Former Manchester United star Paul Scholes insists England players are too selfish to succeed
For the past seven years the received truth was that Paul Scholes quit international football because he felt undervalued being played out of position on the left wing and that he stayed in retirement, despite the efforts of Steve McClaren and Fabio Capello, because he wanted to extend his career with Manchester United and spend more time with his family.
There was another reason why Scholes grew disenchanted with England
, however, one that reveals a profound problem at the root of the national team: the destructive self-interest of players who saw England caps merely as a vehicle to transfers and better contracts.
Scholes retired from football in May and had not played for the national side since quitting in 2004. “I got fed up,” Scholes said. “When you are going to a team, and you want to be part of a team and playing well, and there are individuals who are after personal glory... when there is a simple pass of 10 yards, they might try and smack it 80 yards. They will do things to try and get themselves noticed.
“No, [playing out of position] was never a problem. I played on the left for United
I don’t know how many times. I probably had my most successful time scoring goals in that position so it was never a problem. ” When Jamie Carragher admitted that it mattered more to him when Liverpool
lost then it did with England, it confirmed the suspicion that some players had much deeper bonds of loyalty to their club.
Scholes thinks the problem runs deeper and that some players are loyal to one thing only: themselves.
“You still hate losing, whether it is Manchester United or England,” he said. “Maybe it is half the problem if players are going into that squad and not caring about it. I think there definitely is an element of that, what Jamie said about not being bothered about England losing.
“I always felt when I first started going away with England, players — especially players at clubs like your Aston Villa's
— try to use England as a way to get to a top club. Which, I don’t know, you feel: are they there for the right reason? I think they are very selfish people.
“It happened in my day, I think they are all there to get their bit of glory, their headlines, to think, ‘Oh, I will get a move from this’. That is the biggest problem with English players: that most of them are just too selfish.
“[When they get their move] they have probably done what they have wanted to do and that is enough, to get to a big club. It was a frustration for us United lads. It was just selfish. If you look at the Spain team now, they all seem to play for each other. There isn’t one of them who would try to do something in a game that doesn’t suit the team and the way they play. And that could happen over here. ” Scholes won 66 caps between 1997 and 2004, playing for Glenn Hoddle, Kevin Keegan and Sven-Goran Eriksson. Despite the emergence of a talented group of players (what Adam Crozier called the Golden Generation), Scholes and his team-mates never got further than the quarter-finals of a major tournament — and fared no better after he quit — failing even to qualify for Euro 2008. All that while English club sides became the dominant force in European club football. Was there some form of technical deficiency among England’s players?
“No, it is probably more attitude. If you look through our teams, there are loads of technically brilliant players but for some reason when we go onto the international scene, we don’t look like that. Why? I just don’t know. We, England, go to these tournaments with the greatest of hopes when really the reality of winning something is not really there because there are so many good teams.
The French of a few years ago, Spain's, Brazils, Argentina's, we just seem to be not as good as them.
“You never feel that when you are playing. You always think you’ve got a chance. We feel we’ve got the good players, people say the best in the world, but I don’t really think we have if you go on international tournaments.
“We are the favorites every time and we probably will be next time.
“We will beat Macedonia 6-0 in qualifiers and we’ll be 5/1 favorites for the World Cup. It is just the way we are. I think it is quite laughable, don’t you? It is just the mentality of English people. We think we are going to win everything. ” The English football mentality never fully appreciated Scholes. Here was a player whose playing style appealed to the continental connoisseur and whose lifestyle never troubled the front pages. In England it is still Roy of the Rovers who remains the subject of juvenile admiration. The English love the player who sprints from box to box, hurls himself into slide tackles and scores spectacular goals, players who speak (loudly) about the team but play as an individual.
Scholes’ qualities (his passing, his possession retention, his tactical intelligence, his spatial vision) were treated like an acquired taste (if tasted at all) and only in his maturity did he begin to get the credit he deserved for them. What was so evident to his impressive foreign fan club – Zinedine Zidane, Xavi, Edgar Davids, Laurent Blanc, Marcello Lippi and Pep Guardiola — was often overlooked at home.
In retrospect, England should regret not building their team around Scholes. In fact, not long after he had made his debut in 1997, that seemed to be the future for the national team. At the 1998 World Cup, Glenn Hoddle left Paul Gascoigne at home and made Scholes, then 23, the creative fulcrum in his 3-5-2 system. Yet Scholes was never central to the plans of Hoddle’s successors, Kevin Keegan and Sven-Goran-Eriksson, and quit international football in 2004.
Hoddle saw something of himself in Scholes. He had been a player more to continental taste and was never fully appreciated by England. “He is an Englishman who knew the style of football he wanted to play,” Scholes said. “It wasn’t quite the same way as Barcelona play but there were similar traits. He has been an English manager who seems to have been cast aside. He was the best manager I played for with England. I liked Sven as well, but I think we were a better team under Glenn. We understood more what was required.
“Under Hoddle and Sven, you knew the way you were playing. But I am thinking how England play now and I don’t really know. I do watch the games but where does Gareth Barry play? Do you have a holding midfielder? One up front? I couldn’t tell you England’s style of play. ” The ideal for Scholes is, unsurprisingly, the one represented by Barcelona. Before the Champions League final this season, Pep Guardiola singled out Scholes as the “the best midfielder of his generation” while previously Xavi said “in the last 15 to 20 years he is the best central midfield I have seen”. That affection is reciprocated.
“Barcelona are the level we all need to get to. They play the game the way everyone in the world would like to. They have the players to do it. The big thing for them is that word again, unselfishness. They play as a team, work hard for each other. As much people say Messi is the star man but amongst them he is not, he is just another player. ” The next challenge for Scholes is putting his strong opinions about the game into practice. He will meet with Sir Alex Ferguson at the beginning of next month to define his coaching role with the club as he inaugurates a new stage of his career – and has not ruled out eventually moving into management.
“I am sure he [Ferguson] has some ideas of what he wants me to do. I think it will be hands-on coaching, maybe with Warren Joyce for the reserves. I am not too sure yet. But I will probably just watch for the first few weeks and build myself into it. I have began my level two and level three coaching badges. I’ve done all my classroom work and just need to get out and do my hours now. When I am in the coaching job, it shouldn’t take too long. ”
“You think you can do both [coaching and management], can’t you? I probably just want to settle into the coaching first and whether in two years I’ve got enough experience and feel like I want to go into management, then maybe. I just don’t know yet, I want to see how I get on with my coaching. I don’t think anybody at the club would think or see me going into management but I just don’t know. I might get the bug for coaching. I have to hopefully get one or two years’ experience, maybe more, and something might lead from that. I didn’t know Mark Hughes that well but I hear Mick Phelan say he could never see him going into management and look how well he’s done. ”
Great players often make impatient coaches – Hoddle was famously exasperated by the limitations of some of his players. For Scholes the challenge will be coaxing out of players things that come to him by instinct. Perhaps the Football Association should take note.
England may not have got the best out of Scholes as a player but they could do so as a coach. There could be little better grounding for an aspiring international midfielder than working with him.