As was ably pointed out recently, Paul Scholes is held in preposterous esteem for his playing career. Were it not for Scholes, atheists would have to find God in order to make sense of all that is beautiful in the world. Scholes is the internet's favourite thing; a legendary deep-lying playmaker to whom other legendary deep-lying playmakers have paid tribute in interviews.
He was indeed excellent. Scholes was at the heart of two of Sir Alex Ferguson's greatest sides. The treble winning 1999 team featured 11 goals and 51 appearances from Scholes. He was at the heart of the rebirth of United in the Cristiano Ronaldo years, launching counter-attacks alongside Michael Carrick as opponents were thrillingly demolished. In 2008, he lifted the Champions League trophy, having been suspended for the final against Bayern Munich in 1999. His goal against Barcelona, to win the tie, was mind-bogling. Think of the goal and your mind literally starts to bogle. That's how good it was.
There are always bitter nobodies who try to make out that footballers who weren't quite exceptional were frauds, but even Scholes' worst enemy would struggle to argue that he wasn't a vital part of one of football's most historically important clubs, across two separate eras. So why is he trying so hard to fuck up his legacy?
Scholes was the last person you'd expect to pop up as a gobshite pundit. Famously private as a footballer, he emerged after retirement in 2014 to point out that Jack Wilshere was letting himself go to pot. In the same appearance, he dismantled David Moyes' Manchester United. Eventually Moyes was succeeded, on a caretaker basis, by fellow Class of '92 member, Ryan Giggs. Since then, Scholes has amassed a roll call of cack. Here he is dismissing the signing of Ander Herrera, and here he is singing his praises. Here he is blaming Louis van Gaal for Wayne Rooney's dreadful form. Here he is saying that Rooney has no pace around him, and that's the problem, despite him being dreadful when surrounded by Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and Memphis in various permutations. Here he is saying that Anthony Martial, United's best forward by light years, just isn't bothered about scoring or not. Here he is simply not bothering to do his job. Here he is channeling UKIP.
You can agree or disagree with any of his opinions, but Scholes contradicts himself, is often clearly wrong, and even defends Rooney, which in itself should be a sackable offence. None of his opinions are groundbreaking, none are beyond even a middling blogger on a niche website, and yet Scholes is being paid a great deal more than fifty quid a pop. And I bet he doesn't cry in the shower after he hits ‘send.'
Scholes is essentially offering himself up to Paddy Power, to Sky, to BT and to anyone else who will pay him, as a rentagob and a hack. Of the most recent generation of pundits, he is the most reminiscent of the old school of ‘say nothing often; say something wrong more often' ex-pros. It's not just irritating, it's sad. Rio Ferdinand was only known as a bright footballer when he was on the pitch, and yet now he is regularly incisive for BT. Jermaine Jenas faded, we presumed, into obscurity, only to reappear offering erudite written and spoken observations for the BBC.
When Thierry Henry revealed himself as a strenuously boring man, there was obvious schadenfreude to be poured into an atomiser and enjoyed at our own leisure. This handsome, superficially charming, brilliant and enigmatic footballer, it turned out, was actually a bit dull. For Scholes, it's different. It's just depressing. He was supposed to be better than this.
You cannot ignore his reticence to apologise after accusations of homophobia in 2006, but you can say that young men are often foolish and ignorant and that we can hope that we go on to improve ourselves. Aside from that unpleasant moment, he had always been a quiet man who didn't go out of his way to embarrass himself. He appeared to resist the limelight. There is only one reported instance of a bust up with his manager. People talked up his links to Oldham, and by some accounts he has quietly supported football in the area. He was by no means perfect, there was plenty to value in Scholes, the private individual.
As a footballer, Scholes transcended club allegiances for many. He was at the heart of some of the greatest achievements by an English club side. He acted with dignity and humility off the pitch. He clattered Sergio Busquets twice. And now, what do we have? A younger, gingerer Mark Lawrenson. As the old saying goes: I'm not angry, I'm just really, really, really, really, really fed up.
This piece was first published on The Set Pieces