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Old Trafford, August 2003. Paul Scholes and his wife, Claire, are making a rare public appearance at a fundraising dinner for the National Asthma Campaign in a suite at the stadium. The Manchester United midfielder is nervous. 'sugar!' he says. 'I don't have to get up and say a few words, do I? And with a microphone? What do I do?'

Scholes is renowned for being a master on the field who shows no reticence in bossing his team-mates around but who is Trappist-like away from the game.

'My wife has asthma, as does Paul, so I know all about it,' says Eric Harrison, the lauded coach of the famous United youth team that included Scholes, the Neville brothers, Nicky Butt and David Beckham. 'It's well down the pecking order when it comes to raising money. The campaign people contacted me, but it was a non-starter without Paul.

'I was a bit concerned about asking him because he's so shy. But Paul agreed without hesitation. I told him to bring his wife, Claire, and although he was happy to help, you could see he was worried. When they arrived at around six that evening Paul said, "What do I have to do?" I told him he was on the top table for the dinner. That got him going. "I'm not!" he said. I had to say to him, "Paul, you are, all you have to do is take a few questions, and answer them". He did it, and did it well. They raised £22,000 on the night and that was all down to Paul and his wife. And he never even had a go at me for getting him there.'

On Wednesday the lad from Salford has a chance to take centre stage on the pitch - as he did by scoring the stunning goal that defeated Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals - by winning the only club trophy missing from a stellar career. Scholes - a 'football genius' to Harrison, a sad loss to England head coach Fabio Capello because of his self-imposed international retirement, and the man rated number one in English football by Patrick Vieira, Rio Ferdinand and many more - is a certain starter for United against Chelsea in Moscow.

He famously missed United's 1999 triumph against Bayern Munich through suspension. Scholes had come on as a 68th-minute substitute in the second leg of the semi-final against Juventus as Sir Alex Ferguson sought to protect him from the booking that would lead to him being suspended from the final. But Scholes's tackling failed him again and he was shown the dreaded yellow card.

This time, though, Scholes has already been promised a starting place by Ferguson. United's manager may be less gruff than the public persona allows, but the Scot is hardly sentimental. Ryan Giggs's 10 Premier League titles are not apparently enough to take him off the bench. Yet the Welshman, along with all his team-mates, is happy that Scholes is guaranteed a start.

When Beckham was at Real Madrid, he confirmed that Scholes was the most admired opponent in a dressing room boasting Zinedine Zidane, Luís Figo and Roberto Carlos. And, asked to name the best in a United squad that includes Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, this is Ferdinand's verdict: 'For me, it's Paul Scholes. He'll do ridiculous things in training like say, "You see that tree over there?" - it'll be 40 yards away - "I'm going to hit it". And he'll do it. Everyone at the club considers him the best.'

He is also the most reticent. Scholes, who earns £75,000 a week, has never, unless prompted by club or country, granted a one-on-one interview. The one endorsement he has allowed himself - a boot deal with Nike - is unusual in that it carries few public obligations. 'He's been with us for years,' a Nike executive tells Observer Sport. 'For us, association is enough. If you go around the world, he is one of the only players not asked to do public appointments. He's a shy guy, but that's fine.'

Paul Aaron Scholes was born on 16 November 1974 in Salford. He has a younger sister, Joanne, and happily married parents. His father, Stewart, was, according to Mike Coffey, the former United scout who taught Scholes at Cardinal Langley High School and who persuaded him to join the club, 'a superb footballer who played locally in Middleton into his forties'.

The family lived on the large Langley estate and Scholes grew up watching football on the terraces at Oldham's Boundary Park. 'His hero was Frankie Bunn, the Oldham Athletic striker,' Coffey says. 'He is an Oldham nut and it wouldn't surprise me if at 36, or whenever he's finished at United, Paul plays for them.'

