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Why Scholes is Man Utd's talisman

By Simon Austin

Paul Scholes

World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi admits there are only a handful of current England players that he really rates.

As befits a manager who has worked with Zinedine Zidane, Edgar Davids and Pavel Nedved during a glittering career, Lippi has high standards.

Yet there is one English player that he talks about with reverence and admiration.

"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," the former Juventus and Italy coach told BBC Sport.

WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT SCHOLES

I tell anyone who asks me - Scholes is the best English player

Laurent Blanc

He's a legend

Michael Carrick

I'm not the best, Paul Scholes is

Edgar Davids, 2001

An amazingly gifted player who remained an unaffected human being

Roy Keane

An all-round midfielder who possesses quality and character in abundance

Marcello Lippi

Still the best player in that United midfield

Peter Schmeichel

Scholes is the footballer's footballer. While his profile has never matched those of team-mates such as David Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo, he has always seemed the Manchester United player most admired by his contemporaries.

When recently asked which current team-mate he rated most highly, Rio Ferdinand said: "For me, it's Paul Scholes. Everyone at the club considers him the best."

Last January, Sir Alex Ferguson gave evidence in court on behalf of one of his former trainees and listened to the prosecution barrister's list of United's top players.

"You've missed Paul Scholes - and he's my best player," Ferguson chided her.

Even Roy Keane, a man not known to lavish praise on his team-mates, has been effusive when describing his former central midfield partner, praising his ability to stay out of the celebrity limelight.

"No self-promotion - an amazingly gifted player who remained an unaffected human being," the Irishman wrote in his autobiography.

Why do such respected and restrained judges wax so lyrical about the United midfielder, who seems certain to start in Wednesday's Champions League final against Chelsea on Wednesday?

Lippi says it is because Scholes is the complete midfielder.

"Scholes is a player I have always liked, because he combines great talent and technical ability with mobility, determination and a superb shot," the Italian says.

"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."

606: DEBATE
The Scholes we will see in Moscow is a very different player to the one who faced Lippi's Juventus in Champions League encounters in 1996, 1997 and 2003.

Back then, he was an attacking midfielder who could be relied on to score 15 goals a season and Lippi says he "would have been one of the first players I'd have bought, given the chance".

Now he dictates the play from deep and allows the likes of Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney to weave their magic in the final third.

Lippi says only the very finest players are capable of such versatility.

"With age, the best players learn to be effective in different areas of the pitch," he says.

"For example, (Italy midfielder) Andrea Pirlo can play just in front of the defence, right in the middle, behind the strikers, he can play everywhere. The same goes for Scholes."

Barcelona will attest to the influence Scholes can still have in attack, if allowed the time and space to advance up the pitch.

The 33-year-old scored the only goal of the semi-final against the Catalans with a wonderful 25-yard shot.

Former United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, who played with Scholes from 1993 to 1999, believes he is still the best player in United's midfield.

"People say he is a great player, but you have to define what a great player is," Schmeichel told BBC Sport.

"For me, it is a player who has a bottom level that means his worst performance is not noticed.

"If he is having a bad game, a team-mate might feel Paul Scholes is not quite on his game, but a spectator wouldn't notice. Scholes, of all the players I have played with, has the highest bottom level."

The Dane says Scholes' reading of the game is unsurpassed.

"He has an eye for a pass, for what the play or the game needs at that precise moment, that I have never seen anyone else have," the Dane said.

"These days he doesn't get into the box too many times, which is where you can see his age, but he has developed tactically.

"He controls and distributes the play and the game better than anyone I have ever seen."

Eric Harrison, the former head of United's youth set-up who first met Scholes when he midfielder was 14, agrees with Schmeichel.

PAUL SCHOLES FACTFILE
Paul Scholes
1974: Born Salford, 16 Nov
1991: Joins Man Utd as a trainee
1993: Signs pro forms
1994: First-team debut v Port Vale, 21 Sept
1996: Wins Double
1997: England debut v South Africa, 24 May
1999: Wins treble, but misses Champions League final
2001: Fined after refusing to play for United's reserves
2005: Retires from international football
2006: Misses much of the season because of eye injury
2008: Scores winner v Barcelona in Champions League semis, 29 April
"People always say Paul looks like he's got so much time," Harrison told BBC Sport.

"That's because his positional sense is second to none and he knows what's around him before he receives the ball.

"Paul has no great pace or power, but he makes up for that with his reading of the game, his awareness and his superb touch.

"The only current player who would come close to him in that regard is Cesc Fabregas."

Scholes' biggest weakness has been his tackling, which has lacked the exquisite timing of his passing and shooting. A mistimed tackle in the second leg of the 1999 semi-final against Juventus led to him missing the victorious final against Bayern Munich.

Wednesday's final offers the chance for redemption.

But when Harrison sits down to watch the game, he admits his mind will inevitably drift back to the early 1990s, when Scholes was part of his famous United youth team.

"We used to get big crowds turning up for our home games at The Cliff in those days," Harrison reminisces.

"Word had got round about the fantastic group of players we had - David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs and the Neville brothers.

"Yet the fans' favourite was always Scholes. People were amazed that this tiny ginger kid with asthma could smack a ball so hard, that he had such fantastic touch and was so brave.

"And he's not gone on to do too bad after that."


see also
Man Utd v Chelsea
19 May 08 |  Europe
Chelsea and Man Utd set for final
20 May 08 |  Football
Roman's Moscow homecoming
21 May 08 |  Europe
Champions League analysis
20 May 08 |  Europe
Routes to Moscow
19 May 08 |  Football
Welcome to Moscow
20 May 08 |  Europe
A fan's view of Moscow
19 May 08 |  Europe
Final is Ballack's golden chance
18 May 08 |  Chelsea
Are you Moscow bound?
13 May 08 |  Talking Point


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