Paul Scholes: When I go I will miss football, not the life of a footballer
After a glittering career Paul Scholes will bow out of Manchester United's Theatre of Dreams within two years. Mark Ogden in Durban hears why
Thursday 24 July 2008
For most people, the lifestyle of a footballer is a Utopia that could only be reached by the purchase of a winning Lottery ticket. But Paul Scholes cannot wait to see the back of it.
Manchester United's base in the Beverly Hills Hotel here sits on Umhlanga Rocks, overlooking the crashing waves of the Indian Ocean on South Africa's subtropical north-east coast. It is almost paradise, yet for Scholes, this three-day stay in KwaZulu/Natal is another example of the purgatory that comes with his existence in the United bubble.
At 33, however, the former England midfielder knows he is now on the home straight in terms of his hugely successful career, with the finishing line approaching fast.
Always a reluctant superstar, Scholes ended his international career at the age of 29, with 66 caps to his name, in order to spend more time with his young family and less within the confined atmosphere of a travelling football team.
United have always been his second family, however, and his club ties are stronger than those to England, yet he admits that he is relishing the day when he suddenly becomes Paul Scholes, the former footballer.
"How long will I go on? I'd think two years at the most," Scholes admitted. "I have one year left on my contract and, hopefully, I'll get another one, but I suppose it all depends on how you're feeling and how you're playing.
"I can't say that I can't wait to finish, but I am looking forward to finishing being involved with everything that goes with it. I suppose people are just very invasive and are always wanting to know what you're going to do. The only thing I will definitely miss is the football, not the general life of a footballer.
"At the moment, though, I just think two years would be about right. I feel OK right now and as long as I feel OK then I'll carry on.
"It's difficult to say whether I want to bow out at the top [with United] or not," he added. "I'll just have to see, when the time comes, whether I want to carry on playing somewhere else at a lower level. But I don't look that far ahead."
Scholes is not one of life's great smilers. A shrug of the shoulders or a shake of the head are his favoured currency of expression, but his participation in United's Champions League final victory over Chelsea in Moscow two months ago will allow him to squeeze out the odd grin when he reflects on his career.
Although he was awarded a winners' medal following United's triumph against Bayern Munich at the Nou Camp in 1999, suspension robbed him of the opportunity to play against the Germans, so the box marked "Champions League winner" remained unticked in Scholes' mind.
Moscow secured redemption, but Scholes admits that he and United should not have waited quite so long to get their hands on the European Cup once more.
He said: "Moscow meant everything. It was a great night to win probably the biggest trophy in club football. Maybe we were a bit lucky towards the end, but I was always hopeful we'd win it again.
"When you've got a team like we have, especially one playing as well as we were doing in the last year, I always thought there would be a chance and luckily we did it.
"But I don't think it matters how much you win because, as soon as you win it, the day after you look forward and try and win it again. I would have liked to have won it more, or even just got to the final a bit more. Hopefully, we can do better this time than we did after 1999, when we had to wait another nine years.
"I don't have my medals on show, though. They're just locked away somewhere. I got a medal in 1999, but I don't view myself as a double Champions League winner. You've got to play in the final for it to count."
It is almost 14 years since Scholes made his United debut in a League Cup tie against Port Vale at Vale Park. Since then, he has broken the barrier of 500 appearances for the club and guaranteed his status as an Old Trafford legend.
Leaving United has never been up for discussion, but he has seen team-mates such as Paul Ince, David Beckham and Ruud van Nistelrooy depart for greener grass. Cristiano Ronaldo might well be next, but Scholes says he does not see the appeal of trading United for another club.
"If other players fancy a move and a bit of money, then good luck to them," he said. "But if they're at a place like this [United], I don't think they realise how lucky they are to be playing here.
"It's always a step down after here. There are obviously big clubs in the world, but while certain people think it might be a progression if they move somewhere else, when you leave here, I don't think it is. I've had everything I need. I'm at Manchester United and I'm from Manchester, so what more do I need?"
United legend whose heart belongs at Boundary Park
Although Paul Scholes was born in Salford, not far from Old Trafford, he was brought up on the Langley estate in Middleton and grew up watching football on the terraces at Oldham Athletic's Boundary Park ground three or four miles away. So it was a natural progression for him to join the Latics as a junior, and he played for them alongside his future Manchester United midfield colleague Nicky Butt, as well as the Neville brothers, Gary and Phil.
In fact, he had to be persuaded to go to Old Trafford. Mike Coffey, the then United scout who taught him at Cardinal Langley High School, gave him a talking-to.
"I had to get him into my office to cajole him into going," Coffey said. "He was very reluctant and took a couple of days to be convinced. I told him there would be better facilities and better coaches. The rest is history."
But for all the medals and glory he has accrued at Old Trafford, old associations die hard. He goes to Oldham matches whenever he can, and when he has ever been asked the identity of his favourite all-time player, he has named a Latic.
Coffey says, "His hero was Frankie Bunn, the Oldham striker" – whose claim to fame was scoring six goals in the 7-0 League Cup win over Scarborough in 1989.
Tackled at the 2002 World Cup by foreign journalists, however, Scholes named another Latic striking legend, Andy Ritchie, who scored 82 goals for the club between 1987 and 1995, as well as later managing the side.
More recently another, perhaps less likely, name entered the frame. In 2006 Scholes was asked by a magazine to name his all-time favourite XI, and at the heart of his defence was Stuart Balmer, the Scot who played for Oldham for two seasons at the start of the decade and is now first-team coach at St Mirren.
Paul Scholes' career record
Date of birth: 16 November 1974, Salford
Debut: 21 Sept 1994 v Port Vale (A) League Cup
Debut: 24 May 1997 v South Africa (Old Trafford)
Premier League: Eight 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2007, 2008; Runner-up twice 1998, 2006
FA Cup: Three 1996, 1999, 2004; Runner-up three times 1995, 2005, 2007
Football League Cup: One 2006; Runner-up once 2003.
Champions League: Two 1999, 2008
Uefa Super Cup: Runner-up once 1999
Intercontinental Cup: One 1999
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