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    Man United’s midfield maestro, Paul Scholes

    Manchester United sit as the most successful side in the history of England’s top tier, the success of the Red Devils largely centred around a period of dominance throughout the Premier League era.

    Throughout the first two decades of the rebranded division, Sir Alex Ferguson formed a formidable and ever-changing winning machine, a succession of success that was built upon a collection of academy graduates who would write themselves into the club’s folklore.

    The six homegrown heroes became collectively known as the ‘Class of ’92’ following United’s FA Youth Cup success that year, with each going on to enjoy glittering careers at the very highest level.

    Ryan Giggs became the most decorated footballer in the history of English football and United’s all-time record appearance maker during a one-club career at Old Trafford, whilst David Beckham became arguably football’s first genuine celebrity superstar and Gary Neville the on-field embodiment of the Red Devils supporters on the terraces.

    Even with the achievements of that trio and the likes of Nicky Butt and Phil Neville, it is arguably Paul Scholes who holds the greatest affections in the minds of Man United supporters past and present.

    Scholes’ desire to shun the spotlight meant he never transcended the sport despite an incredible list of major honours, but he remains – in the opinion of many – the most naturally talented English footballer of the modern era.

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    This is the story of Paul Scholes, a player with unrivalled technique and one of the Premier League’s great Golazo Merchants:

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    Scholes was born in Salford, Greater Manchester, before locating to Langley as an infant, and his early years were spent excelling at several sports despite suffering with asthma. He was spotted by United as a teenager and began training with the side before becoming a trainee in the early nineties.

    Despite being collectively referred to as the ‘Class of ’92’, Scholes was not part of the club’s FA Youth Cup winning side of that year, instead featuring in the team which were beaten by Leeds in the following season’s final.

    Scholes, playing predominantly as a forward in his younger years, was highly regarded by the Old Trafford hierarchy and he made his senior debut in a League Cup tie against Port Vale in September 1994, scoring twice in a 2-1 victory.

    He scored on his Premier League debut just days later and finished his breakthrough campaign with seven goals in all competitions, whilst he also appeared as a substitute in the club’s FA Cup final defeat to Everton at Wembley.

    Scholes had arrived into a Manchester United team who were beginning to dominate the early years of the Premier League era, his touch and technique allowing him to thrive amid the physical demands of England’s top flight despite his diminutive stature.

    His attacking instincts saw him score 14 goals in all competitions as United claimed a domestic double during the 1995/96 season, Scholes given a licence to get forward and possessing an unteachable knack of arriving into the box with perfect timing.

    Alongside the ferocious force of nature that was Roy Keane, Scholes provided the craft and creativity to Ferguson’s side and the duo formed one of the most iconic midfield partnerships in Premier League history, adding further titles in 1997 and 1999 – the latter as part of a historic treble-winning season of league, cup and Champions League, though both players missed the European Cup final through suspension.

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    Scholes had grown continually in influence and scored double figures in four successive seasons around the turn of the millennium, his penchant for the spectacular further endearing him to the Red Devils’ support.

    Rarely has a player hit a ball as true and clean as the midfield maestro, a footballer who struck the ball with both precision and thunderous power. The 1999/2000 season saw United win the second of three successive titles during arguably the most dominant period of Ferguson’s long-lasting dynasty, with Scholes producing some memorable moments including this iconic volley at Bradford.

    The reigning European champions were strolling to a routine victory at Valley Parade courtesy of a Dwight Yorke brace, only for Scholes to put the shine on another three points with an unforgettable moment of magic.

    In Scholes and fellow academy graduate David Beckham, United possessed two players of sublime technique and the pair would combine for a set-piece stunner in West Yorkshire.

    The Bradford defence were camped inside the penalty area as they prepared to defend a whipped corner from set-piece specialist Beckham, only for the ball to be delivered with pinpoint accuracy to the lurking Scholes on the outside of the penalty area.

    The result was a masterful volley of exquisite skill, Scholes rocketing the ball home to add another crisp strike to his ever-increasing collection of stunners.

    Many would believe that the goal was a result of hours spent practising the technique and routine on the training ground, though Scholes revealed to FourFourTwo his thumping effort was simply two teammates on the same wavelength and possessing full faith in the abilities of one another.

