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
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
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
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.