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Can’t Catch Me

Posted By Brian Phillips On May 31, 2011 @ 8:42 am In Featured | 38 Comments

Your hands can’t hit what your eyes can’t see. —Muhammad Ali

I’m off this week slaking a thirst for lawns and paperwork, but this can’t wait. Paul Scholes retired today, meaning that we are officially old, you and I, and children born from this day forth will never see jungles or snow.

Like Matt LeTissier, Scholes was a great English player who seemed to have no effect on the way the rest of the English played football, even as his game contained the promise of total revolution. (Not only Xavi but Zidane and Thierry Henry saw that he was the scariest thing in the Premiership during an era when the superstar English midfielders were Beckham, Lampard and Gerrard.) To some extent, that’s just a sentence about probability and skill sets, but it’s also about temperament: on the pitch, Scholes had a Pirlo-like ability to drift outside the center of your attention, dominating without needing you to notice. It took a mind for the game to fathom his mind for the game. The result was that little kids didn’t grow up wanting to be Paul Scholes; superstar footballers did.

What I love about this video, a featurette from ’95-96, is that almost all the elements of his career are already there—the thunder-of-Christ goals, the steady self-effacement (“I’ve never seen anyone with my name on their shirt. I’ve seen it once. My mate.”)—and yet no one even mentions his passing. Admittedly, he was more famous as a goalscorer early in his career, but when Ferguson calls him the “Cantona of the reserves,” it’s still a little like hearing Iniesta called “the Spanish Drogba.” Except that, again, it somehow makes sense, because the nature of Scholes’s game was always to beat you in such a way that you couldn’t quite tell how he did it. This gets lost amid all the jokes about his tackling, but he was one of the game’s true reserves of mystery, and as such, he was one of a kind.


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