Scholes still the pass master for United
ESPN analyst Kevin Keegan is one of English football's most respected figures and he will be writing for ESPNsoccernet throughout the season. As a player, Kevin represented Liverpool with distinction, winning numerous titles in domestic and European football, and was twice named European Footballer of the Year during his time at Hamburg. Kevin has managed England, Newcastle United, Manchester City and Fulham and is one of the most respected voices in the English game.
One of the most pleasing aspects about watching Manchester United this season have been those wonderful performances from Paul Scholes - a player who was always destined to be one of the Premier League greats.
I had the pleasure of managing Paul at England over a decade ago, and am not in the least bit surprised that he is still at the top of his game at the age of 35. He has been in superb form this season, producing a string of influential displays in midfield. He had the opportunity to go to the World Cup and turned it down, and while that may not have helped England, in the long term that was certainly the correct decision for Manchester United. His performances have benefitted as a result.
The break allowed him to recharge his batteries over the summer and when you get to the age he is at, the demands of travelling with your country, on top of your club commitments, do catch up with you. The clock on the wall tells you that.
He was certainly a joy to manage with England though. I will always have a soft spot for Scholsey because he scored a hat-trick in my first game as manager - a 3-1 victory over Poland that ensured our Euro 2000 qualifying campaign was back on track. In the play-offs in November of that year, he was influential once again when scoring both goals at Hampden Park in the away leg against Scotland. Then again, he also got sent off against Sweden! The only reservation I would have with Paul Scholes is that he is not a good tackler. He got sent off for me and he was always liable to. He either gets the ball or a yellow card - there is no middle ground.
Though he is an authority on the pitch, off it we know that he is a very quiet lad. He trains hard and while he does have a good sense of humour, you don't even know he is there half the time. What you see is what you get with Scholes - he gets on the ball, picks people out with his tremendous passing range and above anything else, he has a great attitude. If he never conducted another interview or made an appearance on television, it wouldn't bother him one bit. Scholes is single-minded in his focus on football, and that explains why he remains one of the finest players around, 16 years after his debut for Manchester United.
He could be in for a fight against a combative Bolton side on Sunday, but that will not concern him one bit. Scholes can play both ways - indulging in a battle or showing off his artistic side. That is why he is still playing and still influencing games in a major way. He is absolutely top notch.
Of course the United old guard were not called upon on Wednesday night for the Carling Cup win over Scunthorpe. I started my playing career with the Iron so I was cheering on my former team, but then again I cheer on everybody against Manchester United because I'm a Liverpool man! They were never going to win though - staying in the Championship is their priority.
It was no surprise to see that Manchester United fielded a weakened side. But as Arthur Cox - my former manager, who then came to work with me at Newcastle - once said: "Son, there is no such thing as a weak Manchester United team."
Sir Alex Ferguson was absent at Glanford Park as he missed only his third game in 24 years in charge at Old Trafford. While that has been interpreted as a sign of disrespect to the competition, and Scunthorpe, I disagree. He chose to scout Champions League opponents in Valencia and sometimes it is invaluable to see a side with your own eyes. However good your scouting reports are, there is no substitute for being there in person. Spain was the right place for Fergie to be.