x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Scholes still walks the walk

When Ryan Giggs was getting the accolades last season, it would have been easy for his Manchester United teammate Paul Scholes to feel a touch envious.

Manchester United's Paul Scholes admitted his goal against Besiktas on Tuesday was probably one of only a couple of occasions in the recent past that he managed to get forward to score.
Manchester United's Paul Scholes admitted his goal against Besiktas on Tuesday was probably one of only a couple of occasions in the recent past that he managed to get forward to score.

When Ryan Giggs was getting the accolades last season, it would have been easy for his Manchester United teammate Paul Scholes to feel a touch envious. Not at missing all the attention, but as he enters his 15th year with his only club, the personal prizes have so far eluded him despite plaudits aplenty.

United legends Eric Cantona and Sir Bobby Charlton have often hailed his quality and, in praising Scholes as his toughest opponent, Zinedine Zidane said he was the "greatest of his generation". So it is surprising and somewhat sad that Scholes has not been named a PFA Player of the Year as Giggs was for the first time during his 18-year career back in April. Shy he may be off the pitch, but he does not hide on it.

Having been sent off at Tottenham on Sunday, Scholes was in the spotlight for the right reasons on Tuesday with the winner to settle a tight Champions League group opener against Besiktas in Turkey. When Nani's thumping shot was pushed out by Rustu, there he was to head home the rebound. "[The goal was] probably one of only a couple of occasions that I managed to get forward, and thankfully the ball came to me and I managed to score," Scholes said. "We've got the win and that is the most important thing."

It was a flashback to the old days when the sight of him ghosting forward and finding the net was routine. The silent assassin, there were few goal-scoring midfielders like him. As Sir Alex Ferguson acknowledged following his 22nd goal in the European Cup competition, "Paul Scholes did what he does best". Scholes will be 35 in November and is playing so deep these days that he has scored just five goals in the past two seasons.

He seems to save them for when it matters most - his last in the Champions League came in 2008 to send United into the final at the expense of Barcelona. This season could well be his swansong at the top level and with his precision passing and poise - just do not mention the rash tackling - he could play a crucial role for United and be a candidate fir the PFA award. Sentimental vote or not, few would begrudge him the trophy.

After his show of petulance in being substituted, shaking his head and throwing a boot down in anger, Wayne Rooney should take note of the way Scholes conducts himself. It is good to show passion, but be humble with it. In a hostile atmosphere and game of few chances, Rooney was frustrated by the Turks. But with dangerous runs and telling crosses, Antonio Valencia showed what an asset he could be on the right wing.

Ferguson said: "He has got the potential to be a really good player. He is powerful and strong, with a lot of enthusiasm. In a year's time he will have developed more parts of his game." Chelsea also got off to a winning start thanks to their own quiet man, Nicolas Anelka. With Didier Drogba starting his three-match suspension for his verbal tirade after last season's semi-final defeat to Barcelona, the French striker stepped out of the shadow to take centre stage.

And yet again he proved he could top the bill with the winning goal against Porto, using his speed and agility to pounce on the loose ball after his initial effort had been saved by Helton. Carlo Ancelotti, the Chelsea coach, recognises Anelka's strengths, believing he "can play with Drogba and without Drogba" and giving the frontman the support he craves to perform at his best. Anelka, though, would prefer to be in tandem with Drogba. "It's good that we can win without him, but it's better when he's in the team," he said.

"We miss him when he's not there. "We miss his physical impact and my position on the pitch is different, so I feel I have to change." @Email:akhan@thenational.ae