Paul Scholes has said he is dismayed by his displays this season – raising fresh question marks over the Manchester United midfielder’s future.
Scholes celebrated his 35th birthday last month and remains one of the players Sir Alex Ferguson wants to set an example to the younger members of his squad.
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With nine Premier League titles to his name, the midfielder has already achieved far more than most professionals could ever dream of.
However, while long-time team-mate Ryan Giggs continues to perform at the very highest level, Scholes feels his standards have dipped.
And, while he has not given any indication whether he would be open to a new contract when his current one expires in the summer, his words do not suggest a positive outcome.
“I wouldn’t say I am playing some of my best football,” he said.
“I don’t always feel I am making as much of a contribution as I’d like to.
“I always preferred it when I was playing regularly and scoring a lot more goals. Now, it’s different.
“I play once every two or three weeks and I can only hope to do well when I get the chance. I don’t have a choice.
“Obviously, every player wants to play every week but I know now it can’t always happen. I just have to be okay with that.”
And as for his future?
“You do think about it. I’m not too sure.
“I’ll just carry on with the way it it’s going at the moment and we’ll see what happens come the end of the season.”
For someone who quit international combat at the age of 29 in 2004, having grown tired of being played out of position by Sven-Goran Eriksson and become increasingly resentful of the time spent away from his wife and three children back home in Saddleworth, the words are pretty harsh and contrast sharply with his assessment of Giggs, who has recently been named among the 10 candidates to become Sports Personality of the Year.
“When Ryan retires he won’t just be regarded as one of the greats – he’ll be the one and only,” said Scholes.
“To be here 20 years and still going strong and playing as well as ever, I think that, when he retires, he will be the one who stands out.”
Scholes’ own career has lasted so long he hardly needs to use Giggs as a role model. But his longevity, which brought the Welshman two league championships and an FA Cup before Scholes began his own impressive trophy gathering exploits, is simply staggering.
“The secret of Ryan’s success is his sheer professionalism. He has been a top player for nearly 20 years,” said Scholes.
“I would have though he’s probably the best player this club has ever had. He just keeps going stronger and stronger. Each time he plays he seems to create a goal or score one himself.
“He has just been fantastic to play with.”
With only one substitute appearance to look back on in four matches since the last international break, Scholes will hope to face West Ham at Upton Park tomorrow.
Ironically, Giggs scored a memorable winner on United’s last visit, which proved to be vital in the Old Trafford outfit’s 18th title triumph.
Now, they need a repeat to close the gap on leaders Chelsea to a couple of points ahead of the Stamford Bridge outfit’s trip to Manchester City.
“West Ham is a tough place to go but on our last couple of visits there we have done well.
“It is vital we go on a long run, now. Chelsea are five points clear and we need something similar to last season’s long, unbeaten run to try to put some pressure on them.
“Chelsea do look a strong outfit, as they proved at Arsenal last week, and they do look a bit more determined than they have in recent seasons.
“But the belief is always there at Manchester United. We think we can win every game.
“It doesn’t always happen, but we know we need to go on a run now and hope they slip up.”