Now that Scholes' Testimonial is over the great man can get on with slipping into the background and being the quiet genius Untied fans have known, loved and cheered for since he broke into the first team. A lot of ink (the stuff that gets on your fingertips and the virtual kind) has been used in eulogising Scholes the player and then speaking of how Sir Alex and United may/could/can’t replace him. The reason is even harder once you dig deeper into just what Scholes brought to the team down the years.
The problem isn’t that Scholes was such an amazing talent that he can’t be replaced (let’s put aside the asinine side of the argument of replacing players like-for-like) is that everyone seems to have focused on the latest reincarnation of the Scholes whilst remembering the previous versions. But let us look at them individually.
Scholes 1.0 – Breaking into the first team as a striker/second-striker, Scholes’ talents for scoring goals was never in doubt but it is widely regarded as not the version people think the club need to replace. Considering the team has Rooney and (probably?) Berbatov who both can play this role means that a Scholes 1.0 wouldn’t do the squad any good right now.
Scholes 2.0 – Pulled back into the midfield alongside a workhorse partner (see Keane/Butt), this Scholes was the Attacking Midfielder supreme. Capable of charging forward at the very last minute to score bullet goals while able to spray a quality ball around if a little magic was required. So is a Scholes 2.0 what the team needs? Not really, no. The Scholes 2.0 was perfect for a 4-4-2 formation, namely the type of central midfield which had two players needing to do a little of everything. It’s no real surprise that in the biggest games when things were tight, Sir Alex (Alex back then) would sometimes swap out the more attacking Scholes 2.0 for a more solid foundation of a Keane-Butt combo. Don’t believe me? Look at almost any United-Arsenal fixture 98-00 and as long as my memory isn’t failing me, you’ll see what I mean. Yet this raises the issue of the main weakness of the Scholes 2.0 and something Chelsea and England have to experience with their Scholes 2.0 variant called Lampard. Without the perfect partner alongside him, the Scholes 2.0 created as many holes for the defence as he would exploit for the attack.
Scholes 3.0 – This Scholes began to cut back on his attacking thrusts and was being reprogrammed into becoming a far more playmaking midfielder. Whether it was spraying passes from the wide positions when Veron was in the side, in the midfield Trequartista/Number 10 role behind a certain Dutchman or still in a more central position this is the Scholes which most pundits are saying the squad are crying out for. This Scholes was the Xavia, Iniesta and a little bit of Thiago of the United side.
Scholes 4.0 – A far more deeper Scholes variation and the last upgrade before his retirement. If Scholes 3.0 was the Trequartista then Scholes 4.0 was the Regista without the tackling. With everyone else around him doing the leg work, Scholes 4.0 would pull the strings of the team with his Sat Nav passes and still manage to pop up with the occasional goal. Barcelona second leg in 2008 anyone?
And so the question isn’t who can United get to replace Scholes but which Scholes is needed by the team? However there is another, far more important, question requiring an answer before United can consider which Scholes version they want to replace. That being how is Sir Alex looking to set the team up? Because looking at a potential front six of Fletcher and Carrick/Anderson sitting with Valencia – Rooney – Young/Nani flanking Hernandez there should be an argument that the team and squad may not even (and whisper this softly) need to replace Scholes.
Blasphemous? Consider this. If Fletcher manages to retain his fitness, or even a replacement for Fletcher is brought in, then you have some solid (if unspectacular) steel being partnered by a passer of the ball in Carrick or an energetic Brazilian Bunny in Anderson. Either combination is capable of protecting the back four when working together AND rotating possession to either the attacking wingers or Rooney who can pull the strings for Chicharito to put the goals away. It wouldn’t always be spectacular, there wouldn’t be as much magic in midfield, but the chemistry of each piece of the puzzle would be enough to at least continue to challenge/win the League. And in this setup there begs the question where would a Scholes, any Scholes, fit in?
United have the unenviable task of attempting to replace a man who has been four players in one for the club while having the ideal squad setup to do away with his tactical position if a replacement is unavailable. Perhaps the Ferguson tactical revolution has one more turn of the wheel to come.