Very rarely does a footballer get such high praise from his peers, but Paul Scholes was different.
He was the midfield maestro who spent his entire professional career – apart from a match for Royston Town – at Manchester United in one of the most dominant English teams in Premier League history.
The 47-year-old midfielder today won 11 Premier League titles, just part of his incredible move of 25 trophies during a brilliant career under Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford.
A total of 718 games and 155 goals make him an undisputed legend in United, but the statistics do not tell the whole story.
He was about as complete a midfielder as one could find in the game. His range of passes was out of this world, he could hit a volley in the top corner out of the box, he could dictate matches from midfield and even make a tackle even though he got 97 Premier League yellow cards.
His goals against Bradford, Aston Villa and Barcelona come to mind when thinking of ‘classic’ Scholes.
He even scored 20 goals in a single season in the 2003/04 campaign, perhaps not so surprising when you consider that he played further forward than he had done in his younger days.
And like teammate Roy Keane, he showed his commitment to the club over his own individual match with his performance against Juventus in their 1998/99 semi-final match, where he was given a reservation, which meant he was suspended for the historic final, just to ensure United won.
Scholes was nominated for the Ballon d’Or five times, but did not receive a single vote each time and may never receive the personal accolades that befit a player of his talent.
But he was respected by his peers perhaps more than any other player in recent times.
Zinedine Zidane was without a doubt one of the most talented players of his generation for both club and country.
When he was once asked, “how does it feel to be the best player in the world?” Zidane reportedly replied, “I do not know, ask Paul Scholes.”
In a separate interview, he said: “There’s no doubt to me that Paul Scholes is still in a class of his own. He’s almost motionless in what he does. I never get tired of watching him play.
“You rarely come across the complete football player, but Scholes is as close to it as you can get. One of my regrets is that the opportunity to play with him never presented itself during my career.”
He is not the only legendary midfielder who would have wished he had played alongside Scholes. Barcelona icon and current Man City boss Pep Guardiola said: “Out of everyone at Manchester United, I would choose Scholes – he is the best midfielder of his generation.
“I would love to have played with him.”
The Barcelona team from the 2000s were all conquering and revolutionized in many ways the game with Xavi and Andres Iniesta dominating the midfield.
The two were hailed as the best of their generation, but Xavi argued that the recognition should have gone to the Man United man.
He said: “In the last 15 to 20 years, the best central midfielder I’ve seen – the most complete – is Scholes. I’ve talked to Xabi Alonso about this many times.
“Scholes is a spectacular player who has everything. He can play the last pass, he can score, he is strong, he is never hit by the ball and he does not give possession away. If he had been Spanish, he might have been appreciated more. ”
Maybe a little dig there about the way he was used on the English team, which was often used on the left to accommodate Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard in central midfield.
They were not the only icons of their generation who sang Scholes praises.
Luis Figo said: “I get star-struck when I see Paul Scholes because you never see him. On the pitch you can not catch him. Out of the pitch he disappears.”
The Brazilian great Ronaldinho said: “I want to pass like him. Who taught him how to do it?”
Those inside Old Trafford knew how special a player he was and for all the greats on that team; Ryan Giggs, Andy Cole, David Beckham, Peter Schmeichel, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and others, Scholes were often hailed as the best.
“He is always one of those people that others talk about, ”said David Beckham. “Even when they play for Real Madrid, the players always say to me, ‘how is he’? They respect him as a footballer and see him as the ultimate.”
Only Giggs and Bobby Charlton played more matches for Man United than Scholes – two exceptional players.
But Charlton branded the Scholes as possibly the very best footballer ever, let alone the United player.
He said: “I do not hesitate to name the embodiment of all that I think is best about football. It’s Paul Scholes. Many great players have worn Manchester United’s jersey. Players I adored then lost with my youth in Munich.
“Players like Denis Law and George Best that I enjoyed so much as teammates, and now finally players I’ve been following closely in the Alex Ferguson era. And in so many ways, Scholes is my favorite.
“I love his awareness and conviction that he will find a way to win, get the killer to pass or produce the decisive volley. When a game reaches a vital stage, those qualities seem to come out of all his pores.
“He’s always on the ball and always facing goals. He’s always looking to bring other people into the action, and if he loses possession, you think he must be sick.”
Scholes avoided the limelight that came with being a top football player and focused solely on his job on the pitch.
He has since been a regular TV expert and had a brief stint as manager of Oldham, but it lasted only seven games.
Scholes will be remembered as one of the greatest of his generation, whom his peers aspired to be like.