x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Manchester United must be better next season, warns Paul Scholes

English Premier League rivals Manchester City have raised the bar and it is up to United to meet it, the veteran midfielder admits.

Paul Scholes, in action during Manchester United's pre-season tour of South Africa last week, has been with the club since he was 14. Luke Walker / Getty Images
Paul Scholes, in action during Manchester United's pre-season tour of South Africa last week, has been with the club since he was 14. Luke Walker / Getty Images

It is not just in his passing that Paul Scholes offers directness. On the rare occasions when Manchester United's midfielder-for-all-seasons talks publicly, the straightness is also evident.

Across the perfect surface of Cape Town's World Cup stadium last weekend, Scholes was his usual intelligent, efficient self. Save for one feature. His normally conservative footwear had turned half white, half luminous green.

Ask him about those boots, and Scholes's face crumples up. "That was what Nike sent me," he explains, before delivering a less-than-complimentary assessment of their aesthetic qualities.

Scholes's analysis of a 2011/12 season he began in retirement and ended switching from Premier League champion to runner-up to Manchester City in the space of a two injury-time minutes, has the same absence of veil.

"It wasn't good was it?" he says of United's run-in, of the manner in which his team squandered an eight-point advantage with six matches remaining.

"For most of it we were in control, then it got to the Wigan game and we lost that. The Everton game as well was a big disappointment from 4-2 up and drew 4-4, and obviously we went to City and that was an even bigger disappointment.

"You always say the best team wins the league and City were the best team last year.

"When City went to Arsenal and got beat you do think it's all over … No, you don't think it's all over, you know you still have a job to do, but we failed at the end of last season, there is no question about it that we should have won the league and we didn't.

"To be fair to City they closed it out. After the Arsenal game, they were fantastic, I thought."

Born in Salford and on United's books since he was 14, Scholes says he has yet to watch even recorded footage of City's players partying with the Premier League trophy. The dramatic reversal of fortune United endured at Sunderland as they finished their fixtures on top of the table, only for City to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 victory over Queens Park Rangers was not the hardest part of Scholes's campaign.

"To be honest it wasn't too bad because we never really expected to win it anyway," says Scholes. "That last week we thought it was all over and that City would win the game against QPR and be champions. We thought it might be 3-, 4- or 5-0 even, but it sucked us in a little bit I suppose."

The fact United ultimately lost the title on goal difference rather than points was more difficult to come to terms with.

"That was a gutter," he said. "But they scored more than us in the end. We know we have to do better than we did last year. There were spells last season when we just didn't play that well and we have to become a better team next time.

"City definitely raised the bar and the football they played for most of the season was fantastic. And as much as I don't want to admit it they were good to watch and probably played the best football. So from that aspect they were the best team and deserved to win it. They have raised the bar, so now it's up to us to kick on and do better."

Scholes's part in ensuring United do exactly that was determined by a simple conversation with Sir Alex Ferguson.

Though the midfielder admits his January return from retirement – in a 3-2 FA Cup victory at City – was a nervous one accompanied by the thought "What the hell am I doing here? I could just be at home watching this", agreeing to extend it into his 39th year felt natural.

"The manager didn't have to twist my arm to play this season," Scholes said. "He just said 'You're going to play next year, aren't you?' And I just said 'Yeah'. I had no plans either way - whatever the manager wanted me to do that was going to happen."

Intriguingly, he hints that had Roy Hodgson invited him to be a part of England's Euro 2012 campaign he would probably have said yes to that too. Scholes states that he did not go to Poland-Ukraine, "because I wasn't offered the chance".

When the pre-tournament press briefing, in which the newly appointed manager said he had not called England's best ball-playing midfielder because he did not fancy being rebuffed is mentioned, Scholes rapidly retorts: "Well that's his opinion, isn't it? He's entitled to that."

Entitled to it, but possibly not proud of it. With Scholes it's best not to take anything for granted.

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