Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

Paul Scholes: We stand United

Paul Scholes
Paul Scholes

Not for the first time in his Manchester United career, Paul Scholes struggled for words in his side's Emirates dressing room late on Tuesday night.

What to say to a desolate Darren Fletcher, slumped before him and contemplating the red card which consigns him to three weeks of purgatory, amid the build-up to Rome?

Scholes, who missed the 1999 final for the yellow card he received for his two-footed tackle in the late stages of the semi-final against Juventus (below) a decade ago, simply extended a hand.

"I don't think there's that much you can do," Scholes reflected.

"I said ‘well played' and told him he was fantastic again, just as he was in the first-leg."

Scholes' experience pales against Fletcher's because there have never been many arguments about referee Urs Meier's decision to book him at Old Trafford in May 1999.

"There weren't too many complaints about it," Scholes said.

"This is totally different. It was never a red card, simple as that."

Last May's triumph in Moscow helped Scholes bury his own ghost, of course, but there is a sense around United that the club have something still to prove.

"Ten years ago we didn't manage to go on from that victory over Bayern Munich," Scholes said.

"This time we've done that and managed to give ourselves a great chance of retaining the trophy. We know it's going to be difficult. But after we won it in 1999, we didn't get close again for a number of years. But I think now the strength in depth is there for everyone to see and hopefully we can win it again."

United are than more aware of the significance of retaining the trophy. Even before the season began, Rio Ferdinand discussed how the players had sat in the dressing room of the Luzhniki stadium last year and discussed retaining it.

Scholes also shares that feeling articulated by his manager that United need a more prominent place in the firmament of sides who have won it.

"The sign of a big club, in European terms, is winning the Champions League," the 34-year-old said.

"Liverpool have won it five times, AC Milan have won it a lot of times, Real Madrid and so on. We believe we should be up there with them. But you can't guarantee you're going to win it just from the talent you have.

“We said the same after winning it last year — that we wanted to kick on and win it again, like the Liverpools and Madrids have done over the years, and get into that bracket."

There are others for whom Rome promises to offer rich significance. They include Ji-Sung Park, whose performance on Tuesday was arguably his finest for the club since he joined four years ago and who, having been the player to miss out on a squad place in Moscow, may well be in the starting XI Ferguson starts to sketch out.

"I don't think he'll be disappointed this time," Ferguson said of a player he considers to be "one of the most under-rated players in the game."

Wayne Rooney is another who will cherish Rome more than most, having been a part of the United squad who perished so badly in the group stage four years ago, with a mere three goals from six matches and not even a Uefa Cup place for their trouble.

Experience is what United now have and what Arsenal lacked at the Emirates, Rooney stated.

“When I first joined I was 18, Cristiano was 18/19, Fletch (Darren Fletcher) was 20," Rooney said.

"We had a lot of young players but over the last few years we've got the experience that's helped the team to progress.

“Arsenal were a young team with a lot of young players out there and I think that helped us as well."

His comments may raise a rueful smile from the Turkish goalkeeper Rustu, now at Besiktas but with Fenerbahce on the September night in 2004 when Rooney, all 18 years and 11 months of him, smashed a Champions League hat-trick on debut.

But he, Ronaldo — signed a year earlier — Fletcher and Park have grown together at the club, learned to contend with counter-attacking European sides and offer something similar of their own.

Five costly cards

Roy Keane — 1999 Champions League final

The former Manchester United captain had arguably one of his finest games against Juventus in the 1999 semi-final, scoring a header to spearhead United’s comeback. However, the Irishman picked up a booking, ruling him out of the side’s memorable victory over Bayern Munich.

Paul Scholes — 1999 Champions League final

Another fine United servant to miss out on one of the most memorable nights in the club’s history. Scholes scored a vital away goal against Inter Milan in the last eight but an untimely card ruled him out the showpiece.

Laurent Blanc — 1998 World Cup final

In the semi-final, talismanic defender Blanc and Croatia’s Slaven Bilic jostled at a free-kick, with the Frenchman raising a hand to Billic’s face. The result was a much-criticised Bilic collapsing theatrically to the floor and robbing the eventual winners of their captain.

Michael Ballack — 2002 World Cup final

Playmaker Ballack scored the only goal in Germany’s 1-0 semi-final win over Guus Hiddink’s South Korea side, but was cautioned for a cynical foul in the same game, depriving the finalists of their key attacker.

Pavel Nedved — 2003 Champions League final

The Czech Republic captain was considered one of the world’s best players in 2003 and his form in driving Juventus to the Champions League final proved as much. His journey was to end in the last four where he scored to help his team through against Real Madrid but was also booked for a foul on Steve McManaman.

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