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Feature: Scholes’ Clandestine Return

“I’d no boots. Went to the local JJB Sports, they were forty quid, I thought that was expensive.”

Manchester City v Manchester United - FA Cup Third Round
Paul Scholes in action against Micah Richards in his comeback match with Manchester United, a 3rd Round FA Cup tie against bitter rivals Manchester City in January 2012.
Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

At the end of 2011, after several months out of the game post-retirement, Paul Scholes was bitten by the bug once again.

“I came back in September with Warren Joyce and the U23s and I was training every day,” Scholes told DAZN.

“I felt as fit as I’d probably ever had done after having four months off – it was just the break I needed. I said to Joyce that I wanted to play again – I just wanted to play.

“Where it was I didn’t care. I didn’t expect United to want me back. I spoke to Phil Neville and he said: ‘Come and play for Everton’.

“I’ve never really wanted to play for anyone else or be involved with any other club but if that was the only option I had then I might have done it, I don’t know.”

Throughout 2011 Scholes had rejected requests from Sir Alex Ferguson to extend his career, however after four months off, he was feeling the fittest he’d been in years and was raring to get back into it.

Scholes in the meantime was working with the U23 side and the Academy in a coaching capacity at Carrington, the club’s training facility, and had even started training with the first team.

He never wanted to break his record as a one club man but admits he would have as he never expected for one minute that Ferguson would have him back at 36 after, by now, seven months out of the game.

But Scholes would go on to speak with Mike Phelan, Ferguson’s assistant, about a possible comeback.

Manchester City v Manchester United - FA Cup Third Round
Scholes coming on against Manchester City, stood on the Etihad touchline sharing a joke with Mike Phelan, whom he’d first spoken to at United about returning.
Photo by John Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

“The next step had to be Mike Phelan. I must have spoken to him at 7.30 in the morning because I was so nervous the night before waiting to see what he thought. And he thought it was a great idea,” said Scholes.

“Then there’s only one more person to get through which was the most important. As soon as I saw Mick I went to see the manager and told him I want to play again. I said that I feel fit and I feel okay and [he said]: ‘Do you want to play here or do you want to go somewhere else?’.

“There’s no way I wanted to go somewhere else. He said: ‘Right I’ll sort your contract out’, and that was within 5 minutes. He was on the phone to David Gill and I think it was the next day I signed for another six months.

“And then you think ‘What have I done?’. He brought me into the squad to play Man City in the FA Cup. He told me not to tell anybody and the players had absolutely no idea.

“My wife knew and I think I might have told my dad but nobody else knew.

“We get to the ground on the Sunday and my kit is there. I actually couldn’t get any boots. They couldn’t know I was playing.

“If I asked for a real pair from Nike then they’d know something was going on. I went to the local JJB Sports store and I think they were £40 at the time, which I thought was quite expensive.”

Everyone was shocked to see Scholes named amongst the substitutes for the big derby Cup-tie.

He came off he bench just before the hour-mark, and helped injury-hit United, 3-0 up at the time, to manage out the victory, even though City reduced the arrears to 3-2 before the finish.

Manchester United v Swansea City - Premier League
Ferguson had no doubt when a nervous Scholes informed him he wanted to reverse his decision on retirement. He was proven right. They each helped United to deliver another title.
Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

Speaking on TV before the game, Ferguson said: “He came to see me and said he wanted to come back, he was missing it too much. There were no negatives as far as I’m concerned. The players were fantastic about it, the fans I’m sure will be happy and I’m happy.”

The manager was in no doubt it was the correct decision to select him today. “No doubt about that. That’s why he’s on the bench. Everyone knows he’s one of the greatest players in Manchester United’s history.

“He’s a fantastic footballer and there’s no loss to his real fitness which is important. He’s sometimes missed three or four months with injuries, so it’s more more or less the same kind of scenario.”

Paul Scholes played on the following season for United too and won the Premier League title, his 11th throughout a sparkling club career. And his opening goal in the second-half of a 4-0 romp over Wigan Athletic meant he’d scored in 19 successive seasons in the Premier league.