Tom Pope: I was there when Paul Scholes made his Man Utd debut at Port Vale



Paul Scholes takes charge of Salford today and we’ll be looking for a better result than when he made his Manchester United debut at Vale Park.

That League Cup game, in 1994, has become quite famous because a few of United’s brilliant young players got a run out before the wider football world knew much about them.

I was there watching the game with my dad in the Paddock and, like I think every other Vale fan, I fancied our chances when I saw their team.

Don’t forget the Vale had a really good side back then so, when we saw United weren’t playing their established players, we thought we’d got every chance of turning them over. Like everyone else, I was disappointed with their line up. I expected all the superstars to play up so when a load of kids turned up – Gary Neville, David Beckham and Paul Scholes– I was thinking, who are these!

But once the game started you could see that, hang on, these players are good.

Mind you, lots of top flight teams have good under-21s players and so can field decent sides in the Trophy nowadays. So, even though they beat us 2-1, we weren’t to know that United’s kids would go on to dominate the Premier League and win title after title.

But everybody has to start somewhere and, looking back, we were just lucky to be the first to see them on that night at Vale Park.   

Paul Scholes played almost as a striker on that night and, early in his career, made his name as a goalscoring midfielder, playing in the number 10 role and scoring plenty of goals.

But he ended up being the playmaker, sitting in midfield and setting the tempo. That was very rare even in an era when we had some quality midfielders.

Frank Lampard was brilliant at arriving in the box and scoring goals but I wouldn’t see him in a deeper role like Scholes converted to.

Then my favourite was Steven Gerrard who could do everything – score, assist, pass, tackle and had such a will to win that he could single handedly drag his team through a cup final.

But Scholes was probably the first player we’d had for a very long time who could really dictate a game on his own.

If he wanted to speed the game up, he would spray it about quickly, if he wanted to slow it down he would just keep the ball ticking over.

He controlled the pace of the game. It is something you see more now that teams play a more possession-based game rather than going a bit longer. But I hadn’t seen anyone do it as well as Scholes and the way he adapted over his career showed what a good player he was.

Having said all that, I am surprised that Graham Alexander lost his job as Salford manager, which is why Scholes is in temporary charge this afternoon.

I know Salford conceded two late goals to draw at home to Tranmere last weekend but they are still unbeaten in the league. But I think they wanted to get promoted last season so maybe he was under pressure from the start.

Salford were my favourites to win the league at the start of the season and I still think they will do it.

They have the strongest and best squad so are best placed to cope with dips in form, injuries or, as we are seeing with a few clubs, players having to miss games because they are isolating because of the coronavirus situation.

We know we are going to have to be better than we were against Carlisle last week. No excuses, we were poor.

We started brightly and should have been in front, but when you don’t put your chances away then it saps the life out of you.

It just wasn’t good enough, from back to front everybody had an off day and if you are not at it in this division then you’re not going to win.





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