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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 April, 2003, 07:24 GMT 08:24 UK
Revitalised Scholes sorely missed
By Tom Fordyce

Paul Scholes
Scholes looks to a bright future
If there was a player Manchester United could least afford to have missing as they prepare for the fight-back against Real Madrid, it is Paul Scholes.

When you're chasing goals against the best club side in the world, the invention and opportunism of someone like the suspended Scholes is invaluable.

His two goals against Blackburn at the weekend and the hat-trick at Newcastle the week before were ample proof of his role in United's trophy-hunt.

Like many of those who played in South Korea and Japan, Scholes suffered a World Cup hangover for the first part of this season.

Whether it was the lack of rest or the metal tiredness that comes from having to peak too many times a year, he was far from his best - and United's form suffered.

But as the year turned, and with it United's championship form, Scholes returned to his best. He hit seven goals in six consecutive games to kick-start the charge and has barely slowed down since.

His brace of goals at the weekend took him to 100 United goals, a landmark figure for one of the outstanding English players of the last six years.

Goals, of course, are only one aspect of his game. Against Blackburn Scholes was effervescent, as busy as a worker bee and as dangerous as a wasp.

In a side of stars, Scholes does not always draw the attention his talents deserve.

Paul Scholes hits a volley for Man Utd
Scholes' goals have re-ignited United's title challenge
In complete contrast to his midfield colleague David Beckham, he deliberately shuns the limelight. He prefers not to do interviews, married his childhood sweetheart Claire Froggatt without selling the rights to a magazine, and is as likely to be seen at a fashion show as Alex Ferguson is to be caught having a candlelit dinner with Arsene Wenger.

Yet his importance to the team is, if anything, greater than that of his more lauded friend.

Scholes has got Ferguson out of a hole all season by playing in one.

The United manager left himself short of strikers after spending his entire transfer kitty on Rio Ferdinand, but Scholes' willingness to play between the midfield and Ruud van Nistelrooy has more than covered up the shortfall.

Scholes may not have the haircut, the clothes or the front covers, but he has a technical ability that is the equal of anyone in the modern game.

The first touch is always perfect, the vision on par with that of the man who once kept him out of the United team, Eric Cantona, and the shooting - well, he can hit a moving ball the way most of us dream of it.

If he could only tackle like Nicky Butt rather than a drunken Robbie Savage, we would be looking at the perfect modern midfielder.

United do not have anyone quite like him. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can cover for Beckham and Nicky Butt for Roy Keane, while Ferguson has options aplenty in defence.

But a goal-scoring midfielder who can play as a striker, create chances for others and works like a kid keen to impress rather than an established international?

There isn't another player like him in the Premiership.

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