decisive volley. When a game reaches a vital phase, these qualities seem to come out of his every pore. He’s always on the ball, always turning on goal. He’s always looking to bring other people into the action and if he loses possession you think he must be ill.” – Sir Bobby Charlton
He’s always one of those people others talk about. Even playing at Real Madrid, the players always say to me ‘what’s he like?’ They respect him as a footballer, and to have that respect from some of those players is great.” – David Beckham, whose teammates at the time included Zidane, Luis Figo, Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos.
Paul Scholes had the best football brain I’d ever seen in a kid. Let’s face it. Paul Scholes is in a class of its own.” – Brian Kidd
Paul, for me, is the best player in the England team. It worries (other) teams. Speak to any other international team and they will single Paul out as England’s key player. For me, he doesn’t get the full credit that he deserves. He is a world-class player and deserves to be up there with the likes of Zidane and Figo.” – Phil Neville
I wouldn’t swap Paul Scholes for anybody. He is quite simply the most complete footballer I have ever played with. He is the best.” – Gary Neville
An amazingly gifted player who remained an unaffected human being.” – Roy Keane
To be honest I think England have lost their best player. Certainly he’s the most consistent and naturally gifted player we’ve had for a long, long time.” – George Best
Every one of us (midfielders) is just trying to become as good as him. Everyone can learn from Paul Scholes.” – Edgar Davids
I’m not the best, Paul Scholes is.” – Edgar Davids
If you ask footballers to pick out the player they most admire, so many of them will pick Paul Scholes. He can tackle, and his passing and shooting is of the highest level. He’s the most consistent and naturally gifted player we’ve had for a long, long time.” – Alan Shearer
There isn’t a player of his mould anywhere else in the world.” – Glenn Hoddle
There is not a better midfield player in the world.” – Sam Allardyce
He is the one whose level I aspire to. He is the best player in the Premier League.” – Cesc Fabregas
I really rate Paul Scholes, because he hasn’t got the high profile of many of the Manchester United players, he doesn’t get too much attention, but he is one very good player. He is an intelligent player, he works hard and he scores some great goals. He is not flamboyant and is a quiet lad off the pitch but he is a tremendous asset to Manchester United and to England. He has already got my vote as player of the year.” – Tony Adams
The player in the Premiership I admire most? Easy – Scholes.” – Patrick Vieira
I can’t understand why Scholes has never won the player of the year award. He should have won it long ago. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t seek the limelight like some of the other ‘stars’.” – Thierry Henry
The most amazing thing is Paul Scholes, in the morning, when a player goes to have a pee at the side of the training pitch and he fires balls from 40 yards right on top of their head! He got John O’Shea about two weeks ago, right on the shoulder. He got Gary Neville right in the head and Neville chased him across the pitch!” – Alex Ferguson