Coffey, who scouted for United between 1985 and 1999, says Scholes was not academic. 'Paul is football crazy. I've followed him since I took his first-year team all the way through. And while Paul is not very socially confident, give him a group of lads, a football and he's certainly not quiet.'

After joining Oldham as an 11-year-old, Scholes played in a Boundary Park Juniors team that included the Neville brothers and Butt. When Coffey recommended him to Brian Kidd, who helped Harrison at United, he had to pull Scholes into his office and persuade him to join. 'He was very reluctant and took a couple of days to be convinced.'

Harrison says that the first time he saw Scholes - then nearly 15 - at the Cliff, United's former training ground, he was impressed. 'Brian Kidd said to me, "He's only tiny, he's got ginger hair - you'll probably have a bit of a giggle. But he can't half play". He was tiny. David Beckham was as small then, too, but Scholes is still the same size. Not that it matters, he has no real pace, no strength, but he is clever and has quick feet. Like all creative players who can pass he scores spectacular goals, but he also scores them from everywhere - headers, tap-ins and long shots. If David Beckham had not taken all the free-kicks, imagine how many more Paul would have got.'

Harrison adds: 'That youth side played on a Saturday morning. We called it the Dream Team. It attracted a fair crowd and their favourite was Scholes. And remember, United fans have been brought up on players like Duncan Edwards - they're not stupid. The standard was as good as first-team training. And the manager saw Paul and knew about him.'

Where did Harrison play him? 'He scored so many goals, the further up the better. Like Ryan Giggs, we told Paul to go out and perform, while also thinking of the team.'

Scholes was coming into a team who had won the 1992 FA Youth Cup and scored against Leeds in the final in 1993, when the Reds finished as runners-up. United's big stars, including Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce and Eric Cantona, would watch. 'I said to Eric one day, "What's the difference between French youngsters and English youngsters?"' Harrison recalls. 'He said, "Maybe our youngsters receive the ball a little better than your boys". Well, Paul is one of the best receivers still today.'

Scholes, who in 2006 had a career-threatening eye injury - 'I spoke to him then and it did worry him,' Harrison says - also suffered from Osgood-Schlatter disease, a knee problem that affects younger players. 'He had to sit out training and was not a happy chappy at all with me.

'He missed a lot of football and it might have held him back a bit at that critical stage. But,' Harrison recalls with a chuckle, 'when he returned he was absolutely lethal.'

Scholes, who enjoys a round of golf and has three children, has won eight League titles, three FA Cups - he scored the second goal in the 1999 final, in United's Treble season - and one League Cup. He was a member of the England Under-18 side that won the 1993 European Championship and, after scoring on his full debut, against Italy in June 1997, memorably dealt with the pressure of replacing the dropped Paul Gascoigne at the 1998 World Cup by scoring a 30-yard cracker against Tunisia in England's opening game.

His international career continued brightly with a hat-trick at Wembley against Poland in March 1999. But that June he became the first and last England player to be shown a red card at the old Wembley, against Sweden.

'He is not as good a tackler as you,' says Chelsea's tough man Michael Essien, with a laugh, of the one accepted flaw in Scholes' game. 'But I really like him. He's a little boy, but the power in that shot... he can really shoot.'

Despite 14 goals in 66 appearances, his England career might be viewed as unfulfilled - it ended following Euro 2004 after he had breached a three-year goal drought. But that is tempered by England's disappointing performance overall since the 1990 World Cup. Retirement came at only 29, seemingly because Sven-Göran Eriksson had shunted Scholes out to the left of midfield, although his public reasons - more family time, and a prolonged club career - have also proved credible. Undoubtedly, though, it was a loss to England. Eriksson and his successors, Steve McClaren and Capello, have all wanted him back.

'I think we were all disappointed because we all know what he can do,' says Micah Richards, the England and Manchester City right-back. 'He's always in the right position, always seems to be at the end of the box when the ball drops in. The complete midfielder - when he's fit, he's the best. Some go missing but he's in the right place at the right time. He's my favourite player of all-time, unbelievable. If you give him a chance it's a goal, isn't it?'

