Sven Goran-Eriksson’s England legacy has become tarnished over time. When you consider the talent the Swedish coach had at his disposal, the so-called ‘golden generation’, the Three Lions surely under achieved during his tenure. While Eriksson had some famous moments to celebrate, one of the main criticisms during his time was over his team selection.
Gerrard-Lampard were nearly guaranteed to be filling the two centre midfield roles. As individuals, the two dynamic players were world-class on their day, but together on an international stage, the story was very different. The collateral damage to this stubbornness was that Paul Scholes, a midfielder at the most successful club in the country at the time, was shunted out to the left wing. English fans would question the logic of not trying out Scholes in the centre, but Eriksson wasn’t for turning.
Fast forward nearly 20 years and Scholes has sought to clarify what really happened during this time with England and the controversy surrounding his selection on the wing:
“The truth is I got on great with Sven. I don’t think there’s anyone who didn’t -we all loved playing for him. He put me in that position because he thought Frank and Steven were better suited to playing in the middle than me. It was his choice, and it wasn’t my business to tell him where I should play. He thought they were better than me.”
As a consequence of Eriksson’s refusal to give Scholes a centre midfield role, England perhaps missed out on an opportunity to get closer to a major title than they managed. Scholes is not bitter, but some English fans (and nearly all United fans) have not been so quick to forgive. For many supporters of the Red Devils, Paul Scholes was the ultimate midfielder and for Gerrard or Lampard to occupy his space in the England was a travesty.
Liverpool and United fans would argue long and hard over the Scholes V Gerrard debate. At a club level, there was simply no comparison when it came to trophies. Gerrard never won a Premier League title while Scholes collected ten. Liverpool’s two FA Cup wins during Gerrard’s time is one short of Schole’s three. One famous night in Istanbul under Benitez is again less than the two Champions League medals United picked up during the Ferguson years. The only area Gerrard gets the nod over Scholes is in League Cup titles; he has three compared to the United man’s two. Not something to keep Scholes awake at night.
However, there is a caveat. While Scholes was surrounded by world-class players season after season, Gerrard was trying to perform miracles with players like El Hadji Diouf, Andriy Voronin and Bruno Cheyrou. Even expensive acquisitions like Downing and Carroll were not suited to the Liverpool style of play. Therefore, Gerrard often found himself as the sole player capable of turning a game around.
Scholes V Gerrard: Listening to the professionals
“He has become the most influential player in England, bar none. Not that Vieira lacks anything, but Gerrard does more.”
Alex Ferguson singing the praises of Steven Gerrard. The long-serving United coach was a big admirer of the explosive Liverpool midfielder. Unlike Rooney, Gerrard’s loyalty, bar a few awkward glances toward Mourinho’s Chelsea, was unquestionable. Furthermore, the player born and bred in Liverpool probably despises United as much as the next fan.
“Steven Gerrard is the best player I’ve ever played with,” Luis Suarez said during his time at Anfield. Zidane was even more complimentary when assessing the Liverpool legend:
“Is he the best in the world? He might not get the attention of [Lionel] Messi and Ronaldo but, yes, I think he just might be,” Zidane said. If you don’t have a player like Steven Gerrard, who is the engine room, it can affect the whole team. When we were winning league titles and European Cups at Real, I always said Claude Makelele was our most important player. There is no way myself, [Luis] Figo or Raúl would have been able to do what we did without Claude and the same goes for Liverpool and Gerrard. He has great passing ability, can tackle and scores goals, but most importantly he gives the players around him confidence and belief. You can’t learn that – players like him are just born with that presence.”
Other pros were quick to point out that Gerrard didn’t take the easy route. He could have joined Mourinho’s Chelsea revolution and be guaranteed trophies but instead he stayed. His love for Liverpool was unwavering. Compliments from other pros in the game shows how influential the Liverpool number 8 was.
Scholes was a ‘player’s player’
Some of the quotes on Paul Scholes from other players makes you think he is a footballing god visiting from an alien planet. While Scholes nearly completely shunned the limelight, his performances on the pitch ensured he was constantly making headlines. The midfielder was often the conductor of the United orchestra. Scholes’ best work was often carried out in a manner that the TV cameras wouldn’t even pick up on. Players on the pitch would see it and the compliments paid to Scholes by fellow pros are stunning.
“There is no doubt for me that Paul Scholes is still in a class of his own. He’s almost untouchable in what he does. I never tire of watching him play. You rarely come across the complete footballer, but Scholes is as close to it as you can get. One of my regrets is that the opportunity to play alongside him never presented itself during my career.”
Zidane was a massive fan of Scholes and a regret the Frenchman has from his career is that he never played in the same team as the United legend. When arguably the best midfielder of all time is sharing a story like that, it’s clear how impressed he was by Paul Scholes.
SCHOLES FAN CLUB
“The player in the Premiership I admire most? Easy. Scholes.” Patrick Vieira admitting that a player from their arch-rivals was his favourite. Luis Figo, the Madrid and Portuguese legend indicated how illusive the United player was when saying “I’m star-struck when I see Paul Scholes because you never see him. On the pitch you can’t catch him. Off the pitch he disappears.”
Edgar Davids, an extremely self-assured player that rates himself very highly, said “I’m not the best, Paul Scholes is.” While Xavi Alonso hit the nail on the head when describing the United midfielder:
“I’ve still got Paul Scholes’ shirt at home which I swapped with him once. When I was at Liverpool he was one of the players I liked most. Maybe he’s not valued as much as he should be in England because of the style of football there and because he keeps a low profile. Perhaps he would have been more valued in Spain, where midfielders like him form part of the ‘ideal.’ Fans in Spain rate him very highly and I admire him a huge amount.”
We should leave the last word to Scholes’ biggest fan, Zinedine Zidane. “Scholes is undoubtedly the best midfielder of his generation.”
LOOKING BACK IN RED: Scholes v Gerrard
Gerrard and Scholes have now retired so the time is right to reflect on their magnificent careers. England haven’t won a major international trophy since 1966. It’s difficult not to think “what could have been?”. While Scholes was forgiving of Eriksson’s decision to play him out of position, would he have formed a lethal partnership in the centre with Frank Lampard, or even for that matter, Steven Gerrard.
Since retiring, Scholes has surprised some by entering the world of punditry. After years of avoiding the media, United’s number 8 was airing his opinions on BT Sport. When Gerrard retired from playing at the end of last year, Michael Owen turned and asked Scholes if he thought that he was a better player than Steven Gerrard. Scholes simply replied “no question is it?”
While Scholes is pretty clear on who he believes was the better player, do you agree with him? In the great debate of Scholes V Gerrard, who do you think was the better player? Let us know by voting below.
Photo by sdhansay
Photo by wonker
Photo by vagueonthehow
Photo by RuaraidhG