Why Man United's Scholes Is Better Than Liverpool's Gerrard & Chelsea's Lampard...
Liverpool favourite Jamie Carragher came under scrutiny yesterday for his ill-advised post-match assertion that Liverpool’s Gerrard and Chelsea’s Lampard were better players in their peak than Man Utd’s Paul Scholes. Gary Neville wasn't best pleased, but who really is the best? Here, from the eyes of a neutral, is a breakdown of England’s three greatest centre mids of the past 20 years, with a bit of analysis and in the end and because this is all ultimately subjective, a bit of hand on heart opinion:
Club Apps: 634 (All for Liverpool)
Int. Goals: 20
League Titles: 0
Champions Leagues: 1
UEFA Cups: 1
FA Cups: 2
League Cups: 3
What’s So Special about him?
"Is he the best in the world? He might not get the attention of [Lionel] Messi and Ronaldo but, yes, I think he just might be" - Zidane
At his peak, Gerrard was every man on the pitch all at once: he could break up an attack, split the defence with a pass, and run into the box to score, all in the space of 30 seconds. He epitomised the best aspects of the English game: passion, fight incredible vision and the ability to read a game perfectly. His achievement of winning the Champions League with a team that included Djimi Traore still boggles the mind frankly, and the magic moments he’s produced for Liverpool over the years are pretty much impossible to count.
On top of all this Gerrard deserves to be celebrated for his loyalty. His head might have been turned once or twice, notably by Mourinho’s Chelsea, but he stuck with Liverpool through several years of being their best player by a country mile. And even if Liverpool and England have mostly underachieved under his influence, no one in their right mind could blame Stevie for that. He’s been a legend for England and Liverpool, and always will be.
Club Apps: 810 (187 for West Ham, 9 for Swansea, 613 for Chelsea)
Int. Goals: 29
League Titles: 3
Champions Leagues: 1
UEFA Cups: 1
FA Cups: 4
League Cups: 0
What’s So Special About Him?
"[Frank] has this natural gift for scoring goals from midfield. That's amazing" - Jose Mourinho
The man the Chelsea fans affectionately call ‘Super Frank’ has spent an incredible length of time at the very top of the English game. At his peak he was the best Box-to-Box player in the world, and his 2nd place in the 2005 Ballon d’or is the highest individual accolade to be bestowed on any English player in the last 20 years. He was the key man in Mourinho’s original Chelsea team, playing a role that only he could play, and that epitomised the grit, determination and utter ruthlessness that Jose has always demanded from his players.
Lampard’s best attribute however, has always been his ability to arrive in the box at the perfect time to slide in a goal, with a scoring record unmatched amongst Premier League midfielder. He might be have had less spectacular moments than Gerrard, and won fewer titles than Scholes, but goals are ultimately what pays the bills for footballers, and on goals, Lampard comes out on top.
Age: 38 (Retired)
Club Apps: 718 (All Man Utd)
Int Goals: 14
League Titles: 11
Champions Leagues: 2
UEFA Cups: 0
FA Cups: 3
League Cups: 2
What’s So Special About Him?
"In the last 15 to 20 years the best central midfielder that I have seen - the most complete - is Scholes" - Xavi
English players generally get praised for things like character, grit, determination, and leadership. Scholes had all of these qualities in spades, but more than this, Scholes was a brilliant anomaly, an English player with sublime ball playing skills, perfect technique and real flair. More than that however, there really was no limit to his vision on the football field. Scholes could spot a pass that wasn’t on, and make it on.
Admittedly part of a series of brilliant Man Utd teams, he nonetheless won everything there was to win. His relatively small number of England caps is a travesty that reflects the distrust that still persists in the English game of players with guile and flair, and there’s no denying that Scholes retired from internationals far too early on in his career. If there were ever any doubters, then the success of his comeback at the age of 37 should have silenced them. To come into a team at the top of one of the world’s most physical leagues at that age after a spell in retirement, and have the effect of galvanising their title challenge in the way he did in 2012 was nothing short of remarkable.
So, How Do they Compare?
Lampard has always been a positive influence on the players around him, but he has generally led by example rather than force. Scholes has more credentials in this area, as the ticking heart of Man United’s midfield in a period when they achieve an incredible 11 titles. However, the natural born leader of the three has to be Gerrard, a domineering, positive influence who’s dragged performances out of his teammates both at club and country level.
Score: Gerrard 9, Lampard 7, Scholes 9
Eye for Goal:
Gerrard has a great scoring record for club and country, however, Stevie has always had a tendency to go for the spectacular over the simple, which for me keeps him off top. Scholes meanwhile started out as a striker, and his lack of goals in later years can be put down to his different role within the team. Lampard though, must come out strongest in this category, with his incredible haul of goals for a midfielder.
Score: Gerrard 8, Scholes 9, Lampard 10
Scholes had to be fairly physical to get by in the Premier League, but was never a box to box warrior in the style of Gerrard and Lampard. It’s tight, but Gerrard edges this one too, if only because he performed a more all-action role for Liverpool.
Score: Gerrard 10, Lampard 9, Scholes 8
Scholes was notorious for some of his late challenges, but overall he wasn’t quite as bad a tackler as some make out. Still, Lampard and Gerrard have the edge in this department, even if it's not the centrepiece of either of their games
Score: Gerrard 8, Lampard 8, Scholes 7
Lampard’s passing has always been decent, but few would argue it’s his best attribute. Gerrard could stake a better claim to being a great passer of the ball for his often sublime cross-field balls, but there’s no hiding from who comes out on top here. Scholes was a pass master, and if anyone else came first here it would be a huge injustice to the ginger prince.
Score: Gerrard 8, Lampard 7, Scholes 10.
Scholes easily comes out on top here, with his ridiculously large array of winners medals. True, he often had the best team around him at Man U, but it takes more than good players to win things and Scholes showed himself to be a natural winner time and time again. Lampard has an impressive record with Chelsea too, with 3 league titles and 4 FA Cups. For Gerrard, the Champions League and FA Cup wins he masterminded almost single handedly are big points in his favour, but the Premier League sized hole on his CV will always taint Stevie G's otherwise stellar record.
Scores: Gerrard 7, Lampard 9, Scholes 10.
Big Game Ability:
How do you even begin to compare them? All 3 have the quality to turn matches around, and all three have done so countless times in the past. However, even as the least decorated player here, Gerrard has incredible form in this regard, changing games by his mere presence at times, and at others by scoring crucial goals. Lampard has also scored his fair share of crucial goals, but can disappear at times, especially for England. Scholes might have the least spectacular highlight reel, but you don’t win a Champions League (he doesn't count '99 but he did get them to the final), and 11 Premier League titles by being bad in the big games.
Scores: Gerrard 10, Lampard 7, Scholes 9,
Overall: Scholes 44, Gerrard 43, Lampard 43. An incredibly difficult decision this one, and it's fair to say that with a point in either direction Carra could have had a point. For me though, Scholes simply must come out on top. Yes, Gerrard is without a doubt a more complete player and Lampard has the better stats in terms of goals, but Scholes was unique, a footballing phenomenon. Why you ask?
Well, almost every great English player before and since has had to lean on a crutch of mental strength. We like to commend players like Bobby Moore, Gazza and co. for of their ‘spirit’, ‘passion’ and ‘fire’. But people never needed to use these words to describe Scholes, however appropriate they may have been. No, unlike pretty much every other English player ever, he was actually the best at something; a player that didn’t just inspire Mancunians or Englishmen, but players all over Europe. Spain might be the best team in the world, and Xavi their star player. But however good Xavi may be, he’ll only ever be the Spanish Paul Scholes.
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