Despite the avalanche of tributes that have been compiled towards the end of his career, it feels like the rest of Europe and The World, for the most part, were keeping their unadulterated admiration for Scholesy a bit of a secret. Possibly enjoying a jolly good chuckle amongst themselves as our national team insisted on shuffling him to the periphery, on the left. At the AGM for the ‘Beautiful Exponents Club’ there would always be an extra place set: As Zizou exchanged loving glances with Thierry over a bottle of Vin de Bourgogne they would perhaps raise a toast to an absent friend. Hundreds of miles away in his beloved Manchester, our Paul would perhaps be having his tea, oblivious – more, not interested.
A modern day footballing legend, at least in part, is constructed from his own very distinct personal, but very public facing ego. Whether that takes the form of a certain kind of exuberance as with a George Best, or the ‘F*ck you’ attitude of a Roy Keane; we now more often than not create our icons from a catalogue of largely loud characters. We want to be like Eric – puffing our chests out, while bamboozling the press with philosophy. We want to be like Zidane – smoking on balconies in exotic locations and head-butting the baddies. We have tended not to celebrate the ‘everyman’, instead preferring to worship false idols, the one’s that have the potential to, and will inevitably one day, let us down. Paul Scholes straddles the two. He is extraordinarily ordinary, whilst maintaining his particular air of menace. He has created his own definition of what it is to be a legend … and how.
When most footballers approach the summit of the game, they like to keep reminding us, subtly or not, lest we forget, how many medals they have, how many goals they’ve scored this year and that year and what they can now afford to do (because of course we are so very interested). I’m not saying that this is the rule and I’d also like to say that – to an extent – they are entitled to enjoy the ‘fruits of their labour’. However, somewhere between these displays, the photo-shoots and the red-top-rag-tales, we are rendered effectively powerless to ignore their place on this earth – above us. This is not the case with our Paul. Scholesy has achieved his status, as one of the best, in a way very few can and/or have … the holy grail of footballing folklore: he has let his talent speak for itself (of course the fact he can play a bit helps too).
I’m not sure whether Scholesy was driven by a desire to be the best, I think he ultimately just wanted to play football for the club he loves (as a football fan growing up he could have only dreamed that one day he would be mentioned in the same breath alongside the names synonymous with the history of that club), but I’m sure he can retire knowing this:
Paul Scholes will always be remembered as one of the greats of Manchester United Football Club and one of the best players the game has ever, or will ever, see again.
I’m gonna really miss him.