By George Ankers
It was once written that what is dead may never die. Paul Scholes’s career ended in May 2011 and yet here he is, still playing, making it much harder to imagine him finally retiring for good at the end of this season.
The reality, though, is that we almost certainly have only four months left in which to watch one of the Premier League’s most talented ever players at work.
There was shock and excitement on Monday as bookmakers reported heavy backing for Scholes to take the vacant managerial post at his beloved Oldham Athletic. While the League One club have denied approaching him to replace Paul Dickov, there is usually no smoke without fire in the betting industry and it would be no surprise if the Manchester United legend is turning his attentions to his coaching career.
Ryan Giggs will not be far behind. Even more of a veteran than Scholes, the Welshman has racked up a record 930 appearances in a Red Devils shirt but he is unlikely to reach 1000.
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Even if he does stay on into his 40s, the former Wales captain will not be a regular fixture in the team.
If last season’s dramatic return of Scholes proved how much United still needed their veterans, 2012-13 has showed that they are ready to move on. The 38-year-old has made only nine starts so far in this campaign with 10 appearances off the bench, while Giggs racking up 11 and eight, respectively.
Instead, Sir Alex has settled on Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley as his preferred combination in central midfield, with Anderson also impressing on a semi-regular basis. Where before Scholes’s control of his passing was vital in a United side who faded out of the title race, now his team-mates have matched him.
This year, Scholes has made an average of 56 passes per game with an accuracy of 92 per cent. Carrick (77.2 per game at 88.6%) and Cleverley (56.2 at 90.8%) are as close a match as for the difference to be negligible. The veteran has contributed one goal and one assist but has also picked up seven of his near-trademark yellow cards.
He can still light up a match but only for short spells. His only completed match of the 2012-13 season was its first, the 1-0 defeat to Everton in which Sir Alex was too busy substituting those playing badly to watch his fitness. This is no criticism of Scholes, only an unhappy truth that every player has a sell-by date and that a team of United’s ambitions know better than to persist with a man who cannot finish a game.
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Not that it will be United’s choice whether he carries on – as with his first retirement, Scholes is in charge of his own destiny. Sir Alex would surely be willing to keep him around as a substitute if he so wished but it would be a huge surprise were he to choose as much.
As for Giggs, a fine performance in January’s 4-1 thrashing of Fulham proved that there is still some magic in those old boots but there is not enough of it for the big games.
When Tottenham visited Old Trafford on September 23, the Welshman was totally taken out of the game in what was uncomfortable and sad viewing before being quietly removed at half-time.
Be it on the left or in the centre, United have players better suited to competing with top-level teams and the impression now is that Giggs is best utilised as a spark when the Red Devils occasionally grow lethargic in games in which they are clear favourites.
With a total of 57 winners’ medals between them over two decades of arguably the greatest service that Manchester United have ever seen, the idolised pair have a fantastic chance to go out on an incredible high.
Their team are romping towards Premier League glory and face an unsettled Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League. There should be just enough left in the tank to play an important part in something special. Football fans everywhere should enjoy it while they can – for Giggs and Scholes are incredible players. We will all miss them when they are gone.
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