The big interview: Paul Scholes – "People blamed Sven for me quitting England, but I'd played on the wing for Man United and scored a lot of goals"
“He’s got no chance – he’s a midget,” was Sir Alex Ferguson’s verdict when he first saw a young Paul Scholes playing in a youth team game for Manchester United in the late ’80s. Over the next two decades, the United manager enjoyed being proved resoundingly wrong as he watched Scholes grow to become the most decorated English footballer ever.
He was also the most revered English player of his era, feted by the game’s elite. Zinedine Zidane called him “the greatest midfielder of his generation”, and witness how quickly Andres Iniesta claimed his shirt after the 2011 Champions League Final. As for his United team-mates, Scholes’s unerring ability to find them with passes led to him being nicknamed ‘Sat-Nav’.
Having retired in the summer, the eminently likable and modest Scholes is more than happy to spend an afternoon with FFT to tackle your fine selection of questions. Behind the shy veneer he talks as astutely and effectively as he played the game. Over to you...
You’re a well-known asthmatic, Paul. How did that impact on your career?
Alfie Johnson, Shrewsbury
It was just something I had to live with, and take all the medication provided. As long as I looked after myself, it wasn’t a problem. The worst times were in winter when it was freezing and I’d get a bit chesty. One time I didn’t play for a few weeks because of a bad chest. I’d have a puffer before a game, and sometimes at half-time as well, but that was very rare.
You were at Maine Road cheering on Oldham Athletic against Man United in a cracking FA Cup semi-final in 1990. Who would you be cheering for now if the two teams met?
Peter Beaker, Rochdale
It would be United now. An awful lot is made of me being an Oldham fan – and I am one – yet when I was a kid I was a United fan too, but my dad probably couldn’t afford to take me to Old Trafford. He was an Oldham fan and it was only 10 minutes up the road, so it was easier to watch them.
How special was it to play your entire career at United alongside your mates from the ‘Class of 92’? Did you think so many of you would make it?
Andy Clarkson, Trafford
No, I didn’t have a clue. Looking back, when we were 17 and 18, we knew we had good teams playing for United’s ‘A’ and ‘B’ sides on Saturday mornings, but you couldn’t have guessed so many would play at the top level. Giggsy was already in the first team by then – there was never any doubt about him – but Becks, Nicky Butt, the Nevilles and me honestly didn’t know if we would be good enough.
What was the best goal you ever scored – that volley vs Bradford from the corner? Did you work on that in training?
Ian Stewart, Beckenham
No, we never worked on it in training. Becks just took the corner, I gave him a little look to let him know I was there, he delivered it to where I wanted and I volleyed it in. We were on the same wavelength. I’m not sure that’s my best goal, though. My best is probably the one at Aston Villa when I volleyed it again from outside the area. That was more difficult.
You probably have the best technique of any English player in the last 20 years. How did you become that kind of footballer? And why doesn’t English football produce more players like you?
Thomas Kendrick, Cumbria
I became that type of player by watching and learning from people in my position, how they kept the ball. A lot of credit has to go to my United youth coach Eric Harrison: whenever we had a spare hour, he demanded that we practise, and thankfully it paid off. A lot of it was down to it being my natural game. I just concentrated on what I was good at. There have been a lot of technically gifted players in English football down the years, but for one reason or another it doesn’t seem to work. Players like Wayne Rooney, Jack Wilshere and Michael Carrick are as good as anyone technically. Maybe mentally there’s a problem – I just don’t know.
Sir Alex Ferguson once said that, for a laugh, you would aim a ball at his head every day in training. Is this true?
James Richards, Altrincham
Yes, that’s a bit true! I wouldn’t go for the manager, but I might hit one just by the side of him to try to wake him up. I wasn’t stupid enough to aim directly at his head. He would look around and see who did it, and even though I’d be standing in a crowd of about eight players, I would always get the blame! I do remember I once hit Phil [Neville] from distance with a cracker right on the head. It sent him flying – it was hilarious!
Have you ever been tempted to get an earring, shave a pattern on your head or get a big tattoo? What is the most ‘big-time’ you’ve ever acted?
Pete Wright, Bolton
There’s no way in the world I’d get any of that done – no way. It seems you can’t be a footballer these days without getting a tattoo. I don’t think I’ve ever acted big-time. I could never jump to the front of a queue or anything like that: I would be too embarrassed.
Is it true that as you ran away to celebrate scoring your hat-trick goal against Poland at Wembley in 1999, you were thinking, ‘Oh no, I’m going to have to talk to the press now’?
Stuart Brooks, via email
Yes, that thought would have gone through my head during the game in my younger days. But as I grew older it wasn’t really a problem.
I don’t think I’ve ever acted big-time. I could never jump to the front of a queue or anything like that: I would be too embarrassed
Whenever I’ve seen an interview with you, you seem sharp and articulate. Yet you’re known as very shy and quiet. Are you a different person away from the spotlight?
Alex Bateson, Newquay
I am quiet and shy around team-mates and friends too. To be honest, I don’t really enjoy doing interviews, but it is part of the game so I don’t mind too much.