Belfast Telegraph

Barcelona still a challenge for retired ace Scholes

By Ian Herbert

For the players, it was a day for standing on the Carrington training pitch, gazing at the results of Wayne Rooney's hair-raising summer, but for newly-retired Paul Scholes there is just an overwhelming sense of the enormity of Manchester United's task if they are to challenge the reigning European champions.

Scholes has little hesitation |in saying that eclipsing this Barcelona is the manager's toughest challenge in nearly a quarter of a century at Old Trafford.

Scholes was offered a few straws to clutch at. Nicklas Bendtner's late miss in last season's Nou Camp tie could have seen Arsene Wenger, rather than Pep Guardiola, advance to the Champions League final.

But the latest recruit to United's coaching staff just wasn't buying that. “If you look over those two Arsenal games — it could have been any score!” he said.

Scholes’ assessment of the game which brought his 656th and last United appearance, from the bench as the Catalans won 3-1, suggested it will haunt him.

“Yes it was bad, probably as bad as [the 2-0 Champions League final defeat] two years ago in Rome really,” Scholes said.

“You would have hoped that in that two years you would have been able to bridge the gap a bit really. We were a million miles away from them. When you are taught a lesson like that — not once, but twice — it stays with you.”

These thoughts are not being shared in Scholes' natural environment. Day One of the rest of Scholes' life has brought him to the offices of Grant Thornton.

The chartered accountants are sponsoring and helping organise his testimonial against Eric Cantona's New York Cosmos on August 5.

The fundamental quality to which Scholes ascribes Barcelona's greatness is neither the genius of Xavi nor Andres Iniesta, the player who asked for his shirt at Wembley, but sheer selflessness.

“I think the biggest thing about these players is their unselfishness — the whole team's. I know [Lionel] Messi is the one who scores 50 goals a year but among the team he is not the big star,” Scholes said.

“As a group, they are all stars and there's not one who stands out who wants to take the credit. They are an unselfish team in which not one of them is out for glory.”

Which can only invite comparisons with the player whose threat to leave Old Trafford last October revealed the power of one ego.

It was the statement Rooney issued questioning the “continued ability” of United “to attract the top players in the world” which cut United and though Rooney has apologised he told team-mates he had “done what he had to do, basically.”

“I think he was a little bit disrespectful,” Scholes reflected. “He held his hands up afterwards and said sorry. He definitely regretted the statement.”

This was not the Manchester United way, it was put to Scholes. “No. I don't think you see it at other clubs either, do you?

“Manchester United can lose any player and they would cope with it,” he said. “I don't think it matters who it is. When Roy Keane left, you wondered who could replace him, but it happens.”

But Rooney is still around and Scholes — who will discuss with Sir Alex Ferguson whether the coaching role he has accepted will, as the manager as suggested, involve the reserve team — sees him as a future embodiment of Barcelona's quality. “He can be United's Messi,” was how he put it.

The first time in 20 years the sun has risen on a new United season in which Scholes has no part. “Weird. I woke up today, put on the news and saw all the lads going back in for pre-season training. The first step,” Scholes reflected.

There are no regrets about a decision he made after United's home game with Everton on April 23, in which he played no role. Except the thought of what a place in that Barcelona side would have felt like. “Who wouldn't have fancied it because it is a great footballing team,” Scholes said. “I'm just not sure I would have got in.”

Belfast Telegraph


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