James Lawton: Scholes and Benitez provide welcome antidote to the poison of self-interest

Only Mourinho could so torture a simple matter of common good manners
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There had to be a antidote to the catastrophic navel-gazing of Ashley Cole, and soon enough there was: Paul Scholes, playing beautifully for Manchester United and then slipping off as anonymously as a factory worker clocking on for the night-shift at Trafford Park.

There has to be something to counter the charmless self-aggrandisement of Jose Mourinho. There is. It is Rafa Benitez making it clear that he is willing to accept the hand of the Chelsea manager if it is proferred at Stamford Bridge tomorrow for the first time in three occasions.

Naturally the "Special One" yesterday made a West End production of the simple question: will you shake hands with Rafa?

Perhaps he would, said Mourinho, but only after weighing the emotional context of the climax to the game between Chelsea and Liverpool (did he mean whether he wins or loses?) and maybe not before the cameras but in a private corner of the tunnel. Maybe only Mourinho could so torture a simple matter of the good manners commonly practised by the least of sportsmen.

Still, let us thank God for Scholes and for Benitez in a week which had the potential to make you wonder all over again if the national game was indeed utterly committed to destroying the last of the good faith it enjoyed among that section of an overheated market which still attached importance to such qualities as grace and sportsmanship, and an implicit belief that the game would still go on, and the sun still rise in the morning, if any star, however celebrated, however rewarded, should suddenly vanish from the scene.

There has always been a Scholes around but his type, of course, rarely attract much more than cursory attention. He plays his game well, yes, maybe as well as almost anyone who has worn the shirts of Manchester United and England, he goes home to his family, and beyond the odd hair-raising tackle where is the headline in that?

Shortly before he left international football, weary of the rigmarole and the eventually intolerable habit Sven Goran Eriksson had of slotting him into any midfield position which wasn't claimed, in a clatter of publicity, by such as David Beckham and Steven Gerrard, he was hauled before the media.

It was during England's painfully truncated participation in the European Championship two years ago. It is possible that some victims of the Inquisition submitted themselves with a lighter expression than the one Scholes wore when he walked into the tent on a sweltering afternoon in the outskirts of Lisbon.

No, he didn't really want to sit around talking about himself. There wasn't a lot to say, when he thought about it. He lived for two things. One was to play football as well as he could and the other was to be around his family.

His life at home couldn't be less remarkable, he pointed out patiently, but it was everything he wanted. He didn't have an agent and he wasn't interested in driving up the price of his autobiography. When he finished training, he liked to pick the kids up from school, do a bit of shopping, maybe, talk with a few of the locals about football, preferably the fortunes of his first love, Oldham Athletic, and then go home for the family tea.

No, he didn't envy the celebrity and the fortune of his former Old Trafford team-mate Beckham.

"I'm not David Beckham, and I never could be, even if I wanted to be. But I like my life and I like what I've been able to achieve in football," he said. What that is, if anybody is counting, is six Premiership titles, three FA Cups and the European Cup. "Better players than me would settle for that," he said before walking into the sunlight.

Nobody would have been surprised had he tied knots in his handkerchief and put it over his ginger thatch. Nor should anyone be startled if the England head coach, Steve McClaren, weary of his team's midfield incoherence, made one last attempt - no doubt while braving the jealous fire of Sir Alex Ferguson - to persuade Scholes to end his international exile. The move, even if it allowed for Scholes to miss the more formal of qualifying chores, would have unimpeachable logic.

Scholes is a mere 31 and his performance against Celtic this week was a reminder that he remains, in terms of easy and consistent penetration from behind the strikers, a mile in front of any rivals.

Scholes was unquestionably the best football news of the week and if you managed to step from under the dreadful fall-out from Cole's mindless baying it was possible to reach out for an encouragement or two.

The game in which Scholes was the most vital contributor was, if not a master class of defensive stability, wonderfully engrossing entertainment and nor did it put any strain on the excellent Slovakian referee Michel Lubos.

Celtic and United played in a spirit splendid enough to provoke the reflection that if we put aside the outrage committed by Manchester City's Ben Thatcher, one that was universally condemned in the strongest terms, there has been at least a little evidence that some of the worst of the cheating might just be in abeyance.

One marked improvement is in the penalty area, where the desperate grappling may have been sharply curbed, if not banished, by the recent bold decision to penalise the Blackburn defender Andre Ooijer when he put an armlock on the Chelsea captain, John Terry.

Finally, there was that invitation to Mourinho to take some of the poison out of the relationship between two of England's most powerful clubs. Where might it end: a bear-hug shared by Ferguson and Arsène Wenger at Old Trafford tomorrow afternoon? Imagine that. Imagine a game where the leading players, either side of the touchline, were able to look beyond themselves. Maybe we shouldn't get carried away but that's no reason not to celebrate Paul Scholes and Rafa Benitez.

Tiger even more to be feared after Wentworth exit

There may be surprise beyond the cognoscenti of golf that Tiger Woods (pictured), after five jaw-dropping tournament wins, was hustled out of the World Match Play tournament by his relatively obscure compatriot, Shaun Micheel.

How could it happen at Wentworth - and how could it occur so often in Ryder Cup play over the years?

It's about mindset. Match-play is infinitely more forgiving then stroke-play. In match-play you can write off bad holes, bounce back and survive on a wing and a prayer. If the Tiger ever prays, it doesn't happen on a golf course.

Stroke-play is a relentless measurement of a man's golf over four days. You pay for every mistake. That's why it is the form of golf so favoured by potentially the greatest player in the history of the game.

No doubt the European team will draw still more comfort from the great man's pratfall at Wentworth. But they shouldn't get too euphoric. As never before, the Tiger's Ryder Cup record is being scrutinised with something close to disdain. There is a worrying aspect to this. It may be that however much he dislikes, even despises match-play, he may feel he has something to prove at the K Club next week.

This means that, in this quarter at least, it wouldn't be the most earth-shattering shock if he wins, with a little help in the foursomes and the four-balls, all five points.

Outback would help strengthen England's cream

With already widespread concern over the fitness of so many key members of England's Ashes squad, one of yesterday's least appetising headlines read, "Setback for Harmison as England sweat on Hoggard".

With injury concerns for Steve Harmison (pictured) and Matthew Hoggard, and as doubts also surround the captain Andy Flintoff, our most dynamic strike bowler, morale is inevitably on a short leash. Certainly, one question is inevitable. Why is it that while Australia's Old Contemptibles seem to march through all kinds of controversy and fleeting setbacks with barely a shrug, relatively youthful England so regularly clutter the consulting rooms of Harley Street?

Nearly 20 years ago Peter Roebuck - captain of Somerset and a thinking man's candidate for a Mike Brearley-style leadership of England - was bold enough to offer a theory which scandalised the country dressing-rooms, but maybe still carries a little resonance today. Roebuck said that if he had his way the cream of England's young cricketers would be immediately transported to the outback of Australia where they would be required to chop down trees, clear the bush, and generally toughen up.

Roebuck now lives and writes in Australia, sometimes for the benefit of readers of The Independent. The odd missive sent directly to Lord's perhaps might not go amiss.

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