In the second in our series of Legends, we've continued the Best of British theme from our sale. Who else could we have chosen, but Paul Scholes...
The Premier League has earned its reputation as the world's most entertaining for a number of reasons. There is the speed of play, the energy of the game, the passion of the fans and the commitment of the players. But on technical terms, it's often been regarded as inferior to La Liga and Serie A.
The same things that the league has been praised for, though, have been used to criticise the kind of players the country produces. Occasionally, the mould is broken. Jack Wilshere and Wayne Rooney, in recent years, are England players that wouldn't look out of place in the red of Spain. But before them, there was Paul Scholes.
That's not to say the Oldham schemer didn't embody some of the cherished aspects of our game. In a Manchester United shirt, there were few who have given more to the cause than Scholes. But he combined it with a once in a generation elegance, vision and class that drew praise from other legends of the game.
Sir Bobby Charlton, who many consider to be the greatest United player of all, described Scholes as "in many ways my favourite United player." Xavi Hernandez, arguably the most talented midfielder in the world, said: "In the last 15 to 20 years the best midfielder that I have seen - the most complete - is Scholes. Scholes is a spectacular player who has everything."
High praise indeed, but not unwarranted. Scholes started and finished his career at Old Trafford and over the course of 17 years, won every club honour in the game.
His breathtaking range of passing, clever movement, eye for goal and the general intelligence of his play were instrumental in the helping restore the glory days to Manchester United. Alongside the bite of Roy Keane, the darting runs of Ryan Giggs and the devastating impact of Cristiano Ronaldo, Scholes has been ever present, quietly and graciously earning plaudits.
The toils of the England national side at major tournaments have been frustrating for many, but the retirement of Scholes from the international game at an early age should be a source of chagrin for everyone.
In an attempt to accommodate both Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in the midfield, Scholes was shunted out on the left wing by Sven-Goran Eriksson. This 'square pegs in round holes' formula failed (under successive managers) and when Scholes announced his international retirement at only 29 in 2004, many attributed it to this perceived oversight.
When Fabio Capello asked Scholes to reconsider his decision in time for the 2010 World Cup, it was just desserts for the most talented midfielder of his generation. Scholes, though, stuck to his guns; dogged as ever.
He retired after the 2011 Champions League Final defeat to Barcelona after scoring 150 goals in 676 games for United and 14 in 66 for England. Sir Alex Ferguson's search to replace him starts now, but it remains to be seen whether he will ever find anyone to fill the gap left behind by the little ginger kid from Oldham.