Is Paul Scharner nearing his peak?

Posted by Tony Brown

Premier LeaguePA PhotosScharner has excelled defensively this season, although it is not his preferred position

Great tackles are rarely as memorable as great goals, but some just stand out as exceptional. Halfway through the first half on Saturday, a nice move by Reading led to a low cross coming to centre forward Pavel Pogrebnyak at the near post. The Russian looked certain to score until the long legs of Paul Scharner appeared out of nowhere to slide the ball to safety. It was a crucial moment in a tense first half when the Royals had been getting on top.

Roberto Martinez had bravely changed his team's shape for the Reading match, reverting to a flat back four and pushing Jean Beausejour into a left-wing position. In the 40th minute a tall figure crossed the ball from that position and it took me a second or two to realise it was none other than Paul Scharner. It brought back mixed memories of the Austrian's performances in a Latics shirt during his previous life at the club.

There have been a wealth of articles written on the eccentric central European. His weird hairstyles, love of classical music and having his own personal psychological coach place him apart from the average professional footballer. Interviewing him can be a challenge as this journalist found out.

Scharner joined Latics in January 2006, when I was living in Vienna and regularly watching one of his previous clubs, FK Austria, in the Bundesliga. Although popular in Norway, through his excellent performances for Brann of Bergen, he was by no means a hero in his home country. In 2003 he had to move on from FK Austria after refusing to come on as a substitute to play right midfield at the behest of then-manager, Jurgen Low. At the time he stated: "The coach and I discussed where I can help the team the most, but the coach always uses me elsewhere. I already played in seven different positions."

In 2006 Scharner's criticism of the Austrian FA led to national team coach, Josef Hickersberger, saying that the midfielder would never play for Austria again as long as he was in charge. After Hickersberger left, Scharner returned to the national side. However, in August 2012 another skirmish with authorities led to the chairman of the Austrian FA saying that Scharner would never play for Austria again, no matter who the coach was.

Paul Scharner made his Latics debut in January 2006, coming off the bench to head a winner against Arsenal that was to be instrumental in helping Latics reach the League Cup final. Fans were not quite sure if he had been brought in to bolster an ailing centre of defence or to put some muscle into midfield. Some 16 months later, his well taken goal at Bramall Lane on the last day of the season helped to keep Latics up and put Sheffield United down. He was to make 145 appearances, in a variety of positions, before leaving in the summer of 2010.

So which is the real Paul Scharner? The one who Roberto Martinez describes as a model professional who he has welcomed back to Wigan with open arms, or the rebel who clashes with coaches and FA officials in his home country? Moreover, is he willing to play in a central defensive position, week on week? Reports suggest that his move to West Bromwich Albion was only finalised after Roberto Di Matteo agreed to play him in his preferred midfield position.

Paul Scharner has made a welcome return to Wigan at an opportune moment. He has already helped shore up a wobbly defence and made a man-of-the-match performance for me at Reading. He has always been a very capable central defender, although it has not been his favourite position. Wigan are well stocked for midfield players and Scharner knows it. He is now 32, but in excellent physical shape. He could go on for at least another couple of years as a Premier League central defender.

Has Paul Scharner already reached his peak or is it yet to come? Like anything else with the big Austrian it depends on his state of mind. Scharner would be well advised to forget his attacking forays and concentrate on defence. He has the experience, technique and positional sense to be an outstanding central defender. It is not too late for him to reach his peak.

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