Premier League

Scholes retires for good

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Sun, 12 May 2013 11:55:00

Barcelona claimed their 22nd Spanish league title without kicking a ball after Real Madrid drew 1-1 at Espanyol on Saturday evening.

Espanyol powered into the lead thanks Christian Stuani's strike but though Gonzalo Higuain equalised in the second half, Jose Mourinho's defending champions slipped seven points behind their rivals with only two games left.

Tito Vilanova's side travel to Atletico Madrid on Sunday.

Elsewhere, Athletic Bilbao took a giant step towards sealing their Primera Division status after overcoming nine-man Real Mallorca 2-1 at San Mames.

Aritz Aduriz gave the hosts an early lead but then missed a penalty after Andreu Fontas was sent off on 25 minutes.

Fernando Llorente doubled the advantage late in the second half but Mallorca forward Giovani Dos Santos made for an exciting finish by netting a superb goal two minutes later.

However, Mallorca's hopes of snatching a late equaliser were struck a blow in injury time when Ximo Navarro was also sent off for a second booking and Athletic were able to hold on.

Osasuna also moved closer to survival when Alejandro Arribas struck a second-half winner in their 1-0 victory over Getafe.

Arribas netted 16 minutes from time as Osasuna ended a five-match winless streak with a deserved triumph that moves them four points above third-bottom Deportivo La Coruna, who lost 1-0 at Real Valladolid earlier in the day.

While Saturday's result could help save Osasuna's Primera Division status, it was a blow to Getafe's hopes of getting into Europe next season.

Valladolid are guaranteed top-flight status for another season after their win.

Javi Guerra struck three minutes into the second half to score the only goal of the game and take his team onto 43 points, 11 ahead of the Galicians, who still occupy the final relegation spot.

The game was a tight affair from start to finish, with neither side taking many risks and few openings appearing.

After a first half of no clear chances, the home side made the decisive breakthrough four minutes into the second period.

Patrick Ebert swung in a corner into the six-yard box and Guerra showed great technique to backheel the ball into the net.

The former England midfielder initially quit in 2011 but was persuaded to return for United in January last year.

However, the 38-year-old, who is expected to make his first appearance since January in Sunday's Barclays Premier League encounter with Swansea, feels it is time to bow out.

"Yes I am finally hanging up my boots for good," he said.

"Playing football is all I have ever wanted to do and to have had such a long and successful career at Manchester United, under the greatest manager of all time, has been an honour."

Given how much affection the 38-year-old is held in by Sir Alex Ferguson, it is fitting both men are bowing out at the same time.

Regarded by team-mates and opponents alike as one of the finest players of his generation, Scholes will be making his 498th Premier League appearance for United tomorrow, meaning he will fall just short of the magical 500.

In total, he has made 716 appearances for the Red Devils and scored the last of his 155 goals against FA Cup finalists Wigan last September.

Many will argue his decision to turn his back on England at the criminally early age of 29 robbed the Three Lions of the most talented player at their disposal.

Fabio Capello thought so, hence his decision to try to coax Scholes out of retirement ahead of the 2010 World Cup.

Scholes eventually opted against, although he latter admitted he regretted the decision.

"Paul is a truly unbelievable player," said Ferguson.

"He has always been fully committed to this club and it has been a real privilege to work with him for so many years.

"Paul will play at Old Trafford on Sunday against Swansea and will collect an unbelievable but well-deserved 11th Premier League medal."

Scholes began coaching the younger players at United after his initial retirement, although it was not felt he found the situation entirely to his liking.

Some kind of role will be found for him though, even if David Moyes' impending arrival as Ferguson's replacement complicates matters slightly.

Not that Scholes believes the seismic events of this week will have any effect on United's trophy gathering capabilities.

"The team has the right balance and will continue to thrive under the leadership of David Moyes," he said.

Of course, Scholes is so averse to the limelight, he is probably relieved almost all the attention will be on Ferguson, whose 13th Premier League title will be his last.

There will also be one more game, at West Brom, next Sunday, at which to acclaim the 71-year-old.

But for the fans who have watched his teams most often, tomorrow will be it.

It has already been confirmed the lower tier of the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand and parts of the lower Stretford End and East Stand will join together to create a special 'Champions 2013' mosaic, with the Scot due to make his final address post-match, having opted against making any public pronouncements since his retirement was confirmed on Wednesday morning.

Yet, almost bizarrely, the world does move on.

Some United players, including Nani and Anderson, have futures to play for.

Others must try to impress David Moyes, who surely will be reviewing a video of the game, even though his immediate commitment is to Everton.

And for Vidic, there is a need to maintain fitness after two campaigns blighted by injury.

"It has been a struggle to come back," said Vidic, who ruptured cruciate ligaments in December 2011 and then needed a further operation at the start of this season.

"I worked hard to recover and thankfully I still managed to play games in the Premier League and remained captain of the team.

"For that I am really proud."

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