Paul Scholes.

When Scholesy came of age against Italy

Thursday 08 July 2021 11:10

England may have been starved of success since 1966, but they did win Le Tournoi back in 1997, a four-nation competition that was notable for marking Paul Scholes's proper coming of age on the international stage.

Manchester United fans were fully aware and appreciative of the homegrown product's qualities – he'd already helped us do the Double a year earlier and, although his goal output had decreased after moving deeper, he was part of the squad that had retained the Premier League title, scoring three times in his 24 appearances.

There had been this sense that his intelligence and creative flair would transmit seamlessly into an England shirt but he was 22-and-a-half when finally making his debut, as a substitute at Old Trafford against South Africa in May 1997. He'd had to watch fellow Reds youth-teamers Gary Neville, Phil Neville, David Beckham and Nicky Butt promoted before him.

It was in his next game in Nantes, however, that he showed what he could bring to the international fold with a sensational display on his full debut, against Italy in Le Tournoi, a competition that also featured Roberto Carlos's astonishing bending free-kick against France.

This was the chance Scholesy craved and he grabbed it with both hands, proving instrumental in securing a first win for England over Sunday's Euro 2020 final opponents in 20 years. One glorious example of his vision was the 50-yard through ball that split an Azzurri defence containing Ciro Ferrara, Fabio Cannavaro and Alessandro Costacurta, allowing Ian Wright to lash in the opening goal on 20 minutes.

He followed it up with his first Three Lions goal, firing past keeper Angelo Peruzzi after being set up by Wright, now one of ITV's passionate pundits on the Euros.

Check out footage of the goals in the 2-0 victory in the England tweet posted above - from when Paul celebrated his birthday.

Scholes would go on to earn 66 caps for his country, scoring 14 goals and fulfilling the potential he had shown from an early age at United. Of course, he is a bona-fide Reds legend too and this Italy clash was a first real confirmation that he did possess world-class ability.

Manager Glenn Hoddle spoke of using Scholes and David Beckham as inside-forwards, in an attacking line-up, as he prepared for the World Cup in France a year later. The team did win Le Tournoi after beating the hosts 1-0 in Paris, when Alan Shearer profited from a mistake by future Reds keeper Fabien Barthez, despite losing to Brazil in the capital.

Paul Scholes receives a hug from team-mate David Beckham after scoring.

As Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, Marcus Rashford and prospective signing Jadon Sancho prepare for their own date with destiny against Italy this weekend, it is worth taking a quick look at the team sheet from that 2-0 win in Nantes.

Current England coach Gareth Southgate, then at Aston Villa, started in defence in an XI that contained three Reds – Phil Neville, Beckham and Scholes. Gary Neville and Andy Cole both came off the bench, while Teddy Sheringham played, soon before leaving Tottenham for Old Trafford.

One name of interest on the Italy bench was Enrico Chiesa, whose son Federico helped the current side set up Sunday's clash with a fine goal in the semi-final win over Spain at Wembley.