“He is the best midfielder of his generation. I would have loved to have played alongside him.”
-Pep Guardiola (current manager of Barcelona)
“He is the one whose level I aspire to. He is the best player in the Premier League.”
-Cesc Fabregas (former Arsenal and current Barcelona midfielder)
“Every one of us is just trying to become as good as him. Everyone can learn from [him]”
- Edgar Davids (retired Dutch midfielder)
Ask a casual soccer fan who the subject of such praise might be and you will likely hear the names of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Patrick Viera and a host of other midfield Premier Leaguers. And as they reeled off wrong answer after wrong answer, you might want to direct them away from the more famous names and point them instead towards a Manchester United game, where a midfield maestro named Paul Scholes has been plying his trade since the ’94-’95 season. A player whose actions on the field, and his near invisibility off of it, have cemented his status as one of the most respected players in the world in the opinions of those who matter most: his peers.
Paul Scholes is a one-club player, one of the last of a dying breed of athlete whose concern is not about their brand, their image, the credit they receive or money. His concern is making the best of his potential and winning. Period. Type “Paul Scholes quotes” into Google and you will be faced with a multitude of quotes similar to those above. And they will come from a list of names that could easily double as a roll call of the greatest players and managers of all time. Zidane, Sir Alex Ferguson, Ronaldinho, the list goes on.
Scholes is one of the greatest passers of his generation. He can dictate a game like few others. One might compare him to Xavi, widely considered the best midfielder in the world today. His impact this season for Manchester United, at the remarkable age of 37 (soccer is a sport where most are washed up by their early 30s), has been unbelievable. In a game as complex as soccer it is hard to pin success on any one player. But without Paul Scholes I honestly believe that Manchester United would not be in first place in the Premier League right now. He’s that good.
You might be wondering why you don’t hear his name more often given his ability. You might wonder why other players go out of their way to mention Scholes as a favorite player. It’s because he’s nothing like the modern athlete, bragging and swaggering about as if they were Michael Jordan, Maradona or Lawrence Taylor reincarnate. It’s because he doesn’t do interviews, because he doesn’t trash talk, because you will never see him on the back of a tabloid in a story about him cheating on his wife (hey, Giggs). Because he never talks up his own ability, and instead lets his play, and only his play, do the talking.
And that’s why those who have played with and against Paul Scholes, the people that know him best, will wax lyrical about the Man United midfielder. Because when any human being goes about their job with dedication and ability, they don’t need to brag or talk about themselves. Everyone else will do that for them. And in the eyes of your peers, even if you are less known to an outside observer (or in this case the casual fan), you will be appreciated. And really, that’s what counts, that’s the impression that endures.
Maybe we should all learn a little bit from Paul Scholes. Maybe we should all learn a little bit more humility. If we did, we might just find that if you just go about your job the right way, people will notice. And people will give you all the credit you deserve.