Handballs and Handballs – some perspective on Paul Scholes and Manchester United

As handballs go, Paul Scholes vs Zenit St Petersburg was as clear as staring into the sun.

Regardless of what the situation was at the time (United losing, clock running down, no clear path to a comeback in sight, etc etc) you can’t excuse one of your senior-most players spiking the ball into the opposition’s net (even if he did a half-decent job of it).

But you know what? I laughed. I laughed when I saw it in real-time and I laughed again when I saw it in slow-motion. In fact, here it is again on YouTube – please play the video below and watch it again; I hope you’ll find it as absurdly funny and tragic as I did:

John O’Shea even came over to celebrate in reflex – which says a bit about his powers of deduction (I guess loyalty has its price) but the expression on Scholesy’s face and that on other United players tells you a lot more.

They’d lost. They had nowhere to turn. They were desperate.

Now you could take this and say: United are a spent force, United aren’t winning this season, omg United are finished!

You could call Scholes a cheater and ignore in a heartbeat what the player has done in the last 15 years for Manchester United and football.


You can look at the facts:

This Manchester United team is, quite frankly, better than the squad we had four months ago when we were winning everything in England and Europe. They’re more mature, they have the best manager in English footballing history egging them on to an unprecedented defence of their Champions League title, and they have quality young players in Fabio, Rafael, Campbell and Possebon to give them more depth in the upcoming season.

Paul Scholes is, as Ferguson has said countless times in the past, the best player they have, in training and on the pitch, and if he does have his rash moments then for Manchester United it’s a price they pay for glorious moments, from exquisite passes to relentless midfield domination to that peach of a goal that took United to the Champions League final. You don’t get a player capable of playing at the top level for 15 years without having good and bad in him – you could fault Roy Keane for his rashness but what you couldn’t find was a fault in his ability – and it’s pretty much the same with Scholes.

The players were gutted to be losing in Monaco. They were frustrated and unfortunately it boiled over with Scholes doing something absurd. He lost his head – and although United probably wouldn’t have won even if he’d stayed, it’s something that he should be reprimanded for and disciplined internally.

That’s about it. We lost. It wasn’t a meaningless trophy – although it does seem that way from outside, but as those who win little will tell you, winning anything is better than losing. We were poor, and Zenit were the better team.

Does it mean we’re finished? Not to sound trite, but if you take out half the starting lineup from any team and put them against one of the better sides in Europe you’re going to struggle. 7 times out of 10 United would have scored early and then it would have been a different game. It wasn’t, but it doesn’t change what this squad has achieved in the last two years nor does it change the fact that this is a better team than what we had in 06/07.

Does it means Scholes is a dirty player who cheats all the time? It’s easy to point at the number of yellow cards he gets, say that he should’ve learned to tackle by now and just deal in black and white, but here’s the thing: Scholes messed up in a crucial situation. He often doesn’t, but he did. He’d be the first person to raise his hand (excuse the pun) and admit his fault, and then he’d get down to training for the next game. He’s not perfect, not in his tackling and last night, not in his judgment.

But if you’re going to point fingers, I’d strongly advise you to look at players who deliberately look to deceive opponents and referees. Scholes tackles hard and gets a yellow every now and then, and sometimes (like in Roma some time back) it comes back to bite us in the ass, but he doesn’t go in looking to hurt players, he doesn’t flop in the box pretending to be shot and he doesn’t (usually) use his hands when his head might have been enough.

It’s a rare mistake. His service to United and to football deserves more respect, especially from those who live by the word of the tabloids.

A couple of questions to finish this off:

One, what are we going to do about Owen Hargreaves? I’m resisting the urge to go Postal on Daniel Taylor but regardless of what he’s played it as, the fact remains that Hargo himself pulled out of the Super Cup final rather than Ferguson resting him as a precaution. Hopefully it’s a good thing and he’s raring to go for the Liverpool game (because I don’t think Carrick will be fully fit at that point), because the more he keeps getting injured and not playing on a regular basis, the worse it is for his future as a player. The comparisons with Saha are a bit quick but in 6 months if it isn’t sorted out then they will be on the spot and we don’t want to go through that all over again, do we?

Two, why not play Wes Brown at right-back? Please, if anything, the boy deserves it.

Three, in my opinion the only reason Scholesy’s handball is being made to look bad is because it was bloody obvious. I found it a bit sad, and obviously disappointing, but what are you going to do? He didn’t get away with it and it’s good for the mob to cheer about that, but what about the handballed goals that get caught on video replays but officials do nothing about them?

If you want to talk handballs, then let’s talk about all the handballs that don’t get caught in real-time and players who get away with goals every season because of them.

Some muppets are suggesting that he should have gotten a straight red and get a longer-term ban. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if UEFA decided to ‘look into it’ and gave him a 3 game ban. It was dumb and Scholes should know better. But really, to turn this into a ‘Scholes is a cheat’ and the loss into ‘United are in decline’ is a bit over the top.

Or are we going to turn this into something as big as the Gallas v Birmingham incident and make this the ‘turning point’ in United’s season?

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