by Rob Shepherd.
Paul Scholes rarely spoke to the press when he played for Manchester United or England.
He didn’t seem to like or trust the media at all.
Ironically, he now earns a living from the industry in print and on TV, he can’t stop making sweeping statements or acerbic critiques of individuals.
Often, it makes the very sort of engaging copy he once apparently despised.
But one of the reasons to employ an ex-pro player is that they offer insight and perspective. Or at least it’s supposed to be.
Last week, though, Scholes jumped on the knee-jerk bandwagon of demeaning the standard of English football on the basis the three remaining Premier League teams were knocked out of the Champions League.
The hyperbole suggested the Premier League game is falling behind the rest of Europe in terms of quality.
I hear the argument that the Premier League is over hyped….but let’s just have a reality check here.
Chelsea and Arsenal were eliminated on the basis of the antiquated away goals rule. Manchester City lost to an outstanding Barcelona team who continue to be inspired by the astonishing Messi.
Put Messi into the City team and they would have won the tie.
And another thing – when it comes to knockout football there are game changing moments which often boil down to luck or fortune. Had Arsenal scored a third in the closing minutes in Monaco to win 3-0 and so go through – and they came agonisingly close – the narrative would be a tad different.
Let’s not forget the decisive away goal in the first leg that took Monaco through was scored because of a silly individual error by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had inspired Arsenal back into the game at the Emirates.
Agreed, there may be something deeper about Arsene Wenger’s approach having failed at this stage of the CL for five successive seasons.
But that should not be a slight on the standard of the Premier League, which by the way has a pretty strong cosmopolitan influence.
In Chelsea’s case, they were outdone by a PSG team who don’t suffer much stress week-to-week in the French League.
Indeed perhaps one of the main reasons four (the maximum thus the best allowance) English teams have all gone out of the Champions League before the quarter-finals is they may have been drained by the demands of the Premier League, which is certainly more competitive from top to bottom than any other league in the world.
Scholes should know that.
He should know that in knockout football sometimes shit happens. Like in 2004, when United had a goal wrongly disallowed at Old Trafford and then in stoppage time Francisco Costinha notched a goal that took Porto into the quarter finals just when it seemed United would prevail on away goals.
It was, you might recall, the night a certain Jose Mourinho announced himself to the world with his touchline celebration.
Porto went on to beat Monaco in the final. And a previously unknown Mourinho..?
Well, you know that story. But what if Scholes’s goal had stood.
Over the course of a 38 game season Chelsea are better than PSG, Arsenal are better than Monaco and, yes, when Messi plays, Barca are better than City.
But in cup football form goes out of the window – the FA Cup taught us that a century ago.
There is also the aspect that the knockout stage of the Champions League comes just at a time when the Premier League is hitting critical mass.
After all how many BIG games do Monaco, PSG or Barcelona face in a season?
So the real debate, especially from the people who are meant to know – ie, ex-pros like Scholes – is should the Premier League introduce a two-week winter break?
That would surely help the cause of English clubs in Europe and the England national team.
Oh, and by the way, Scholes’ latest statement is that Real Madrid would win the Premier League by 10-15 points.
It would be great to put it to the test but as it stands such a statement is just another soundbyte guesstimate.