The first time a player takes to the field in a Champions League final is always a special moment in his career, but for Paul Scholes there will be extra significance on Wednesday in Moscow.
The Manchester United midfielder has had to wait longer than most and, even more poignantly, this opportunity has come nine years after it should have done.
When Scholes lines up against Chelsea he will finally be able to banish from his memory the biggest disappointment of his illustrious career — missing the final in 1999.
As United completed an unprecedented treble with a stunning late come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Bayern Munich in Barcelona, Scholes was dressed in a smart grey suit and seated alongside Roy Keane in the stands.
Both had picked up second bookings in the knock-out stages in the semifinal defeat of Juventus and were barred from the final through suspension.
While Keane’s booking had been harsh, in Scholes’s case it had been due to his bete noir, his rash and wild tackling that saw his name appear regularly in referees’ notebooks.
It was the same Achilles heel that, but for one little centimetre, would have seen Scholes give away an early penalty in this season’s semifinal second leg at Old Trafford against Barcelona.
Scholes’s contact with the irrepressible Lionel Messi, though, had taken place just outside the penalty area.
It was the same sort of wild lunge that probably should have seen the ginger-haired midfielder dismissed for a second booking against Wigan on the final day of the season.
But having made it to the final, it seems it’s not just Scholes who is desperate for him to play.
”Scholesy deserves to play because he’s a great player,” said another United legend, Ryan Giggs. ”His form has been brilliant and his goal against Barcelona got us to the final.
”To play with a player like him is a privilege. He does things other players can’t do.
”The disappointment of 1999 was massive for him and Roy [Keane], having played such an important part getting us to the final. I’m glad he’s got another chance now and he deserves it.”
One of the finest central players of his generation, Scholes seems to be living a charmed life this year, and make the most of it he surely must.
It was he who scored the only goal of the second-leg tie against Barcelona, a 20-yard swerving screamer into the top corner, in a season when he has played a diminished role for United.
With Michael Carrick, Owen Hargreaves and young Brazilian Anderson challenging for a central midfield starting berth, and given he missed three months with injury, Scholes has managed to play only 33 games this season, scoring a meagre two goals.
Given Anderson and Hargreaves were playing their first seasons in English football, Scholes’s chances made be even more limited from next season as both those find their feet a little easier in their second season.
So this match, the pinnacle of European club football, could represent something of a final swansong for Scholes and what an apt and glorious way victory would be to set the seal on a marvellous career. — Sapa-AFP