Why Scholes will savour his final fling


Last updated at 01:23 19 May 2007

Paul Scholes still remembers the moment that placed his football career in proper context. A wet night in Birmingham in December 2005 will forever be etched in his mind.

"We had an away game at St Andrew's and in the last 10 minutes there was a ball coming towards me," said Scholes ahead of Saturday's FA Cup Final with Chelsea.

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"I thought there were three or four balls there. That's what I could see, anyway. I thought I had a bit of a migraine at the time but then I went to see a specialist and it still hadn't gone.

"It was quite worrying. People were asking about my family history, whether they'd been any history of heart disease. It wasn't good."

Scholes remains understandably reticent about a condition that threatened his future just over a year ago. Nobody outside of his family and the United medical staff know exactly what it was.

It remains a minor irritation and perhaps will for the rest of his career. To this day Scholes is required to carry out regular eye exercises.

The difference is that it no longer affects his football, as anybody who has seen him play this season will testify.

He will not admit it, of course, but this model professional has rarely played better. His influence on United's return to domestic dominance has been crucial.

"It was the first chance I've had to take stock," reflected Scholes. "Being out for six months is something else.

"Usually you are out for four to six weeks and don't have that much time to think about it. But I had a lot of time to think and it made me realise how lucky I was to be playing really."

Scholes is an unemotional man, almost impossible to read. Nevertheless, there has been a definite sense this season that one of the country's most intelligent, intuitive footballers has been enjoying his game again.

Even before his illness, the 32-year-old looked ill at ease with his football. Shunted around Sir Alex Ferguson's midfield as the manager sought an effective formula and forced into international retirement by Sven Goran Eriksson's suffocating tactics, Scholes looked a little lost.

He admitted: "When you're not playing well you don't enjoy it and over the past few seasons, or whatever it is when we hadn't been winning things, it's not been enjoyable.

"I know a lot of players in a lot of clubs who would be very happy finishing second or third, but for us it's not good enough and for two or three years it was tough to take.

"I don't think hunger will be a problem. There are players I have known who have played on until 34 or 35. Whether I can play longer because of that six -month rest I don't know. But crucially I'm happy, I still really enjoy playing football."

Scholes played the last of his 66 internationals when England were shunted out of Euro 2004 by Portugal. Since Eriksson's departure, Scholes has watched Steve McClaren struggle as head of the national team.

He feels some sympathy for his former United assistant manager and has been tempted to offer his unique services to his country again. "I did think about it at the start of the season," said Scholes.

"I did speak to Steve but I thought I'd got my form back playing for Manchester United and didn't want to do anything to jeopardise that.

"There are good players in the England team and they are always putting the effort in but for some reason it doesn't seem to click."

Scholes has three FA Cup winner's medals, but mixed memories. A goal in the 1999 victory over Newcastle helped numb the pain of missing the Champions League Final that followed, but a missed penalty contributed to a shoot-out defeat against Arsenal in Cardiff two years ago.

This time, going back to Wembley holds an obvious attraction for a man who has enjoyed memorable moments for club and country at the national stadium.

"Did the FA Cup ever lose its magic?" asked Scholes. "I don't think so. But going to Wembley makes it.

"Don't get me wrong. Going to Cardiff was great. But to be back at Wembley, back in England, is massive for this tournament and to have the two best teams in England is a great thing."

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