Like any player, Scholes has suffered disappointment. Despite being outplayed, Arsenal won the 2005 FA Cup in the final's first ever penalty shootout when Scholes missed the kick that would have levelled the score at 5-5.
 

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Other than some of his tackles, the only blatant misjudgment of Scholes' sparkling career came in November 2001, during what was arguably his worst season, when Juan Sebastián Verón's arrival meant Ferguson asked him to play as a second striker. Scholes was dropped against Liverpool, then selected in a weakened League Cup team for a trip to Arsenal. Staggeringly, Scholes refused to board the coach. He was fined £80,000 and apparently considered moving. But that was the start and finish of Scholes and controversy.

On Wednesday, at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, he will hope to score his 140th goal in a United shirt. 'It was a fantastic goal,' Ferguson said following Scholes' decisive strike against Barcelona. 'It was a marvellous moment for him. He is one of the great players to come through the ranks here. I don't think we can expect Paul Scholes to score 10 to 15 goals a season as he did when he was younger, but it makes up for all the goals he can't score now because of his age.'

As would the one medal missing from his collection. Roy Keane, who also missed the 1999 triumph in Barcelona, has said he felt more sorry for Scholes than for himself. The pair could only stay up drinking with fans on the eve of the match at Camp Nou, before swallowing their disappointment at having to sit and watch. 'No celebrity hotshot, no self-promotion - an amazingly gifted player who remained an unaffected human being,' Keane wrote in his autobiography.
 

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he is the most underated player amongst opposition fans IMO. he is brilliant, the way he seems to have so much time on the ball is great to watch. he is easily the best 'tempo setter' in the league bar none, the way he gave the whole liverpool team a footballing lesson at OT was simply amazing.
Fabregas still a way to go to match scholes imo.

i think he is/was the best of the 'class of 92' and still is our best player, when he is on form we are unplayable.

Legend.
 

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scholesy apart from being my all time favourite player, is more importantly a very nice humble person totally unspoilt by fame .i wish someone like ronaldo would actually take a leaf out of his book and let his football do the tallking.

unlike th latter scholes is an authentic legend who doesnt go around boasting I am the best but is genuinely loved at united and I for one would put him in the top 3 footballers to have played for united of all time behind best and charlton.;)
 

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Easily the best English Midfielder and yes better than Stevie G and Lampard! Very very gifted passionate ginger nina and very very underated and thats the reason why i've got Scholes 18 at the back of my current United Shirt! Without this guy not much clinical passes played through to Ronaldo, Rooney, Tevez and so on, and turns them into goals.
So thank God we've got Scholesy!
Out of this world!
Very very underated!
 

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I've been waiting so long for threads like these about Scholesy. :) BTW he can tackle.

He may look like a complete psychopath but you better believe he means it when he goes in. It's not a lack on control, its just determination and aggression.

Plus he has the coolest nick name. The Ginga Ninja. Everybody respects Ninjas. :D
 

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even though he is unlike gerrard and lampard with those tireless runnings in a match, he has shown that he is still one of the best in his position with all the precise passings and quick thinking. on his day, he is probably unstoppable-in terms of those assists and passes.
 

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Scholes is my favourite player in the current squad.

He's scored some fantastic goals. As I'm typing this I'm having wonderful memories of his glorious volleys against Bradford and Villa, his hat-trick against Newcastle, his vital goals against Inter in the 1999 Champions League quarters, 1999 FA Cup Final and, of course, his belter v Barca. He's also scored some memorable goals against Liverpool.

His vision and passing are World class. Long-range, short-range it's all the same to him. His pass to Rooney for our equaliser in the Champs League semi v AC Milan last season was incredibly innovative.

His attitude is commendable too. On the field he's fiery, competitive and a winner. Off the field he's a shy family man.

He'll never get the hang of tackling but we can forgive him for that. ;)
 
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