    “We never worked on it in training. Becks just took the corner, I gave him a little look to let him know I was there, he delivered it to where I wanted and I volleyed it in. We were on the same wavelength.”

    Just two weeks later and the flame-haired midfielder’s catalogue of glorious goals was added to with another cracker in the North East, Middlesbrough powerless to stop this rifled effort at the Riverside.

    It’s a goal that encapsulates the flawless technique of the former England international, hitting a strike of perfect power despite the difficulty in the ball coming towards him rather than – as often preferred – across the body.

    When Scholes hit them, they often stayed hit.

    Executing thunderbastards became somewhat of a trademark for the irrepressible Scholes throughout his United career, but Golazos come in many forms and this delightful dink against Panathinaikos sits right amongst the best Scholes strikes.

    Ferguson’s side were beginning the now defunct second ground stage in the Champions League and welcomed the Greek side to Manchester, where a late Scholes double sealed a 3-1 victory and maintained United’s perfect home record in the competition.

    His second was a moment to saviour as the midfielder capped a wonderful 32-pass move from the home side, executing a clever chip – which evoked memories of a certain Eric Cantona – to seal a precious three points in fine fashion.

    Scholes continued to rack up medal after medal during a glittering career, though his own role changed significantly as he reached the latter stages of a stellar career.

    The rampaging attacker from his early years was replaced by a more cultured and deeper-lying role, dictating the tempo of Ferguson’s side with his vision and precision passing.

    The goals, naturally, became less frequent, but when they did arrive they tended to come in spectacular fashion. Scholes – as this feature testifies – has a long list of marvellous moments, but few can match this thunderous volley against Aston Villa.

    Gavin McCann must have thought it was a job well done after meeting Ryan Giggs’ in-swinging corner with a looping headed clearance, only for the ball to drop all too invitingly for the waiting Scholes some 25 yards from goal.

    Failing to take his eye off the dropping ball as it fell out of the night sky, Scholes unleashed an unstoppable volley back towards goal, the ball cannoning in off the cross bar and past the pyjama-wearing Gabor Kiraly.

    There’s good reason Scholes describes this strike as the best of the bunch, a venomous volley of perfect timing and technique.

    Great players are defined by far more than just great goals, however, with an ability to define the biggest occasions often the lasting legacy of football’s favourites.

    It just so happens then, that Scholes saved one of his best blockbusters for the small matter of a Champions League semi-final against Barcelona at Old Trafford, a wondrous winner which helped the midfielder exorcise the demons of his 1999 final suspension.

    The two sides had played out a goalless draw at the Camp Nou and the second leg was similarly tense, only for Scholes to prove the difference-maker with his moment of magic.

    Gianluca Zambrotta – in a desperate bid to stifle Cristiano Ronaldo – prodded a half-hearted clearance aimlessly towards the centre of the pitch, where the veteran Scholes wound back the clock to his goalscoring heyday.

    The 33-year-old had scored just once all season and not in the previous eight months, but took one touch to tee himself up with the loose ball before smashing the ball into the top corner.

    For once, Scholes slightly mishit a long-range effort, but fortune favoured the United star as it swerved past Victor Valdes to book United a final meeting with Premier League rivals Chelsea in Moscow.

    United won that final on penalties with Scholes starting the contest in the Russian capital, his second Champions League winners’ medal meaning more than the one he collected in a suit nine years previously.

    It capped a league and Champions League double in yet another silverware-filled season for Scholes, who finished his career with an incredible 18 major honours, including 11 Premier League titles and those aforementioned European triumphs.

    There are fewer players who have enjoyed a career that has included such success alongside glowing testimonies from contemporaries, Scholes a player’s player who was for so long the homegrown heartbeat of English football’s dominant force.

    The tedious comparisons to Premier League peers in Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are unlikely to end any time soon, though each belongs amongst the greatest English footballers of their respective generation.

    From ghosting Golazo goalscorer to deep-lying creator, Scholes was the quiet conductor of Manchester United’s engine room, his generational talent making it hard for him to remain out of the spotlight he tried so hard to shun.

    Read – Rating each member of Manchester United’s fabled class of ’92

    Read Also – Golazo Merchants: Wayne Rooney and 15 years of Premier League screamers

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