When The Sun ran a story in the lead up to the FA Cup 3rd round Manchester derby that Paul Scholes had sensationally answered a plea from United to come out of retirement and put on the Manchester United shirt again, the vast majority of us laughed it off dismissing it as a ridiculous non-story just to try and highlight a club in a supposed crises. I think I could go as far as to say that many fans were angered and insulted to even suggest that this story had any strands of truth to it.
The feeling of ill will towards the suggestion has no bearing on Paul Scholes, his ability and what he means to every one of us. The issue was with the club and the way it feels is suitable to addressing the problems we have in midfield.
Just paper talk it may have been, but it certainly stirred our fans into a debate on Twitter should the unthinkable actually happen. Saturday night saw my timeline full of United fans, including myself, voice our concerns if this hypothetical situation occurred. The main points were as follows;
Firstly, our transfer policy. We need to strengthen this particular position. The transfer window is open and we would all like to see one, if not two, centre midfielders signed. We each have our own views on who we would like to see but we are all agreed that the area needs strengthening. However, to bring Scholes out of retirement would suggest that there will be no attempts to dip into our transfer fund (we’ll look at this from another point of view shortly). Possibly more concerning was that perhaps there is actually only minor funds available, and not anywhere enough to spend on a player that will make the difference. Worse still, are we making requirement but players just aren’t interested?
This trail of thought would lead onto the next point. Scholes returning to the playing staff obviously showed that Sir Alex Ferguson recognised that midfield is an area that needs addressing. But by bringing in a player who had retired in the summer smacked of desperation. Desperate to address the situation, but desperately running out of quality options to address it. The image of the club is that we are in ‘crises’, considerably lacking in transfer funds and are struggling to attract the best players in a way we once did. Manchester United are not in crises by any means, but having to resort to playing someone, no matter who they are and what they have done for the club, really does not help that image of a club in crises. Manchester United surely should have no need to resorting to a player who is currently retired from playing, they should be looking to strengthen the squad not only for the long term but to improve our chances at winning this seasons Premier League.
Naturally conversation led, once again, to who would be the player(s) that we would like and are realistic targets as well as would be worth spending money on. The usual names cropped up: Gotze, Eriksen, Tiote etc. The debate as to whether a defensive midfielder of an attacking midfielder is a worthy one. Paul Scholes, however, doesn’t really fulfil either of those roles. In his ‘final’ season he spent much more time sitting in a deeper role in midfield and therefore his influence on games going forward was not as common. His role this season, should he really be back, would be the same. So he won’t be the attacking, fluid, creative force we need. I won’t even discuss him fulfilling a defensive midfield position, he’d get stuck in alright but obviously we know that’s never going to be his position. General opinion was that Scholesy isn’t really the answer to Uniteds midfield situation.
The final negative aspect that was talked about when the rumours in the paper surfaced was regarding the youngsters we have who are threatening to make the grade. The most prominent of these was naturally Paul Pogba, and to a lesser extent Ravel Morrison. These two above all others look like they may well be in Sir Alex Ferguson thoughts for the future of Manchester United and Pogba has recently been finding himself on the bench with the first team. To have Scholes return, automatically starting in front of him would be a blow to his confidence and perhaps leave him questioning his commitment to the club. There have been numerous stories in the tabloids that both Pogba and Morrison are attracting interest from major European clubs, and come the summer bids will be made. Traditionally we keep our most promising players and give them their chance to show what they can do, but with football the way it is these days there is no guarantee that new contracts will be signed if the player thinks he can be playing first team football at another major club. Perhaps therefore, in the long term, would it not be more beneficial to further introduce our young players into first team football and therefore keeping them at the club where they may become the next Paul Scholes.
I can’t say I disagreed with any of these points, more to the point they were points I myself was raising. Still, it was just hypothetical wasn’t it?
The next morning came and the day of the Manchester derby had arrived. Little thought was given to the discussions from the night before, this was the reality and paper talk was not on the agenda. Then, a little over an hour before kick off the news broke. A statement on ManUtd.com was released in which it outlined that we were not talking of a hypothetical situation the night before; Paul Scholes had re-joined Manchester United! Furthermore, he had been named on the bench for the day’s game.
The points that were raised by fans when the newspaper released their story were still valid, but now with the reality of the situation perhaps we should look more at the positives and what Scholes can and will bring to the remainder of the season.
