LONDON — Sir Alex Ferguson has always placed his faith in youth during his 24 years as Manchester United manager.
This summer, he has brought Mexico winger Javier Hernandez (22), Portuguese forward Bebe (20) and England under-21 defender Chris Smalling (20) to Old Trafford for a combined £25 million which seems very shrewd business given this is £1 million less than Manchester City paid for Aston Villa’s James Milner.
Yet on the evidence of the early weeks of the season, Ferguson will look to golden oldie Paul Scholes as much as the new generation as United attempts to bring the Premier League title back to Old Trafford.
Scholes, 35, has been a consistently outstanding player for United over the last 15 years yet retains the desire, hunger and skill to play at the highest level.
His displays against Chelsea in the Community Shield and Newcastle in the Premier League underlined Scholes’ value to United. Quite simply, Scholes was phenomenal.
It no doubt helped Scholes to miss the World Cup. For reasons best known to himself, Fabio Capello gave Scholes, who had retired from international football in 2004, two hours to decide whether to end his six-year exile and go to South Africa.
It was an offer by Don Fabio that Scholes could and did refuse; in contrast Ferguson has never pressurized the player Zinedine Zidane called “the greatest midfielder of his generation.”
Scholes is the footballer’s footballer. He does not possess blistering pace, headed goals are rare and his mistimed tackles have become an ignominious trademark — he was the first England player to be sent off at Wembley for two lunges against Sweden in 1999.
But his passing makes radar seem obsolete. Scholes always looks like he has so much time on the ball, his positional sense is second to none, while his range of passing puts him alongside any of the true greats of the modern era.
His natural shyness means Scholes has never felt comfortable talking to the media, so his profile has remained among the lowest of his teammates.
His former captain Roy Keane, not a man to throw accolades around, said: “No self-promotion — an amazingly gifted player who remained an unaffected human being.”
IT COULD happen in no other industry.
Manchester City will pay £50,000 of Craig Bellamy’s £85,000 weekly salary while he is on a season-long loan to Cardiff City.
A multinational would not pay most of the wages of an executive to work for a rival for a year. In football, it is commonplace, an accepted practice.
There is nothing wrong with the principal of the loan system, but the receiving club should pay all of the player’s wages. Cardiff could not afford all of Bellamy’s salary, City is desperate to offload him as he is surplus to its requirements, so a deal was quickly agreed.
Motherwell isn’t pleased — it is still owed £175,000 plus interest by Cardiff for Paul Quinn, who joined the Championship club a year ago.
Cardiff, which has survived four winding-up orders in the past six months, says Motherwell, can afford to pay Bellamy £35,000 a week but not clear its debt for Quinn (just over a month’s wages of the Wales captain) though Cardiff said the matter would be settled “quickly.”
Tottenham, Everton and Fulham were also interested in Bellamy, a superb player whose skill is too often overshadowed by his temper. City would not loan the striker to a rival club, so Bellamy joined his hometown team which is delighted with the coup.
Not for the first — or last — time has Bellamy divided opinion.
Spurs manager Harry Redknapp called Bellamy’s move to Cardiff “a waste of an outstanding player” and there is certainly something wrong with a system that allows a club to pay for one of its players to play for another.
Even more puzzling are payments to agents. Football League clubs paid £12.7 million to middlemen last season for various deals. It seems logical that if an agent negotiates a contract with a club for a player, then the player pays his fee.
Not on Planet Football. The club pays.
So an agent pushes a club to the limit to pay his client more than it would ideally like and for that the club pays him a handsome fee. Nice work if you can get it, but how football has allowed this situation to continue is baffling to say the least.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for theLondon Daily Telegraph.