Scholes bids farewell to England with typical lack of fuss

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The Independent Online

There was no valedictory press conference, no staged last hurrah in which he waved farewell to all four corners of the stadium, no emotional hug goodbye for the cameras. That has never been Paul Scholes' style. The end of his international career was instead signalled by a short statement on Manchester United's website yesterday afternoon. By the time it appeared he was probably at home, playing with his children, deliberately deaf to the eulogies which began flowing as soon as word got out.

There was no valedictory press conference, no staged last hurrah in which he waved farewell to all four corners of the stadium, no emotional hug goodbye for the cameras. That has never been Paul Scholes' style. The end of his international career was instead signalled by a short statement on Manchester United's website yesterday afternoon. By the time it appeared he was probably at home, playing with his children, deliberately deaf to the eulogies which began flowing as soon as word got out.

Scholes, 29, has gone at a time and manner of his choosing, a feat few players achieve. Most observers will regard his departure from the international scene as premature. Scholes, who suffers from asthma, had a disappointing European Championship, struggling to perform in the heat and being substituted in each match. The likelihood is he would have been similarly affected at the 2006 World Cup. But he made a big contribution to England qualifying for Portugal and would have been expected to do the same as the team attempt to secure a place in Germany.

The recent focus on his lack of international goals obscured Scholes' real talents. A beautiful passer, long or short, with an eye for the incisive, unexpected pass, he makes his team-mates look good. Scholes is one of those players opponents always talk highly of.

The redhead, who scored 14 goals in 66 appearances for England, said: "This is a decision I have not taken lightly. I have been considering retiring from international football for a while. I have enjoyed seven years of great football, playing in the best competitions, with some of the best players, under the best managers.

"Euro 2004 was fantastic but afterwards I felt the time was right for myself and my family to make it my last England appearance."

The news is a further blow for Sven Goran Eriksson. To judge from his demeanour the England manager has been largely unperturbed by the maelstrom which has engulfed the Football Association this past fortnight, breaking his silence only to issue that defiant, carefully-worded statement. When he heard of Scholes' decision, however, he will have had genuine cause for both sadness and concern.

Scholes has been one of Eriksson's automatic selections in his three-and-a-half years as England manager, one of his "jewels". The United player was named in the starting line-up for all but six of the 41 matches under Eriksson's command and for 21 of the 23 competitive fixtures. He has only been absent through injury or through being rested.

For most of that time Scholes, though remaining a prolific scorer at club level, failed to find the net for England. Eriksson, though, never doubted him. Yesterday he said: "I am very sorry that Paul has decided to retire from international football. He is a great player who has given so much to England. He has a very special talent and it has been a privilege working so closely with him. I would like to wish Paul every success in the future with Manchester United. He deserves it."

Eriksson confirmed that he had been discussing the issue with Scholes since Portugal and added: "While he remained a key part of my plans for the England team, I fully respect his decision."

The former United player George Best added: "I think England have lost their best player. Certainly he's the most consistent and naturally gifted player we've had for a long, long time. He will leave a void that's difficult to fill. It's a big loss for England and a big gain for Manchester United."

Indeed, the news will delight Sir Alex Ferguson who first set eyes on Scholes after he was spotted playing for Boundary Park juniors, a formidable youth team which also featured Gary Neville and Nicky Butt. After playing for United's legendary 1992 youth team Scholes made his Premiership debut in 1994, shortly before his 20th birthday.

Two seasons later, in May 1997, he won his first England cap, replacing Teddy Sheringham in an Old Trafford friendly against South Africa. By the following summer's World Cup he was a fixture and only injury has kept him out of England's first-choice team since.

His finest performance was in Kevin Keegan's first match, against Poland in March 1999, when he scored the hat-trick which reinvigorated England's faltering Euro 2000 qualifying campaign. Close behind would be his two goals against Scotland in the first leg of the subsequent play-off qualifier which were crucial in settling the tie in England's favour. But in between came the infamous tie against Sweden where he began with a nasty tackle on Hakan Mild and then was dismissed for fouling Stefan Schwarz.

Scholes has never been a great tackler. That is one of the reasons why he, not Steven Gerrard, was the player shunted to the left in Euro 2004 when Eriksson decided he had to accommodate Frank Lampard. Ironically it was from the left flank that he broke his scoring drought against Croatia but he made it clear he was unhappy on the margins. Sadly it was equally evident that he was struggling to play back-to-back matches in the heat.

That experience may have been a factor in his decision but no one should doubt the overriding reason was a desire to spend more time with his family. Scholes has remained true to his roots, taking his son, Aaron, to watch Oldham just as his own father took him. He maintains a low profile, preferring to spend his free time with his wife Claire, who he has known from school, and his children Aaron and Alicia, rather than the golf course or the nightclub.

Though Scholes' retirement does not, on the surface, have any connection with the current inquest at Soho Square it has none the less weakened Eriksson's position for it seems to add to the sense that an era is drawing to a close. There will be some who wonder whether under a different manger, the decision may be reversed. It will not. Scholes may be a quiet one but, like Alan Shearer, when he makes up his mind, it is for keeps.

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