Paul Scholes will forever be in the record books and Premier League archives. But is he the greatest English midfielder of his time? How does he compare to his old club level and international counterparts, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard?
Is Paul Scholes the Best Midfielder England Have Ever Created?
History at the Club
Paul Scholes spent his whole career at one club, Manchester United, showing something that is rare in today’s football; loyalty. With most players chasing big money signings, it is increasingly hard to find a player content on staying in one place.
Scholes had a very successful career at United, making his full senior debut in the 1994/95 season. The rest is history. Winning a total of 11 Premier League medals, Scholes became the most decorated English player in the top division.
Scholes made a total of 718 appearances before hanging up his boots in 2011. He immediately became involved in the coaching team, proving to be an amazing technician of the game, both on the pitch and behind the scenes.
His retirement was short-lived as he returned in 2012 for one season. In his comeback season, he managed to grab another Premier League medal. This showed Scholes’ class and determination. The risk of coming out of retirement and struggling with the pace of fresh players paid off for him as his club legend status was increased.
Trophy count can often be misleading; players have often won many medals without being a huge influence on the pitch. But Scholes was a powerhouse on the ball, had wizardry skills and had an Eagle eye view of the pitch and could pick anyone out in an 80-yard radius.
Statistics Show Scholes’ Class
Scholes clocked up some serious mileage on the pitch, and some outstanding statistics followed behind. He averaged 19.54 successful passes per match in the Premier League, and over 1000 successful long balls, his best trait.
He was also prolific in the final third, scoring 107 Premier League goals. They weren’t just ordinary goals either; Scholes had an addiction to scoring from over 20-yards out.
Another key aspect of Scholes’ was his ability to turn up in big games. This is a major issue in modern football with players such as Paul Pogba and Raheem Sterling. Players often receive criticism from pundits. Scholes is an excellent role model for these young players, as he was vital in Manchester United’s famous Premier league, FA Cup and Champions League treble.
Whenever he was called upon, he performed, whether defending, passing or attacking. He was also a great teammate, especially for his ability to work well with captains helping boost moral when needed.
Personal Achievements and Best Moments
The strong sense of leadership helped him pick up many personal awards, including four Player of the Month awards from 2003 to 2010, an accolade that is hard to obtain in one of the most competitive leagues in the world. Scholes scored many goals, but three of his best came in the following games:
V Bradford 1999/2000
Scholes waited patiently, unmarked, 20 yards out as the rest of the team set up for the corner. As the corner was taken, Scholes made four strides to the ball. Seconds later, he swung his right foot at the ball, connecting perfectly with the outside of his boot. The ball dinked perfectly to beat the helpless goalkeeper in the bottom right corner.
V Charlton 2004/2005
This was a special goal on two different levels for Scholes. Firstly, it was an amazing bicycle kick that dropped the jaws of spectators all around the country. Secondly, it ended a goal drought for Scholes and gave him a much-needed confidence boost.
Teammate Darren Fletcher received the ball deep in the opposition half and whipped the ball in to the back post where Paul finds himself in bags of space. The ball looks like it is just out of reach for Scholes to control. The next moment, he is in the air wrapping his right boot around it smashing it past the keeper.
V Barcelona 2007/2008
Arguably, the English playmaker’s most memorable goal for all United fans came in the semi final of the Champions League against Spanish giants Barcelona. United had a comfortable start testing Barcelona’s defence.
Ronaldo stampedes towards the box with his intense speed. However, he loses the ball, but a weak clearance lands straight at Scholes. 25 yards away from the goal, he took three terrific touches of the ball before smashing a rocket that curled into the top right corner.
The Dark Side of His Game
Despite these clear moments of brilliance, a major criticism against Scholes is his disciplinary record. He racked up a total of 97 yellow cards and four red cards in the Premier League and 32 yellow cards in the Champions League. Only Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid has more. He also holds the record for the fifth most yellow cards in Premier League history.
Many managers criticised this side of his game, with Arsene Wenger saying: “For me, he was not a fair player. There’s a little bit of a darker side in him, sometimes, that I did not like. I respect him highly as a quality player but I did not like some things he did on the football pitch.”
The Age-Old Debate – Lampard, Gerrard or Scholes?
Scholes’ best moments and individual statistics clearly show his natural talent on the pitch and qualifies him as a world class player. But how does he compare in the battle to be the greatest English centre-midfielder of his time?
Often being compared to Lampard and Gerrard, head-to-head statistics suggest the pair may be greater than Scholes. Lampard is the top goal scorer out of the trio with 177 Premier League goals, Gerrard in second with 120, and Scholes sitting in third with 107.
Despite this though, 37 of Lampard’s goals came from set- pieces, followed by Gerrard with 36. In comparison, all of Scholes’ Premier League goals came from open play, which suggests he was the most clinical finisher.
The most integral part of being a key midfielder is the ability to pick out a pass. Gerrard is renowned for his ability to pick out a pass that most midfielders wouldn’t even think about attempting. He is Scholes’ biggest rival when it comes to the long ball, with both securing three points for their respective teams with incredible through ball assists.
Lampard was also a key passer of the ball in his time at Chelsea and Man City but was used more for short one two’s and creating space for other players. Although this was helpful, the long ball accuracy of Lampard isn’t enough to compete.
At club level, it is too hard to separate the players as they all played vital roles in the success of their clubs. If we turn to the international stage, it is difficult to comprehend how the ‘golden’ England squad of the early 2000’s failed to win a trophy on the big stage. How Southgate dreams of at least one player that can pass like these three.
All three players appeared in an England top many times over their careers, but all failed to score many goals at major tournaments. Lampard even failed to get an assist at any of his major tournaments.
Despite this, though, ex-England manager Sven-Goren Eriksson claimed that Scholes is “England’s best footballer.” In an interview, he said: “He had everything except the ability to tackle without earning a yellow card. It was impossible to take the ball from him, and he never mishit a pass.”
It’s strange to say when discussing the best centre-mid in England that we shouldn’t focus too much on their international careers. With football comes politics and philosophy, and England have become unstuck at tournaments because of a manager’s philosophies and decision making.
Maybe these boys would have all performed better under different managers and different systems which all suited their playing styles. Flat 4-4-2 and negative football tactics hindered the performance and prevented true potential taking hold of the game.
Scholes Comes Out on Top
It is important to clarify that all three of these players will always be remembered as the greats of our generation, but there must be the one that is the king of midfield.
It is a decision that cannot be based upon just Premier League medals or statistical information, something United and Liverpool fans have argued over for years. You have to look at the player’s involvement in the sport off the pitch.
With all things on the field considered, Paul Scholes stands out above the rest as the king of the game for everything off the pitch. Not only has he helped coach players on and off the pitch in retirement, he is also a very good pundit on BT sport, analysing the game in ways no others can.
Lampard and Gerrard are also club heroes and have both recently gone into management picking up points for their new teams. But Scholes seems to be involved in every aspect of the game not just playing and managing. He is also the co-owner of Salford football club offering his expertise to the club.