Paul Scholes on his frustrations with Manchester United transfer business, Paul Pogba and Jose Mourinho
After Manchester United’s ‘disastrous’ preseason, Paul Scholes tells the South China Morning Post that ‘you wonder what happened over the summer’ with transfer policy, and that Jose Mourinho must get more from his squad
Paul Scholes is hoping for a quick break before being told he has one more interview, with the South China Morning Post. It’s understandable – he’s barely had a chance to relax having been whisked to the Four Seasons Hotel straight from Hong Kong International Airport after his delayed flight landed late on Wednesday afternoon.
The Manchester United icon is in the city as an ambassador for Hong Kong start-up Soccer Legends’ new US$27 million blockchain initiative “433 Token”, where fans can sponsor players like Scholes to mentor the next generation of stars using cryptocurrency.
The 11-time Premier League champion and two-time Champions League winner had joked around with two young local footballers on stage when he finally arrived for a press conference in the fourth-floor ballroom at the Central hotel.
“We’ll have to get a Manchester United soccer school over here,” Scholes says to laughs from the audience, when one of the players he is mentoring tells him he’s a Chelsea fan because he played at a Chelsea soccer school in Hong Kong.
Youth football is something close to Scholes’ heart. He came through the United academy with the famed “Class of ‘92” generation that conquered all alongside David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Gary and Phil Neville, and Nicky Butt.
“To support young players is something I’m really interested in,” he tells the South China Morning Post. “To be able to mentor a young player, to help with their youth development throughout their football is great. But also its important they become good people as well, I’ll help as much as I can.”
The conversation inevitably turns to his beloved United, whom Scholes has not been afraid to criticise since retiring in 2013 and becoming a refreshingly outspoken television pundit.
Scholes was a keen observer of the young academy players that got a run out on United’s preseason tour of the United States, in the absence of a large contingent of senior players who were still on their post-World Cup holidays.
“I think it was a difficult tour for most of the squad, they didn’t perform as well as they would’ve liked but preseason is difficult,” Scholes says.
“You’re playing your first two or three games, you’re getting your fitness back. There were some talented young players in that squad there but you have to look who they’re playing against.
“AC Milan, Real Madrid … it’s not gonna be easy. Demi Mitchell did well when I saw him, Tahith Chong looks like an exciting player, Axel Tuanzebe too.
“Will they get a chance in the first team? Possibly in League Cup games, but other than that I think a lot of them will be loaned out to further their development.
Asked how he felt United’s preseason went ahead of their opening Premier League game against Leicester on Friday, Scholes pauses and laughs.
“A little bit disastrous to be honest with you,” he says. United drew 1-1 with Club America and 0-0 with San Jose Earthquakes, beat AC Milan on penalties, lost 4-1 to Liverpool, beat Real Madrid 2-1 then lost 1-0 to Bayern Munich.
“It’s always going to be messy after a World Cup. Players are just coming back in dribs and drabs. You don’t know where you’re at really.
“I think even the first couple of weeks of the season is a little bit messy after that. But every team’s in the same position. You deal with that and handle it.
“It all starts on Friday night now. They [United] have to make sure they’re ready for that. Preseason is gone. As long as the lads are fit and ready to go then they should be OK.”
Mourinho cut a grumpy figure on United’s tour of the US, and said “finally it’s over” after returning from their last preseason game in Germany.
Many have interpreted his foul mood as an attempt to get United chief Ed Woodward to open his chequebook for additional transfers.
“I think he’s [Mourinho] angling for a couple more signings all the time,” Scholes says. “They’ve still got a little bit more time I suppose to do some business.
“But you wonder what happened over the summer. The season ends in May – surely you can get your business done quickly and they haven’t managed to do that, which will be frustrating for him, of course it will.
“But you’ve also got to remember he’s got a squad of really talented players and he needs to work with them. You look through his squad and there’s a real talented group there that he should be getting more out of.”
After two years steadying the ship, Mourinho enters a make-or-break season and the Portuguese boss sent a less than subtle hint to Woodward when he said United will be “in trouble” at the start of the season.
“He [Mourinho] needs to get United closer to Manchester City, no doubt about that,” Scholes says. “It won’t be easy, and Liverpool have improved as well.
“It’s almost like your worst nightmare, Man City and Liverpool being as good as they are. But that’s his job, he’s got to get Man United back to where they belong.
“But you’d have to say there’s more competition than ever now, more than when we were playing. We always used to be fighting against one team, usually.
“Now there seems to be two, three, four teams who could potentially win the league.”
One player seemingly crucial to United’s hopes of a title challenge this season is Paul Pogba. The Frenchman has failed to consistently fire at club level since his £89.3 million (US$114.8 million) move from Juventus in 2016, and has a testy relationship with Mourinho.
British media reports claim Pogba wants to leave Old Trafford for the second time, with Barcelona his preferred destination this summer.
“I’m not really bothered about speculation,” Scholes says. “If the player wants to leave, if the manager wants him to go, let him go.
“If he doesn’t want to be at your football club … It’s OK me saying that, but I know Jose will want to keep him, with the qualities he has.
“He’s not shown it in a United shirt yet, and I think he should be determined to get United to a better place himself.
“As a player, rather than thinking ‘I wanna get away from here’, he needs to prove to the people in Manchester that he’s a good player.”
Pogba looked a different player under Didier Deschamps while helping France to World Cup glory this summer.
“People keep saying that – I know they won the World Cup … but I don’t think he was amazing for France,” Scholes says.
“I just think he was steady. He was good obviously, but I don’t think he shone as one of the best players in the France team.
“He was very much like that with Manchester United last year, you know – inconsistent. One game he’s fantastic, two or three games he’s very quiet.
“And if he’s going to become that next level midfield player which he should be, he needs to be doing it more often.
The Premier League transfer deadline looms at 5pm BST on Thursday, and Woodward is desperately trying to deliver at least one centre back for Mourinho.
Leicester’s Harry Maguire, who shone with England at the World Cup, has been linked while Toby Alderweireld of Tottenham, Bayern Munich’s Jerome Boateng and Barcelona’s Yerry Mina are also thought to be targets.
Scholes thinks a different position should be the priority, though.
“I’ve said for years, I think a Luka Modric or a Toni Kroos,” Scholes says. “I think they really miss that type of player that links the team together, controls play from the middle of the pitch, that can pick a pass or score a goal.
“They’ve got good midfield players in Pogba and Fred, he looks good but I’ve only seen him a couple of times. Nemanja Matic has great experience.
“But that real player in midfield who makes a difference to a team, I really think they’re lacking that at the minute.”