Another Premier League oldie hogged the headlines, but Paul Scholes's opener for Manchester United against Bolton Wanderers was overshadowed by a younger local talent.
Not content with reliance on a 38-year-old, carrying a perennially crocked 31-year-old (presumably for racing tips) and a regularly crocked 33-year-old (presumably for... erm…), Sir Alex Ferguson needed another geriatrico. And in resurrecting 37-year-old Paul Scholes from the ashes, he is advertising Manchester United’s balance sheet woes and embarrassing the club’s credibility.
And that is despite the ginger geriatric sparing the blushes of the ‘world-class’ Wayne Rooney with a late first-half strike against Bolton Wanderers. The Trotters ceded possession so often that the dearly departed Darron Gibson may well have thrived and ventured outside of the middle third of the pitch on Saturday, but there was undeniable satisfaction to be had at Scholes’s opener.
On Thursday, United’s official website ran a Pravda-like video of Scholes’s goals against Bolton to intensify impressionable supporters’ superstitious side. Four of the seven goals came in the 1995/96 season when he was wearing the number 22 shirt. Number five arrived courtesy of a well-taken effort on the stroke of an exasperating half with Scholes wearing… yep, you know it.
His goal makes it look like good management on Ferguson’s behalf. The Scot reckoned on it last week bringing on the old number 18 for a half-hour appearance at Manchester City with the Red Devils 3-1 and a man up. Only Scholes blew hot and cold. Good in possession yet culpable for City’s second as well as flustering amidst a frenetic finale, his full-time expression had doubt etched all over it.
But the Old Trafford return had with it not just peerless passing and a goal, but a scything tackle and a needless handball too. Not quite the complete performance since the myopic Peter Walton failed to brandish a deserved yellow card for the Ginger Prince, it was the macabre magic he has become synonymous with.
Patrice Evra, eloquent without referring to sisters’ genitals, spoke afterwards of United’s ‘dinosaurs’ at the club. Self-deprecating, Evra’s a relative spring chicken at 30 despite the squad’s core of young footballers, and his statement seemed to wield a double-edged sword. It could even be argued that United sold Gibson to finance the return of Scholes. The savings on the Irishman’s wages coupled with his transfer fee are just enough to cover Scholes’ £60k p/w January-June contract at £1.2m. One in, one out. Value.
Nevertheless, his and Michael Carrick’s serene composure sustained United’s momentum, whereas Wayne Rooney and Nani, ostensibly the side’s two best players, have relapsed again after some festive form last month. Rooney’s Boxing Day bender seemed to carry over into his ‘drunken’ display at Newcastle and although excellent last week at Eastlands, a league goal was crucial against Bolton.
Perhaps that explains the unfathomable sight of him taking a penalty despite having one saved last week. Rooney has scored 10 and failed on seven (two converted on the rebound) occasions from 12 yards out for United – a 59 per cent conversion rate that stresses the risk factor involved when he places the ball on the spot.
Welbeck is a beacon of the ‘patience is a virtue’ cliché.
Meanwhile the Portuguese Nani has reverted back to nomadic numpty ever since he had ‘N’ carved into his barnet. The ‘N’ word has caused outcry in the North West this season, but ‘nightmare’, ‘nincompoop’, ‘naïve’ and ‘nowhere’ are the logical alliteration suggestions in this instance. Unspeakably bad at City, from the inability to take a throw-in to his luxurious flicks that planted United in trouble, Malcolm Tucker would pay to b*****k him.
Contrast his ineptitude to the prompt Antonio Valencia. Not famished after having Aleksander Kolarov on toast in the cup derby win, Sam Ricketts was Saturday’s savoury. Preparing the palatable feast was the returning Rafael da Silva, illustrating again that if fit (an admittedly big ‘if’) he should be Ferguson’s first choice right-back. Mark Lawrenson was unfairly sceptical of his progress on Five Live, doubting his mettle to weather the English game’s physicality. Well, that is the problem, but only because he – and twin brother Fabio – relish the physicality too much for their nimble frames.
Bolton were so unthreatening that their hosts's comfortable win was achieved in second gear. Danny Welbeck’s movement from the first whistle flummoxed the visitors, clearly smarting from south-bound Gary Cahill. Or not, because Cahill has been rather dreadful this season.
Welbeck though is arguably the heir apparent to Scholes. A likeable and local lad who has defied the critics on the Stretford End, his ability has taken many aback now that the kinks are being ironed out, which makes his lifelong ties to United more endearing as a consequence.
His resilience is commendable too. Farmed out (unwisely) to Fergie Jr. at Preston in the aftermath of the Leeds cup loss two years ago, he impressed last season at Sunderland and can now be regarded as a United first-teamer. Javier Hernández may be more predatory in the 18-yard box, but his limitations outside of the area are patently startling despite an exceptional first year in Manchester.
Such a shame it was that lightning struck twice for the Manchester-born red. In August he pulled up with a hamstring injury having scored the opener against Arsenal and impressed in the campaign’s opening four fixtures. At the weekend, he twisted his knee after slotting in his eighth goal of the season and (unlucky) 13th for his boyhood team. Ferguson though defiantly stated that he ‘should be okay’. He said something similar about Tom Cleverley’s injury at Goodison Park in October. He’s not played since.
And should he indeed be ruled out for in excess of three months, Dwight Yorke and Andrew Cole live nearby and look in reasonably good nick.
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