Making your professional debut for any club, never mind for Manchester United, would be a nervous moment for any youngster stepping into the game.
Yesterday in 1994, Paul Scholes made his first start and topped it off with two goals in a 2-1 victory over Port Vale in the League Cup.
He shone in a game featuring other youngsters who would turn out to be greats of the game such as David Beckham, Gary Neville and Nicky Butt. This began an incredibly successful career which saw Scholes reach 499 league appearances for the Reds and amassing over 60 caps for England.
Not only did Scholes score twice on his professional debut, he also scored on his first league start for the Reds in a 3-2 loss to Ipswich Town. It was evident from his first season at the club, that Scholes could become a highly important midfield player with enough first-team action.
Competing with other stars such as Eric Cantona, Mark Hughes and Roy Keane made Scholes’ regular appearances even more impressive. A 22-year-old he was also instrumental in helping the Reds secure the Premier League and FA Cup double in 1995/96, scoring 10 goals in a season where he played predominantly alongside fellow striker Andy Cole.
Scholes subsequently reverted to midfield, his preferred position, and made his international debut in 1997, just three years after his debut for the Reds.
The midfielder was a regular in the 1998/99 squad, scoring two goals in the FA Cup Final and a vital away goal in the Champions League quarter-final, leading the Reds to a historic Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League treble.
Before the turn of the millennium, Scholes had already reached over 100 league appearances and 20 international caps for England.
The noughties were just as successful for the Salford-born midfielder, including an incredible seven more league titles on top of the three already gained in the 90’s.
He started most games for the Reds, even playing through small injuries which helped his reputation of being a “hard-man”.
Despite a vision setback that ruled him out of half of the 2005/06 season, Scholes returned and experienced one of his finest seasons in 2006/07, which saw him named in the PFA Team of the Year and nominated for PFA Players’ Player of the Year.
The Reds won their second Champions League title in 2008, thanks to Scholes’ goal in the 1-0 semi-final victory over Barcelona. Thirteen years from his debut, and still a regular for the Reds, Scholes was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame before announcing his retirement in 2011.
Due to an injury crisis, Scholes returned a season later and remained at the club until he made his final retirement in 2013, finishing on 499 league appearances for the Reds.
An introvert who seemingly shunned the celebrity lifestyle that came with being a footballer, Scholes has been acknowledged as one of the best players in the Premier League era.
The technical skill shown, alongside his drive to break down opposition attacks paired with his even more impressive passing ability meant that Scholes was instrumental both in defense and going forward.
Many players and managers, past and present, have expressed their admiration for Scholes.
Barcelona legend Xavi famously named having never played with Scholes as his only career regret.
The Spaniard said:
“Scholes is a spectacular player who has everything…In the last 15 to 20 years the best central midfielder that I have seen – the most complete – is Scholes.”
However, the most interesting quote has to come from Internazionale president Massimo Moratti, who eyed the midfielder for a move to the Italian side.
Sadly for Inter is wasn’t meant to be. Moratti said:
“We tried really hard to sign Paul Scholes. We gave Manchester United a blank cheque and we talked to him. His reply was short and simple: ‘If you want me to play for you, you’d have to buy this club.’ He is one of a kind, he didn’t even have an agent, so it was hard enough.”
Being so committed to a single club is rare nowadays, but he showed just what loyalty looks like.
He never wanted to leave the club, rejected offers and returned from retirement to assist the Reds during an injury crisis. It’s clear why so many are vocal in his admiration, as it will be a long time before we see anyone achieve what Scholes did in his time at the Reds.
Not even having an agent says it all about the 43-year-old. To this day Scholes is still the same 14-year-old boy who just wanted to play for United and made his dream come true.