MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes slipped into retirement on Tuesday in the unassuming manner that characterised a one-club man hailed by his peers as one of the greatest players of his generation.
His ability to conjure an exquisite pass or spectacular goal earned many plaudits and his clumsy tackling drew criticism but the 36-year-old made little noise himself during a glittering career in which he kept the lowest of public profiles.
He bowed out with a simple statement on the club website, avoiding the fanfare that accompanied team mate Edwin van der Sar’s recent retirement, ending a career in which he helped United win 10 Premier League titles, two Champions Leagues and three FA Cups, including the treble in 1999.
“I am not a man of many words but I can honestly say that playing football is all I have ever wanted to do and to have had such a long and successful career at Manchester United has been a real honour,” the central midfielder said.
Dubbed the “Ginger Prince,” Scholes and his distinctive red hair burst on to the Old Trafford scene in the mid-1990s as part of a golden generation of youngsters including David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville.
He scored twice on his debut in a League Cup match against Port Vale in 1994 and went on to make 676 appearances for the club he was born just a stone’s throw away from.
Scholes won many admirers among the game’s very best with former France playmaker Zinedine Zidane calling him his “toughest opponent” and “undoubtedly the best midfielder of his generation.”
Barcelona midfielder Xavi has said Scholes was a role model and the “best central midfielder I’ve seen in the last 15, 20 years” and suggested this year that if he had been Spanish he might have been rated more highly.
His eye for a pinpoint pass and ability to unleash a powerful shot on goal were just part of an all-round game in which he pulled the midfield strings, overcoming his lack of height and the asthma he suffered from.
A spectacular 25-metre strike to win the Champions League semi-final against Barcelona in 2008 was one of the best of many stunning long-range goals Scholes notched among his 150 for United.
The main blot on his copybook was a propensity for mis-timed tackles, frequently getting himself booked or worse.
He missed the dramatic 1999 Champions League final win over Bayern Munich through suspension and the last of several red cards came in last month’s FA Cup semi-final defeat by Manchester City.
It was another of what manager Alex Ferguson branded “his red mist moments” which have littered his career, including when he became the only England player to be sent off at the old Wembley, in a match against Sweden in 1999.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said last year he thought Scholes had a “darker side” but the Frenchman added that his contribution to Manchester United’s success was huge.
Now Scholes will have plenty more chances to help his club when he takes on a coaching role from next season.
His last appearance was on Saturday when he came on for the closing stages of United’s 3-1 Champions League final defeat by Barcelona and his last glory moment was celebrating a record 19th league title on an open top bus parade on Monday.
A shy man who rarely gives interviews, it has probably suited Scholes that Giggs has taken much of the limelight over his 12 league titles and longevity even though Scholes’ achievements have been almost as immense.
He has shunned publicity while other players fill newspapers with their off-field antics and once described his average day as: “Train in the morning, pick up the kids from school, play with them, have tea, get them to bed and then watch a bit of TV.”
While “Scholesy” adds coaching to his daily ‘To Do’ list, his club face the challenge of filling the big hole he leaves.
“He’ll be a big miss for us,” striker Wayne Rooney said on the club website (www.manutd.com). “He’s the best I’ve played with and against. He’s only small but it’s so difficult to get the ball off him. Every United fan will miss him.”
Editing by Ed Osmond