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Wednesday, 7 November, 2001, 14:17 GMT
Scholes caught in two minds
BBC Sport Online examines the current plight of Manchester United and England midfielder Paul Scholes
BBC Sport Online's Nada Grkinic examines the current plight of Manchester United and England midfielder Paul Scholes.

Would the real Paul Scholes please stand up.

Since the start of the season, the Manchester United midfielder has struggled to reproduce the kind of form which has made him one of England's few genuinely world class players.

This, of course, is not entirely his own fault.

Scholes has been cast in the withdrawn striker's role at United following the arrival of Ruud van Nistelrooy and Juan Sebastian Veron in the summer.

The England international has effectively been forced to give up his place in United's central midfield to the Argentine play-maker.

And Sir Alex Ferguson has opted to persist with the 4-4-1-1 formation, which he hopes will eventually bear fruit as the season progresses.

But Ferguson's determination to stick with this system - which is testament to the United boss' unquestionable belief that Scholes has the ability to play "in the hole" - has left the 26-year-old in limbo.

Man Utd midfielder Paul Schole and Sir Alex Ferguson
The end of a beautiful friendship?
After initially expressing a genuine eagerness to return to his more attacking roots, Scholes has recently intimated that playing off Van Nistelrooy is not for him.

"Sometimes it's not bad and sometimes it's not very good," he said after United lost to Newcastle earlier this season.

And it has been widely reported in the newspapers that Scholes is at such a low ebb that he refused to travel with United for their Worthington Cup tie against Arsenal on Monday.

The United player is visibly lacking in confidence, his body language suggesting that he himself is unsure of what his new position entails.

Against Olympiakos in the Champions League there were times when Scholes could not decide whether to shoot or pass.

And in England's crucial World Cup qualifier against Greece, despite being played in midfield, Scholes' lack of self-belief meant his United team-mate David Beckham had to run the show virtually on his own.

Such indecision is not something his club or country can afford to ignore.

Suffering in silence

Some may argue that a player of Scholes' quality should be able to adapt to what any situation asks of him.

But at what price, given that Sven-Goran Eriksson obviously considers him a key part of his World Cup plans?

Should Scholes' confidence be allowed to suffer to such an extent that he becomes a shadow of the excellent player he has proved to be?

The theory of a player for all positions also casts doubt on Scholes' ability, about which there was previously no question.

His goalscoring exploits for England - 14 goals in 38 appearances - are second only to Michael Owen in the current set-up.

Man Utd midfielder Paul Scholes
Scholes prefers his football to do the talking
And a total of 73 goals in 283 games for United, with some crucial ones on the big European nights, have contributed massively to the Old Trafford club's success in recent years.

It is well-documented that Fergie considers him the ultimate professional, a manager's dream.

But the manager's attempt to fit five midfield pegs - Scholes, Veron, Beckham, Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs - into four holes is doing Scholes no good.

Not that Scholes is likely to complain. He has only ever grabbed the headlines for the right reasons.

Yet his introverted nature may now prove a hinderance at a time when he could probably do with voicing his frustrations openly.

One can only hope that one manager's dream does not turn into another's nightmare.

If and when the mild-mannered midfielder faces Sweden at the weekend, the Old Trafford faithful will eagerly await the return of the real Paul Scholes.

See also:

07 Nov 01 |  Man Utd
Father-figure Fergie
06 Nov 01 |  Man Utd
Fergie admits to pressure
06 Nov 01 |  Man Utd
Fergie's 15 years
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