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2012: Paul Scholes’ Second Coming On This Day in....
It is six years ago today that Manchester United legend Paul Scholes shocked the football world by reversing his retirement. This article looks at the impact this had on United’s title challenge.
End of an Era
At the end of the 2010-11 season, following Manchester United’s record 19th League title triumph, club legend Paul Scholes announced his decision to hang up his boots. It was almost a perfect end to an incredible career, with Barcelona’s 3-1 victory in the Champions League Final denying him a fairy-tale ending in the ‘final’ game of his career. He appeared to sign off in style, blasting a trademark 20 yard strike in his testimonial against New York Cosmos just before the start of the new campaign.
United had a rather erratic first half of the 2011-12 season. By the end of September, they had smashed eight goals past Arsenal, five past Bolton and three against Tottenham and Chelsea. The bubble burst when cross-town rivals Manchester City came to Old Trafford and hit United for six. By the end of December, the Red Devils had been eliminated from the group stage of the Champions League for the first time since 1994. The defeat against Basel, which was the final nail in their coffin, also saw United lose their captain, Nemanja Vidić, for the rest of the season. When Sir Alex Ferguson’s men were drawn away to City in the F.A. Cup third round, it seemed another battering might be on the cards.
When the team was announced prior to kick-off at the Etihad, there was a big surprise; Paul Scholes was among the substitutes. There hadn’t even been a hint of it on social media, the first anyone knew about it was when the team sheets went in. The fact that Scholes arrived with the rest of the squad hadn’t registered, as he was on the coaching staff at Old Trafford, and regularly attended their matches. There were rumours that, even on the training pitch, Scholes was still the best player in the squad, which very few fans doubted. It was enough for Ferguson to offer him a contract until the end of the season.
With Ashley Young having taken on Scholes’ number 18 shirt, the United legend would wear the number 22. This was the number he had previously worn before switching in the summer of 1996. It was almost as if the ginger maestro’s presence in the squad gave United a boost, as they showed no nerve against a side that had humiliated them less than three months previously. Wayne Rooney gave his side the lead in the tenth minute, heading in a superb cross from Antonio Valencia, in the days when he used to do this often. Shortly after this, City were reduced to ten men when their captain Vincent Kompany executed a two-footed tackle on Nani. Although the Belgian’s timing was impeccable, completely winning the ball, Chris Foy brandished a red card.
After half an hour, a bouncing ball in the box was brilliantly volleyed by Danny Welbeck into the back of the net to double United’s lead. Ten minutes later, Aleksandar Kolarov felled Welbeck in the area, giving Rooney the chance to put the Red Devils 3-0 up from the spot. City goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon saved the penalty, but Rooney headed in the rebound. What seemed like an unassailable lead at half time was lessened after three minutes of the second half, when Kolarov atoned for his earlier error by smashing in a trademark free kick.
In the 59th minute, the moment United fans thought they would never see again happened; Paul Scholes took to the field in a red replacing Nani. Unfortunately, he will probably want to forget that it was his error that led to Sergio Agüero pulling another one back for City, although he couldn’t be blamed for Anders Lindegaard spilling a rather tame first shot, which left the Argentine a practically open goal for the follow up. For the rest of the game, it was hard to believe that it was the Reds who had eleven men, as their blue-shirted rivals laid siege on Lindegaard’s goal.
United rode their luck for the final 25 minutes, but saw the job through. What had looked like being a great opportunity to obtain revenge for the 6-1 defeat at Old Trafford earlier in the season, ended up being an only-just deserved victory. Given the way that City took the game to United in the last twenty minutes, United could have had no complaints if their cross-town rivals had forced a replay.
There is no doubt that Scholes was clearly lacking match-sharpness in this game, this was demonstrated by how quickly he tired, in addition to his uncharacteristic error which led to City’s second goal. Giving the ball away so cheaply was not something he made a habit of throughout his career. Following the derby victory at the Etihad, Scholes appeared to be back to his best the following week, scoring on his second Old Trafford debut against Bolton in a 3-0 win. He would score three more goals before the end of the season, against Norwich City, Q.P.R. and Swansea City, respectively.
There is no doubt that Scholes’ retirement reversal ignited his side’s title challenge. He made 21 appearances in total, and helped United claw back an eight point lead by City and into a position where they were leading the table by the same number of points. Although the title ended up on the blue side of Manchester for the first time since 1968, it’s a good bet that there wouldn’t have been a title race at all had Scholes not come out of retirement.
Scholes had signed a contract until the end of the season in January 2012, and he inked a year’s extension to it that summer. He scored what turned out to be his final United goal in September that year, in a 4-0 home win over Wigan Athletic. Unfortunately, it did look as though the second wind he had gained from his comeback had disappeared. He made 21 appearances in 2012-13, which was as many as he had managed in fourth months the previous season, and more than half of them were from the bench.
Paul Scholes’ final retirement came at the same time as his legendary manager, and both f them went out a winner. United secured a record 20th league title, and Scholes played his last game for the club in a 5-5 draw away to West Bromwich Albion.
Paul Scholes made a brave decision in reversing his retirement, as he ran the risk of damaging his legendary status at the club. The reality is that he sparked a title race which, although unsuccessful, would probably not have happened otherwise. Although he played a less prominent role in United regaining the title the following season, it was fitting that he went out as a title winner. This was how he had spent most of his Old Trafford career.
Added by Philip Meese on 08/01/2018 21:44:59