Firstly, it was Scholes who ultimately made his decision to come out of retirement. True, he may have had it mentioned to him by the manager and some of the squad, but it was his desire to return to playing that made him make his mind up with the opportunity there. This is not quite the out and out desperation that it could be preserved to be. The chance to sign a central midfielder on a free, and someone who lives and breathes Manchester United surely can’t be a bad thing. For starters it seems to have boosted dressing room moral. Both Wayne Rooney and Chris Smalling have given interviews in which they genuinely seem delighted to have him back. If this resonates throughout the squad as we all know it can effect what they do on the pitch.
With the squad short on numbers and experience in central midfield Scholes is, at the very least, another option for Sir Alex to consider. It’s also another threat to other players’ positions. Those who we do have that can be considered to play in central midfield roles must work harder in training and on the pitch to ensure a place in the starting eleven. I’m sure you all agree that having competition for places is invaluable in order to bring the best out of individuals. This alone can improve our squad.
So, when Scholes does get on the pitch what will he give us? As pointed out earlier he may not be the answer to all our attacking defensive needs in the midfield but what he will give us is someone who can still spread a ball and pick out key passes. He will be doing this from a deeper role than he did in his heyday, but he showed us last season that his vision can still make things happen. There will be times when he will have the opportunity to go forward, and as he showed against City, he will find himself in that familiar position; on the edge of the box, latching on to a loose ball, firing in a shot that will have keepers needing to be at their best. Currently there is nobody who has that threat.
When not in advanced position his ability to calmly sit and knock the ball around, retaining possession will be vital, and needless to say will be the foundation of many of an attack. Again he showed this against City in those final few nervy minutes. Granted he had little pressure on him, but when he did his reading of the game allowed him to control the situation. I personally like the idea of Scholes in the middle with Carrick. I envisage them taking it in turns going forward, and I like Carrick having the reign to go forward. He is very effective in an advanced role and has the ability to create when higher up the pitch.
Scholes is now approaching 700 games for United. That is a stunning statistic and that wealth of experience will be so important on the pitch. With this added experience in the team players such as De Gea, Jones, Smalling and even Young will benefit from him during games. He can give advice and lead by example when we are after a late goal or need to take down the tempo, retaining the ball when a game is close.
But what of those youngsters that may feel overlooked? The simple answer is that currently they are not quite up to it. As talented as Pogba and Morrison are they don’t quite have the ability, and certainly not the experience, to come into the battle this season. And a battle is exactly what it will be from now until May. I believe Pogba will get chances this season if the time is right and I hope to see him on the pitch in the Premier League at some point, this is the best way he will improve after all. But to expect him to come into our most criticised area is a lot of pressure and it would be unfair to expect him to pull it off in big games. Ferguson will protect him, so he doesn’t suffer from the pressures of expectation. As for Morrison, it is his attitude of the pitch which is stalling his progress into the team. It is very unlikely that he would be playing even if Scholes had stayed in his coaching role.
The above doesn’t answer the question of our transfer policy though. Are we skint? Can we attract the right players? Do we really need to resort to someone coming out of retirement to improve our midfield? I can’t answer those questions, but I can give a point of view. I personally believe funds are available for transfers, maybe not quite the amount we had to spend on he who shall not be named during the summer, but suitable amounts to spend on one quality player. But perhaps that is the problem, who is that player?
We can only assume that Ferguson has his eye on several players. So why are we not making offers? Though funds may be available, it is likely that during this transfer window they will be limited. This therefore would mean that if we were to buy in January to strengthen midfield it would just be the one signing. And if we are only able to bring in a single signing now there is no way Sir Alex will make an offer without being 100% sure he was getting the right player. There will be no panic buying. There is also less chance of the required player(s) at the moment. If that is indeed the case why settle for a lesser player who may not meet requirements, and may even not be good enough to appease us, the fans? That would be nothing more throwing our funds away. We do also have players to come back into the team after injury, most notably Tom Cleverley, who will provide more creativity in midfield. Others may not be up to the required standard but at least it does give the manager options and numbers allow our better players to be rested. So with the likelihood that there will be no other signing until the summer why not bring back Paul Scholes rather than wasting transfer funds on rather un-fancied players?
Early January, three points off the top of the Premier League with players to come back and strengthen the squad. Our position is promising no matter what others may think. There is every chance this team will go on to win the league. This was the position before the news that Scholes, a Manchester United legend, had returned to play. Yes, there are negative issues regarding his return, but with his return the Manchester United squad is stronger than it was a few days ago. The major signings will come this summer but for now it’s early January, three points off the top of the Premier League with players to come back and now with a slightly stronger squad. It’s not all bad.
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