The Busby Babe continues with the twentieth installment of our 2012-13 Manchester United player reviews. Next up is the legendary Paul Scholes.
I'm going to be dividing each of the player reviews into three categories: 'what was expected' will be a brief and general explanation of what the expectations were for the player prior to the season's start, 'what we got' will typically be the section with the most depth as this will be the heart of the review, and 'what's next?' will be an examination of the player's future at United.
What was expected
As the 2010-11 season progressed, Scholes' influence increasingly waned and it was hardly surprising that he decided to retire after that campaign. He's made it clear on a few occasions over the years that he only wished to prolong his career if he could be a major contributor in the United squad. In January 2012, though, in a FA Cup clash with Manchester City, the midfield maestro made a shocking return -- so shocking that it's been suggested his teammates had no idea until they saw him in the Etihad dressing room just an hour prior to kickoff. After his mid-season return, the Englishman quickly found his form and he was incredibly influential as a deep-lying playmaker. In fact, he even finished third in the FWA Player of the Year voting for just a half of a campaign's work.
Ahead of this season, the younger Michael Carrick was clearly going to be the midfield stalwart while Scholes and Tom Cleverley were expected to be the next two key midfielders in the squad. If the then 37-year-old could provide performances similar to the level of last season's latter half, then club could consider themselves incredibly fortunate. Anything north of 30+ appearances would be welcome too.
What we got
* GS: games started (substitute appearances),G = goals scored, A = assists, Avg P = average passes per game, Pass % = passing accuracy percentage, FT % = final third passing accuracy percentage, KP = chances created per game, C = successful crosses per game, C% = accurate cross percentage, LB = accurate long balls per game, LB % = long ball accuracy rate, TB = successful through balls per game, DRB = successful dribbles per game, TKL = tackles per game, INT = interceptions per game
To be honest, there isn't much to go for an extensive review of Scholes' season -- and this is from someone whose favorite footballer of all-time is the midfield maestro* -- due to him making just 21 appearances this season with only 10 of those being starts. For whatever reason, whether it's due to age finally catching up to him, or whether it was the lingering knocks he had this season, the little genius could never quite get into the rhythm that he enjoyed last season.
* I lied. He's a co-favorite along with Park Ji-sung. For pure footballing reasons, though, no other player has given me more joy than Paul Scholes.
At season's beginning, Sir Alex Ferguson seemed to prefer Cleverley in midfield as Carrick's preferred partner. That was understandable because the 23-year-old was in good form then after coming off an impressive Olympic campaign for Team Great Britain and he provided the midfield more energy and mobility. Scholes was used sporadically from August-to-January and during this time, he occasionally still exhibited his brilliance: no one is better at picking up the ball from the defenders and then instantly arrowing a long diagonal out to a winger in attack**, he scored against Wigan Athletic in September and that meant that he now had a streak of scoring in 19 consecutive Premier League seasons, and he was often the perfect substitute late in matches. On the latter, he knew when to slow down the tempo of a match when United needed to protect a result and he knew when to up it by providing incisive forward passes into attack when his side were chasing a goal.
** Not even Andrea Pirlo, Xavi, nor Xabi Alonso. Pirlo is better at looping the ball over the top of defenses for a striker but Scholes arrows it out wide to the touchline better. Alonso isn't as accurate, and his long diagonals don't travel at the same, crisp trajectory of Scholes'.
Scholes wasn't seen from late January until May because of a lingering knee issue. During this time, it was widely assumed that the 38-year-old would hang up his boots one more time at season's end. After the hoopla of Fergie's retirement announcement, Scholes quietly announced later that same week that he too was bowing out. Overall, it wasn't the season that the genius had hoped for, but it wasn't a disaster by any means. The ability is still clearly there, but his legs aren't.
Retirement, and perhaps a coaching role at United. Also, there are the fond memories a brilliant footballer.