In less than two weeks’ time, we’ll bid adieu to the finest Manchester United keeper since Peter Schmeichel, as Edwin van der Sar will stroll off into the sunset after the (hopefully victorious) Champions League final against Barcelona.
Is the end also approaching for another United veteran?
Any conversation about United’s stellar successes over the last two decades, and for that matter, the club’s storied history, must include Paul Scholes. It doesn’t take being a United fan to acknowledge that fact, and even the most fervent of United haters can respect and even admire the impact that he’s had on United and on English football in general.
Scholesy has been at the forefront of United’s return to football’s elite in the 90s after little success in the 70s and 80s, and he’s had a huge hand in ensuring we’ve remained there. Without our midfield maestro, we wouldn’t be celebrating just having knocked Liverpool off of the perch they were so firmly entrenched on before he and the likes of Cantona, Keane, Giggs, and Beckham, to name a few, took over.
But after giving us a multitude of memories, like that thunderbolt against Barcelona, which needs no introduction or explanation, and so many other magical moments and performances before and since, we know that the day will soon come when he’ll be waving goodbye to the game.
Will that time be this summer? It’s certainly something to think about, because it’d be ideal for the living legend to go out on top, and being able to end his career with a Premier League/Champions League double would be the ultimate sending-off.
In June, Scholes indicated that this season could be his last, but weeks later, he said that he could continue on if things were going well. However, David Gill commented just days ago that he wouldn’t be surprised to see him retire at the end of the season.
It is fair to say that Scholes’ most dazzling days are behind him, and he’s no longer at the point where he can be an every-match player like he once was. However, it can’t be forgotten that he’s played on for several seasons after a prolonged vision issue that raised fears that he could be forced into retirement. He’s continued to prove that he can play a role in the side, and along with extending his run of consecutive seasons with at least one Premier League goal to 17 with a Scholesy special against Fulham, he’s also produced a couple of fine assists this season as well.
Scholes had to deal with an extended injury spell earlier in the season, and there was also the three-match domestic suspension for his straight red against City in the FA Cup semifinals. But he’s still logged more than 20 starts and 30 appearances in all competitions this season, including 15 starts and 21 appearances in the league, and there’s a fair chance he’ll be in the starting lineup in Sunday’s season finale against Blackpool as well, or at least on the bench.
Will that be the last time we see him in a competitive match at Old Trafford? With the future in mind for both Scholes and the club, it makes the most sense for him to call time on his career this summer.
It remains to be seen what United elect to do in the summer transfer window, but after a couple of summers without a great deal of spending, it’s expected that we’ll splash the cash in multiple areas this summer. After priority #1, signing a new keeper, which will likely cost above £15m, the next area of need is midfield, with most of the transfer rumors centering around names like Ashley Young, Jack Rodwell, Wesley Sneijder, Alexis Sanchez, and Daniele De Rossi.
Along with the potential addition(s) to the squad, there are also high hopes for Tom Cleverley, who looks likely to have every chance to nab regular first-team opportunities after impressing in a season-long loan stint at Wigan. And what of those who are already established or somewhat established at United? In that bunch is the million-dollar question of what next season holds for Anderson, who’s long been earmarked as Scholes’ long-term replacement but has yet to fully show that he warrants such a tag.
At this stage of his career, you can only expect so many appearances, but with those variables in mind, especially the Anderson one (we’ve seen what he can do when he’s switched on, and if he can do that consistently, the sky’s the limit…the question is whether or not he wants to reach for the sky), we would likely see a lot less of Scholes than we’re accustomed to next season.
There’s no doubt that he can perform if he was to continue on, but it’s tough to expect the kind of effectiveness on the kind of basis that would merit a regular place in the lineup, if we make some of the additions above and those already in our ranks prove that they’re deserving of opportunities.
There are some who might read the above and take offense, given that some might be of the mind that I’m dismissing his accomplishments and undisputed status as a United legend, but that’d be miles wide of the mark. The bare fact is that the last thing anyone, from Fergie, to the supporters, to the man himself, would want to see is Paul Scholes spending the majority of his time on the bench or as a spectator, receiving only a couple of appearances a month.
From all he’s said and indicated previously, it would seem likeliest that he would elect to leave the game on his own terms instead of having the final chapter written for him, which we can’t say for some other United greats.
And for me, that time has come, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who hopes that before the announcement comes, he’ll give us one more of those rockets that’s ripped out many hearts and stolen even more for the last decade and a half.
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