United wait on Scholes to relive past glories

United are culpable for Bayern's predicament, with their interest in the Germany captain encouraging his departure from the Allianz Arena on a free transfer next summer unless the Bundesliga champions raise their offer to about £120,000 a week.

Ballack delayed a decision on his future for at least another month before Munich's Champions' League win over Juventus on Tuesday and, though he offered the olive branch obligatory from every potential Bosman player by revealing "Bayern is a team very close to my heart; I'm still very undecided", his non-committal stance has increased the sense of resignation felt among his employers.

It is Scholes, however, who represents the more immediate dilemma for the Old Trafford hierarchy. His dismissal against Lille on Tuesday brought condemnation only of the Italian referee Stefano Farina from Sir Alex Ferguson and Rio Ferdinand, while the two straightforward bookings that prompted his 63rd-minute exit will not invite censure from a club accustomed to his rash challenges. The punishment was symptomatic of Scholes' recent form, none the less, and showed a lack of leadership that Ferguson desperately needs in a team without Roy Keane and which, at 30, should be second nature to the man from Salford.

Ferguson does not indulge Scholes to the extent of developing a system to maximise one player's contribution, as he has done with Keane, but by trusting him implicitly to deliver wherever he plays: central; on the left of a midfield three; or, as on Tuesday, in behind Ruud van Nistelrooy.

The midfielder's acceptance of these duties is typical of a character whom even the Anyone But United brigade have come to admire for his humility and propensity to shun the Old Trafford limelight in favour of an afternoon at Boundary Park, home of his beloved Oldham Athletic, but they have not improved his influence over the midfield area that remains in most need of attention at United.

On the eve of the new Premiership season, Scholes signed another uncomplicated two-year contract extension that commits one of the club's most technically gifted players to Old Trafford until 2009, prompting his manager to say: "Paul looks after himself, he's a family man and so I've got absolutely no concerns about giving him a contract until he is 34. He will feel the benefits of not playing international football as he gets older, too."

Now that Ryan Giggs has joined the list of the United old guard unavailable to Ferguson, in the winger's case with a fractured cheekbone that will rule him out for a month, the pressure has just increased on Scholes to fulfil that prophecy.

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