Ferguson’s instincts weren’t always spot on.
In the pantheon of Manchester United greats, few stand as tall (figuratively, of course) as Paul Scholes.
A member of United’s famed ‘Class of 92’, Scholes made his debut in 1994 in a League Cup clash against Port Vale. The young midfielder scored twice, laying down an early marker of what was to come.
By the time Scholes hung up his boots in 2013, retiring alongside Alex Ferguson, he had 11 Premier League winners’ medals in his trophy cabinet, as well as three FA Cups and three League Cups.
Most importantly, he had a Champions League winners’ medal from 2008 after missing out on the 1999 final through suspension.
Over the course of his career, Scholes became one of the most revered midfielders to ever play the game, and a crucial cog in United’s trophy-laden golden era.
Xavi’s praise for Scholes.
In 2012, Barcelona legend Xavi famously declared Scholes as the ‘greatest midfielder of the last 20 years’, a barometer of the esteem in which the United man was held by other midfield greats.
Scholes was renowned for his goalscoring prowess. Armed with a ferocious shot, he was adept at timing runs into the box, and despite his relatively small stature, he scored his fair share of headers.
And while Ferguson would grow to consider Scholes as one of the greatest players he had ever coached, the legendary Scot’s first opinion of him was far from complimentary.
“I will always remember Paul Scholes‘ first day at our club,” Ferguson wrote in his 2013 autobiography.
“That Scholes has got no chance. Too small”
“He came in with a little guy called Paul O’Keefe. His father, Eamonn, had played at Everton. They were standing behind Brian Kidd, who had told me he was bringing in two lads, he liked the look of.
“They were 13. ‘Where are these two young kids?’ I asked Brian. They were so small they were invisible behind Brian’s frame.
“They were about four feet eight inches tall. I looked at this tiny pair and thought; ‘How are these two going to become footballers?’
“It became a standing joke at our club. When Scholesy came into the youth team, I said, in the coaches’ room: ‘That Scholes has got no chance. Too small.’
It was likely one of the few occasions on which Ferguson was glad to be wrong. By the time Scholes turned 18, he had sprouted ‘three or four inches’.
And while he was, in Ferguson’s words, ‘exceptionally shy’, Scholes let his football do the talking.
Uninterested in the celebrity side of being a Premier League footballer, Scholes succeeded through a combination of hard work and humility.
“As a young forward, in the hole, Scholes would be guaranteed 15 goals a season,” wrote Ferguson.
“When he developed into a central midfield player, he had the brain for the passing game and a talent for orchestration.
“He must have been a natural. I loved watching teams trying to mark him out of the game.
“He would take them into positions they didn’t want to go to, and with a single touch would turn the ball around the corner, or feint away and hit the reverse pass.
“Opponents would spend a minute tracking him and then be made to appear inconsequential or even foolish.
“They would end up galloping back to their own box. He would destroy a marker that way.”
Ferguson went on to call Scholes “probably the best English midfielder since Bobby Charlton,” saying that he elevated himself above Paul Gascoigne because of his longevity and for improving himself after he turned 30.
It’s hard to argue with that assessment.