By Marcus ChhanFollow @@MarcusChhan
It was the stuff of fantasy. When Paul Scholes was announced as a substitute for Sunday's FA Cup Manchester derby, it caught everyone by surprise.
Scholes had last played a game of football 225 days ago before coming on for Nani as a second half substitute in United's 3-2 win over City.
With injuries biting deep into the United squad, Scholes' return provides an instant boost to the club but as the euphoria over his comeback starts to subside can Sir Alex Ferguson really count on the 37-year-old to help steer United to an unprecedented 20th league title?
Scholes, he score goals
It's hard to make a concrete case after just one game - a 30 minute runout after replacing Nani in Sunday's win over City.
However, it is interesting to note how a less than match-fit Scholes handled himself in what was a truly pulsating Cup tie.
Scholes looked quite fit, and showed no real signs that he was struggling to keep up with the game. He wasn't hunched over or gasping for air which is to his credit given that the last time the veteran midfielder had played a competitive game was in Manchester United's loss to Barcelona in last season's UEFA Champions League final.
Scholes also notably sat deep for the most part, but did allow himself to break forward for one moment when he fired a shot from 25 yards. It was almost a classic Scholes move - the type which has caused United fans to claim in song for many years now that 'Scholes scores goals'. Unfortunately for him, this time the shot was directed straight at the City goalkeeper.
In fact, Scholes' biggest contribution to the match came just four minutes into his cameo when he gifted City a way right back into the contest. With the scores still at 3-1 in United's favour, Scholes lost the ball to James Milner following a throw-in and he promptly whipped the ball in for Sergio Aguero to score - albeit with a little help too from United's goalkeeper.
OptaSports notes that after coming on after 60 minutes, Scholes made 71 passes (97% complete), more than any City player in the entire game. It sounds more impressive than it really is; most of Scholes' passes were simple short balls while United was generally poor in the second half despite their numerical advantage over City.
Scholes admitted last year that the pace of the modern game - and specifically the Barclays Premier League - was now too much for him to handle. We shall find out in the next few months whether this is still true in 2012 or not. For now, the mistake against City remains an one-off lapse in concentration, but it will be important for him to make sure the high profile cock-ups don't start to pile up in a hurry.
A quick look at some of the stories running across the UK media on Monday morning show that Scholes will be given time before being judged. He's probably earned that right but don't expect it to last long if United's fortunes on the pitch take a turn for the worse.
Perhaps we are also witnessing the start of a new chapter in the Scholes legend - the role of super sub. I feel Ferguson can get more out of Scholes if he comes on when the game is stretched and the opposition's legs feeling heavy.
What others have said
In his column for the Daily Mail, former Arsenal defender Martin Keown described Scholes as the 'perfect fit to solve United's problems'.
He wrote: "A lot of people will wonder why Manchester United have brought back Paul Scholes, but it is a good move.
"United know they have a weakness in midfield and can't get the right player in at such short notice. They haven't replaced Scholes since he retired but it is easy for him to reintegrate.
"It was a big call to play him in such a big game but it shows the faith Sir Alex Ferguson has in him."
Keown's last point was spot on. It was a massive gamble by Ferguson to play Scholes and in the end even City manager Roberto Mancini had to see the funny side of it.
"When I saw him on the bench it was incredible," Mancini said.
"I told David Platt he was now on the bench".
A win-win situation?
It was first reported that Ferguson had asked Scholes to come out of retirement to help ease his side's injury crisis. However, it has now been revealed that the idea was the former England international's all along.
"He came to see me and said he wanted to come back, he was missing it too much. There were no negatives as far as I'm concerned," Ferguson said.
Scholes had actually been involved in some first-team training sessions at United in recent weeks but his team-mates never imagined he would be suiting up alongside them for Sunday's Manchester derby.
"It was a bit of a shock to be honest," United striker Wayne Rooney admitted after the game.
"We didn't know until we were in the dressing room. It's great. It'll give everyone a lift. Everyone knows what a fantastic player he is and I thought he showed his quality when he came on."
Similarly, Rooney's team-mate Danny Welbeck also spoke of the positive impact Scholes' return has had on the dressing room.
United were always going to treat this as a win-win situation, but I think the feelings attributed here are genuine. For one, Welbeck is a local lad and a United academy graduate - it would be more unbelievable if he didn't get inspired playing with one of the club's greatest ever players.
Still, there might be a few United players at the club who are less than happy at the situation.
Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison are two of the club's most promising midfielders knocking on the door of Ferguson's first team. For Feguson to recall the 37-year-old Scholes for the game against City ahead of either of them will not have done their confidence any good.
As for Scholes, he'll know how fortunate he is to be given two chances to play at a club like Manchester United but more importantly he'll also know what is expected. You also have to feel a bit for David Beckham, who watched Sunday's derby from the stands. Surely, he could have also done a job in central midfield for United on loan as well?
It will be another month before either Tom Cleverley or Ashley Young can expect a return to match action but I don't think Ferguson will make any signings in the January transfer market. The Scot has a strong dislike for the inflated nature of the winter transfer window and with Europe's economy in recession, there are not expected to be any mega-deals done this month.
Besides, if you had a player like Scholes in your team, the one thing you would not let him leave without doing is to teach. There's no doubt in my mind that one of biggest plus points in having Scholes in the United team is that he'll be able to pass on in-game advice to the youngsters, especially Cleverley.
After 677 games for United, you would hope so!