After his entertaining career as an outspoken pundit, Paul Scholes is under no illusions about what he is letting himself in for as he takes his first steps into management. ‘I’ve left myself wide open,’ the new Oldham Athletic manager acknowledged with a smile. ‘I’ve been quite critical.’ One Portuguese recipient of a Scholes verbal volley (or seven), may well take a keen interest in goings-on at Boundary Park.
‘I think he’ll be watching results,’ the 44-year-old said of former Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho. ‘Whether he’ll be at Oldham watching games I’m not too sure.’ But this is not Old Trafford, where he won 20 major trophies. Money is tight at the League Two club and on Friday following a row over payment, the main stand was without hot water after the gas meter was ripped out.
There are other issues. Sources tell of interference in team selection from owner, Moroccan agent Abdallah Lemsagam, with three players understood to have previously been barred from the starting XI. Again, Scholes appeared to be ahead of the game. ‘As the owner, he is going to be interested in his team,’ he said. ‘But he won’t be picking the team, I think we are quite clear on that and I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t confident on that. Not confident — sure of it.’
The reality of the task is not lost on him. ‘It might be the biggest mistake of my life, I don’t know,’ he said. ‘Or it might be the best thing I ever did. There’s an uncertainty there, I don’t doubt that.’ Should Scholes encounter trouble, he will not be short of people to call, including Sir Alex Ferguson. ‘I’m sure the gaffer is on the other end of the phone,’ he said. ‘He’ll want me to do well and if I need any help, I’ll be ringing him.’
However, if things do not go according to plan, he may wish to switch the phone off. ‘I have left myself open, living in the area, to a bit of stick from Oldham fans which I am sure will happen at some point,’ he said. ‘I’ve got family, mates who come here. My dad was a massive Oldham fan, there are a lot of people to please and I will have to block a few numbers on my phone if we get beat.’
You would imagine it will not take much to please them. Since becoming founder Premier League members in 1992, Oldham have had a long and miserable slide to the bottom tier. It is a far cry from the glory years under Joe Royle, when Scholes would stand in a packed Chaddy End with his father and when United edged two FA Cup semi-final replays in four years.
‘It was a bit difficult at times because I was an apprentice at United,’ said Scholes. ‘For the semi-final at Maine Road, I was in the Oldham end.’ He can reel off the names of Royle’s side: ‘Ritchie, Bunn, Henry, Milligan, Irwin, Barrett, Warhurst, I could name them all.’ As an Oldham resident, he knows what makes the town tick and said: ‘It was a football town for a good while in the 90s and it’d be nice to get that back.’
A bounce like that enjoyed by former team-mate Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at United would not go amiss, starting with Tuesday’s clash with Yeovil. ‘Ole’s just a nice man,’ Scholes said. ‘He’s got a great way about him, players will want to play for him and that’s what I want here.’ Niceties aside, does Scholes have a Fergie-style hairdryer in his locker? ‘We’ll have to wait and see, won’t we?’ he said.
He added: ‘If we are losing I am sure people will be popping up. They can say what they want. I have never understood why players and managers listen to pundits. They are giving an opinion and get paid for doing so. If anyone wants to have a dig at me, I won’t be taking any notice.’
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