When they gave Paul Scholes a football, he made it talk with his imagination and intelligence, lighting up lives as the greatest footballers do. When they gave Paul Scholes a microphone, he talked into it and said what he actually thought, assuming that was what a pundit does. And unlike so many ex-players, Scholes illuminated us with his brightness again.
Scholes is an honest, modest, decent ginger bloke who happened to be blessed with footballing genius. The salt of the earth mixed with stardust. And no matter how much football becomes enthralled with the cult of the manager, the game will always be about great players - rather than those who’ve made a career trying to stop great players, such as Jose Mourinho.
Sir Bobby Charlton, one of the few Manchester United legends held in even higher esteem than Scholes, was right about the Portuguese. In the latter days of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign, when obsession raged about the great man’s successor, Sir Bobby witnessed Real Madrid boss Mourinho poking Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova in the eye. And the now United director noted: "A Manchester United manager wouldn’t do that. Mourinho is a really good coach but that is as far as I would go really".
And when Mourinho seized on the rare opportunity of 45 decent minutes from United at Everton to have a mean-spirited dig at Scholes, Sir Bobby must have wondered why they never listened to him. We know why. It’s because when David Moyes and Louis van Gaal failed and Manchester City hired Pep Guardiola, United’s board panicked believing the Portuguese was the only man capable of keeping up. Yet United are so far behind City in terms of points and style it is a personal embarrassment for Mourinho.
So he snipes and sneers at Scholes, who made Ferguson’s great United team tick. Just as he sniped and sneered at Graeme Souness, who had a similar influence over the Liverpool side of the late 1970s and early 80s. And remember Mourinho didn’t rate Kevin De Bruyne or Mo Salah - probably the two most entertaining current Premier League footballers. He had them at Chelsea and, presumably, didn’t fancy himself to hone their talents as other coaches have since done.
So perhaps Sir Bobby’s assertion of five years ago that he’s a very good coach is out of date now.
Mourinho’s bitching about Scholes was a result of the former United maestro observing that Paul Pogba was "just strolling through games" - a fair comment from a man who knows more than most about elite midfield play. Mourinho acknowledged Scholes’ playing greatness but seemed to suggest he is obliged to act as a United cheerleader or keep his trap shut. And, weirdly but typically of Mourinho, he also brought up the subject of money. "It’s not Paul Pogba’s fault that he makes much more money than Paul Scholes. It's just the way football is", he sneered.
It’s difficult to imagine a man in football less interested in money than Scholes, who went through his career without a proper agent. Mourinho cannot even comprehend that some are not motivated primarily by cash. He enjoyed a privileged upbringing but has never been blessed with class. With his pantomime arrogance, Mourinho then really hammed it up, by adding: "If one day Paul (Scholes) decides to be a manager, I wish he can be 25 per cent as successful as myself. So 25 is around six trophies. If he is 25 per cent, he will be quite happy. I think they (ex-players turned pundits) would love to be here, in the club and that's a problem that I cannot resolve".
Mourinho knows Scholes would love to be employed by United - because he said so. He says United is the only club he wants to coach at and he was disappointed to miss out on the Under-23s job, believing the club held his critical media comments against him. That Scholes is seen as some sort of black sheep tells you all that is wrong with United - a paranoid institution, obsessed with commercialism and increasingly divorced from the footballing values which made it great.
United have bought the positivity of ex-players for years by making them club ‘ambassadors’. Scholes would rather pass on his wisdom to United’s young players as a coach, like he’d have been allowed to do at the major continental clubs who value their former idols. Mourinho says he couldn’t resolve Scholes’ wish. Is he really so powerless that he can’t nominate his club’s U-23 coach? Or does he feel bitterness towards those who possessed the footballing talent he never did?
The manager’s apologists indulge his tedious whinges about City’s superior transfer funds, overlooking that he has so far spent £300million moulding a muscular, archetypal Mourinho team he is failing to get a regular tune out of. He will be gone by the summer and will doubtless soon be spraying around Qatari oil money at Paris Saint-Germain, while still failing to match Guardiola’s City masterpiece. Pretty soon, we’ll shake our heads and marvel that United ever employed him. It will just seem weird, like George Graham managing Spurs. Yeah he won the League Cup, we’ll say, but what was he even doing there in the first place?
Mourinho will be able to count his money and his French domestic trophies. But Scholes can content himself with something less quantifiable instead. The love of the common people.
- Dave Kidd, chief sports writer at The Sun