Ryan Giggs - is he the best player ever to have played in Britain?
Published: 01.05.11 / Written by: David Gold
As Manchester United look set for a Champions League final to go with a probable 19th Premier League title, the pundits are united in a sense of wonderment at this achievement.
This United team, we have been told, not entirely unjustifiably, is devoid of flair. It is not a typical Sir Alex Ferguson side. Gone are the midfield creators of the past.
Yet whilst there is some justification in this assessment, it seems harsh on one man in particular. The one for whom superlatives are not good enough. Ryan Giggs. What more can be said about the wizard like genius of the Welshman? It should be remembered that this is a guy at the age of 37, who by all realistic measures seems to tower above the rest of the great treble winning United team of 1999.
Roy Keane blew his fuse as well as lost his ability to charge around the pitch in his customary style by the age of 35. Paul Scholes continues to demonstrate his endurance, but his skill is becoming increasingly peripheral. David Beckham maintains his fearsome set piece delivery and passing range, but his ability to influence games at the top level seemed to disappear a few years ago. Cole? Yorke? Stam? Irwin? Neville? All are football history, and merely footnotes too.
But Giggs demands an entire chapter. Unlike his contemporaries, he still influences games at the highest level with moments of sublime genius. Such as the brilliant turn and burst of pace (yes, even at 37) against Chelsea in the second leg to set up Javier Hernandez to score the opening goal in their quarter final.
And then there was the expert touch and pass in the first leg of that encounter to settle that game as Wayne Rooney struck what was an easy finish into the net. The fiery forward takes most of the compliments for United, but really it is Giggs, as well as Hernandez, who have been the main forces driving them forward. The pair are able to deliver telling blows to their opponents at crucial moments. For both it is extraordinary, but whilst 15 years of praise lies ahead for the Mexican, Giggs is coming to the end of his career.
His is a story of how to adapt. Most players fade in their 30s as they can no longer do what made them great. Ronaldo became overweight and lost his pace. Beckham went to the US. Keane lost his energy. Henry also lost his pace. Giggs once relied on his pace and skill. Now he plays more centrally, relying on his close control and intelligent passing range, and ability to make crucial passes at important moments.
It is a remarkable tale, one of adaptability, commitment, intelligence and technique. Rarely has he moaned. Rarely does he involve himself in the over zealous challenges that others like Scholes indulge in. A model professional, and a brilliant player too. And for all his achievements, to be lengthened at the end of this season surely, it seems beyond even debate now that the Welshman is the greatest player of his generation in this country. Cantona, Zola, Henry and Ronaldo have come and gone, but throughout their careers, the United midfielder has remained at his best, through every Premiership season. Such consistency and ability to influence games over three decades at the very top level demands higher recognition than the usual plaudits.
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