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Paul Scholes Fighting Spirit - 25/10/00



People seem to have a mental block about Paul Scholes. They see his spectacular goals and ask: "Well, what else can he do?' I saw a list of the top 100 players of the modern era recently and, unbelievably, he wasn't in it. And he never seems to be included in the top 15 players in the country.

But for me, he is up there in the top three with David Beckham. Yes, I rate him that highly. He is on a par with Beckham for talent and ability. He has everything you would want from an attacking midfield player

Technically, he's probably the most gifted player in the country. He has got superb control with both feet, he is a fine passer, an outstanding finisher and can put his foot into the tackle

But his performance against Panathinaikos on Tuesday perhaps underlined the qualities people don't always spot - character and mental strength. He wasn't having the best of games, unusually for him two or three passes had gone astray and he had missed a half-chance.

He kept going, he didn't hide, his head didn't drop. And he ended up being Manchester United's match-winner with two goals, one of them a simple effort although he put himself in a great position to get the rebound from Mickael Silvestre's shot, and the other a breathtaking finish to a magnificent team move.

I don't think in the first two or three months of this season Scholes has been as good as he was last year. But we are talking about very high standards here, the difference between very good and unbelievably good.

Perhaps Scholes' biggest problem is he is very understated in everything he does. He goes about his business with the minimum of fuss, on and off the pitch.

He is also playing in arguably the greatest midfield quartet this country has seen. You've got Beckham with his fantastic ability to pass and cross the ball, Ryan Giggs with his blinding pace and Roy Keane, the best up and down midfield player of modern times.

They are all household names whose footballing and personal lives have been splashed across the newspapers for years. Then you have Scholes, Mr anonymous, the player who keeps himself to himself but is probably the best of the four for all-round talent.

If you conducted a nationwide poll to ask who is the better player out of Scholes and Beckham, I'm sure 99.9 per cent would say Beckham. That would be down to his higher media profile. It influences people's perception. Beckham is in the limelight all the time. But Scholes is his equal. He just seeks to make his headlines on the pitch - and that is the right way to do it.

I spoke to Dwight Yorke about him and he told me that if you had to put all your money on a player to score it would be Scholes. Yorke says he is unbelievable in training. The ball can drop on his left foot, right foot or head and more often than not it finds the net. We've seen that hard work and dedication to his craft pay off in so many big matches for United and England over the years.

If the fans don't always appreciate him, you can be sure people in the game do. It's an old cliche but Scholes is the ultimate player's player. If Rio Ferdinand is worth 18million, I can't begin to guess what Scholes would be worth on the transfer market. Not that United would ever contemplate selling him.

Scholes' late goals on Tuesday disguised the fact United were let off the hook by Panathinaikos. There were serious warning signs in the first half when, with better finishing, the Greeks could have had the game sewn up.

PSV and Anderlecht carved up United in the first group and Dynamo Kiev spurned a great chance that should have put United out. Only Fabien Barthez's reflexes kept the Greeks at bay, but the worry for United is that sooner or later at Champions League level a team will come along who will take those chances.

While they can roll over most teams in the Premiership, in Europe they are being found out at the back too often, I suspect, for manager Alex Ferguson's liking. What they retain, however, is the ability to keep going and turn a game in the last five or 10 minutes. How often over the years have we seen United score in the last five or 10 minutes as they did on Tuesday? It's not lucky, it's an in-bred, indomitable will-to-win shared by all their players.