Scholes return papers over the cracks
Paul Scholes simply missed football too much to stop playing, and football was swift to show him exactly what he was missing after he reversed his decision to retire.
Scholes has mixed the odd friendly kickaround with his new day job of coaching United's youngsters since calling time on his career after a brief cameo in the Champions League final defeat by Barcelona at Wembley in May.
For one of the most gifted and successful players of his generation, this was no substitute for the raw adrenalin, pace, power and occasionally pain of the real thing and sent him back to Sir Alex Ferguson asking to don his boots once more.
On a rain-lashed afternoon at the Etihad Stadium, Scholes was provided with all of the above - and more besides - in a third-round derby victory for United against Manchester City that will be remembered as a classic.
When the rumoured return of Scholes became fact as United's team-sheet landed, the ration of drama had been used for most normal days. This was no normal day.
After a week in which Wayne Rooney has been scrutinised for fractures in his relationship with United and Ferguson, it was no surprise that he opened the scoring and celebrated with a flamboyant snatch at the badge of his shirt.
And when City captain Vincent Kompany was contentiously sent off by referee Chris Foy even though he cleaned out the ball in a tackle with Nani, the visitors sensed the opportunity to avenge the 6-1 defeat at Old Trafford in October.
Danny Welbeck, with a goal of athleticism and ingenuity, made it 2-0 and, when Rooney added his second from a rebound after his penalty was saved by City's stand-in keeper Costel Pantilimon - in for rested Joe Hart - the formalities appeared complete before half-time.
Scholes was named on the bench for the game against City. He completed 97% of his passes after coming on. Photo: Getty
This conclusion reckoned without a wonderful City fightback that brought two goals from Aleksandar Kolarov and Sergio Aguero and confirmation, if it were needed, that Roberto Mancini has a squad of substance, not simply expensive price tags and outsized egos.
In a turn of events that summed up how logic had been temporarily suspended, Mancini actually appeared the happier manager after the game as he praised City's resilience as another sign that they are made of the stuff of champions.
Ferguson, in contrast, was prickly with his players for the carelessness that saw a comfortable position almost cast aside.
The return of Scholes was top of the many talking points provided on an afternoon that once again gave the lie to those tempted to dismiss the FA Cup as a devalued pot. This was a wonderful game for a wonderful competition.
Ferguson's decision to accept Scholes' offer of a final fling was greeted with a mixture of derision by some seeing it as an act of desperation, with others seeing it as an obvious solution to United's lack of midfield quality.
In a 31-minute appearance Scholes spread the odd trademark pass around and had a low shot saved by Pantilimon. He also conceded possession in the build up to City's second goal, was flattened unceremoniously by Micah Richards and ended blowing hard and looking exhausted.
The decision to reinstate Scholes in United's midfield has an element of 'no lose' for Ferguson as he has an extra squad member and he clearly believes he can make a contribution, seeing no harm in having such an influence on the pitch.
It also, however, begs questions about United's young midfield undercard, when they will be considered mature enough to play regularly, and how much rebuilding is really required in this crucial area.
Ferguson has effectively admitted he needs something extra in midfield by bringing Scholes back - but it hardly signposts a glittering immediate future for youngsters such as Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison if a 37-year-old who retired and last saw serious action eight months ago is recalled to the colours instantly.
And again, it underscores Ferguson's failure to address what was clearly a top priority for United after another masterclass from Barcelona. He needed to sign an A-list central midfield operator last summer.
Ferguson can be accused of taking a backward step in welcoming back someone who admitted the game was up in May, but it is simply a sticking-plaster solution until he can take two steps forward in the transfer market next summer.
Manchester United fans celebrating by doing the 'Poznan' rubbed salt into the Manchester City wounds. Photo: PA
Time, and Scholes' eventual contribution, will be the judge of this decision and the player known as 'The Ginger Prince' is the last person in the game who will have gone to Ferguson and asked to play as some sort of vanity project.
It will also raise further queries about how much muscle United can wield in the transfer market, although the Glazers and Ferguson insist the money is there and can be used. United's manager is notoriously reluctant to spend in January and Scholes fills a void, albeit temporarily.
For City, there was actually solace in the disappointment of defeat and Mancini was swift to accept it.
The side assembled so expensively by the Italian has occasionally - more last season than this admittedly - been accused of being a collection of parts rather than an entire unit.
Here, presented with what looked a hopeless cause at half-time, they demonstrated that they continue to move towards being the finished article with a show of spirit and a refusal to accept what looked inevitable after 40 minutes.
United, despite Ferguson's obvious dissatisfaction, can also take great heart from the manner in which his side set the platform for victory, although the ragged performances of Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra suggests he may have even more transfer work to do at the end of the season.
Ferguson and United's reward for their win was an away tie against Liverpool at Anfield, with all that entails after the recent incident involving Luis Suarez and Evra.
And for Scholes, it is exactly the sort of game that will have occupied his thoughts as he pondered whether to risk a portion of his reputation on a few more months as a player.