Early Doors

Life begins at 39 for Giggs, the Premier League’s greatest player

Early Doors

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Some people's definition of Ryan Giggs as a player has taken on new meaning in recent times, but his shenanigans with a ball at his feet remain a source of constant wonderment.

The finest footballer in the history of Manchester United is also a man who defines the life and times of the Premier League. He is without compare as a performer in the modern era.

Even the most ardent Liverpool fan or Manchester City follower should grudgingly rejoice in his ability to sprinkle football with his own unique brand of gold dust. We'll miss him when he's gone.

While his move to join Phil Neville on the United coaching staff yesterday seems full of common sense, Giggs continues to be recognised as a footballer possessing real potency. This was a man who captained Great Britain's Olympic side a year ago. He will fight for his new manager David Moyes on two fronts next season.

Before visiting Manchester for his testimonial match against Celtic in 2001, one vividly recalls debating with a colleague the merits of United's gilded duo of yesteryear.

Who brought more to Sir Alex Ferguson's swashbuckling side back in the day: Was it Giggs or David Beckham?

Beckham's game was founded on arrowing a ball with as much precision as William Tell splitting an apple while Giggs seemed to be all about producing the type of slalom runs more associated with Alberto Tomba.

Back then, it could be argued that Beckham was more productive because he could harpoon a free-kick with such precision that there was no need to beat men.

Giggs was more showy, his winner in the 1999 FA Cup semi-final replay against Arsenal remains one for the ages - including revealing a glorious Tom Selleck-style rug to celebrate afterwards - but was that always a good thing? Some 12 years on, steadfast beliefs have changed dramatically.

It remains funny how time changes our concept of individuals, of what is right or wrong. This is never truer than in forming opinions in life. What seems correct can quickly turn sour. We are all constantly evaluating people.

It would be ill-advised to suggest Beckham was mediocre, but it is unfair on him to make such a comparison. Sometimes it takes a while to realise you are living in the presence of a one-off.

While Beckham was always fashionable, Giggs has never gone out of fashion.

Giggs has reinvented himself like sort of Red Devilled chameleon, reconstructing himself from flying winger in his formative years to furnishing a career as a central midfield player of real intelligence and awareness with a penchant for ball retention. A touch of elan remained constant when pace withered.

Looking back, it was wrong to suggest Beckham was sharper than Giggs. A wiser argument would have been to compare Paul Scholes to the Welshman, but even he comes up short. And not just because of height.

The more sensible debate to have with a wise sage would be to wonder if Giggs is the greatest figure to play for United? With no emotional attachment to United, it would not be ridiculous to just say yes. There are a plethora of meaningful stats to support such a notion.

But of course, others have their own personal favourites from other eras, and would introduce coherent arguments to include men like George Best, Sir Bobby Charlton, Duncan Edwards, Denis Law or Eric Cantona. For presence, you could add Roy Keane or Bryan Robson to that eclectic mix.

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None of those figures come close to matching Giggs for longevity, loyalty, learning ability, technique or wallowing in a haul of trinkets that would put the average jewel thief to shame. His career has been one big heist.

He has played 941 games for United, more than any other player to nestle in a red shirt, alongside 64 Welsh caps.

For the record, he has snagged two Champions League trophies, 13 Premier Leagues, four FA Cups, four League Cups plus the European Super Cup and Club World Cup. There are also eight Community Shields in there if we are counting that event competitively.

He is suddenly on the coaching staff at Old Trafford, but remains vibrant at the age of 39. To say Giggs has sneaked the most out of his career is as big an understatement as suggesting the Madchester music scene of the early 1990s was ripe for smoking the odd spliff, or popping a pill or two.

Giggs's early career was played out against the backdrop of bands such as The Stone Roses, the Happy Mondays, the Inspiral Carpets and James making a name for themselves up and down the country.

It is difficult to digest that here was a young man who made his debut for United at the age of 17 against Everton in 1991, at moments of the first Gulf War.

If hamstring injuries had munched into his career, he could have followed the path well trodden into early retirement like his old United buddy Lee Sharpe and wound up courting glamour model Abi Titmuss on the car-crash TV series Celebrity Love Island back in the mid-noughties. Fortunately for him, Old Trafford has been his main love nest. In public life at least.

Unlike Tim Booth and James, he has no urge to sit down as he looks to assist Moyes with Sir Alex Ferguson's daunting handover.

"People say he is old, but I just don't agree, because he is always looking sharp in training and the game. He always looks fit," commented Cristiano Ronaldo after Giggs won the PFA Player of the Year award in 2009.

The Welshman has scored in every season since the Premier League usurped the old First Division amid a career haul of 168 goals so far.

Where will his coaching career lead? "I'm not a natural shouter and bawler, but I just have to work at it, " he says.

As a coach, his pedigree will speak for him. People respect Giggs because he has lived in the moment throughout his career. He continues to do so.

Manchester United's greatest manager has retired, but the club's greatest player, the epitome of the one-club man lives on. At least for one more season.

One final question for you: In football parlance, who or what is a living legend?

'Giggsy'.

Desmond Kane

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I lost the FA Cup, it can happen. It was a bad day for the whole team. But I never expected what happened, I never believed the rumours about Pellegrini were true. I still don’t understand the reasons. I deserved more respect. City demanded I won the title within three years, I won it within two years. I’m not angry with the owner Mansour or the chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak. They are two great bosses and I’ll always be grateful. In three and half years my staff and I did an extraordinary job. We rebuilt a club that was not at the top level. They wanted Champions League, I got them there. We beat Manchester United 6-1 at Old Trafford. For three years City played the best football in the League.” - Good to see Roberto Mancini is coping well with his dismissal from the Manchester City job. Acceptance Roberto. And then you can really move on.

COMING UP: There's only one show in town worth worrying about today: those Wimbledon men's semi-finals. Jim White has already shared his thoughts, and his predictions are worrying for British tennis - perhaps because his previous columns on how Federer and Serena were unbeatable have immediately preceded their shock defeats. We have LIVE game-by-game updates throughout the afternoon. Novak Djokovic is first up on Centre Court from 1pm (BST) against Juan Martin del Potro before Britain comes to a standstill as Scot Andy Murray faces Jerzy Janowicz.

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