Wow! I never knew this writing gig would be so hard! I've faced more criticism in the past week than I've faced in my entire life! How do you combat that? By writing a more controversial article than the one before it. Well, sort of.
I was going to call this article "The Best" United Player, or ''The Most Talented" United player. I changed my mind. I decided to call it, "The Most Important", and that reason will become clear.
Ryan Giggs: Loved by many, hated by very few and respected by all self-respecting football fans, and players, and managers, and directors, and...You get the idea. He has achieved more in one career than many top footballers would achieve in three or four. The stats speak for themselves.
Obviously everything I say is related to the Ferguson era, as it is the one I grew up with and the only one I feel qualified to talk about. It is also the only era, really, that is relevant to the modern one we are living in. Finally, it is the only era where one team has utterly dominated English football's highest level for a remarkably consistent 20+ year period. Sure, other teams have held, and defended, the Premier League title, but none have won it as consistently as Manchester United have.
Giggs has scored in every Premier League season, scored in six Champions League campaigns but played in them all, and scored in many domestic competitions in between. Simply extraordinary. He has won 12 Premier League titles, 4 F.A Cups, 4 League Cups and 2 Champions League titles. The most extraordinary thing of all? He is still playing, at the highest level, for the same club that he has won all the aforementioned honours for, at the age of 39. Does that qualify him as one of the greatest ever United players? I think it does.
What about Scholes? Sure, Europe's finest talents label him an inspiration, but has he won as much with United? He certainly hasn't made anywhere near the amount of appearances and his debut was four years later. The quotes from elite players remain the same, but has he won as much, and has he been as influential? Well, he definitely hasn't won as much, but is he the better player? More talented, maybe, but that's an article for another day. Scholes may be United's most consistently high performing player, but is he the best? It depends on what criteria you consider "the best". Who do I think is? That would have to be Ronaldo. Again, an article for another day. Also, don't forget there are a whole host of tributes directed at Giggs from leading figures in the game, both past and present.
When it comes to Ryan Giggs: Where do we start?
"This is embarrassing to say but I have cried twice in my life watching a football player. The first one was Maradona and the second was Ryan Giggs"
- Alessandro Del Piero
I think that is a decent starting point.
I've mentioned the honors, the titles, the acclaim. However, we need to look at the player, the man overall. You've seen the stats, the contribution, the longevity. He has evolved as a player throughout his career, adapting his game to match his physical decline. I say decline, as it is the only correct way to describe a sportsman ageing, however the pejorative slant shouldn't really apply to Giggs. He altered his style of play, from a speedy and tricky winger, to a central dictator of play. His pinpoint passing can unlock defences, as witnessed recently when he played a sublime ball to Van Persie for his goal against West Ham in January. Moreover, even at the age of 39, he is still gaining Man of the Match plaudits for his performances, as witnessed against, yet again, West Ham last week, earning himself yet another 1 year contract.
What happens when he finally hangs up his boots? It will certainly be strange seeing another player wearing his shirt number, that's if United don't retire the number 11 altogether. I think management may yet hold more acclaim for the Welsh wizard.
I believe he may become United's Guardiola. A man completely woven into the fabric of the club, respected by anyone who plays for him and a manager who would understand more than anyone the way to continue the Ferguson way, long after the Scot retires. He would have zero difficulty in gaining the respect of the dressing room, in fact, he wouldn't even need to earn it. It would be there the moment he was installed as manager.
It must be noted that Scholes would be the same, although despite indicating interest in a managerial career post-playing, he has less lofty ambitions as a coach. He also has been much more nonchalant as to his life post-playing, and one gets the impression that coaching is something he feels more inclined to do rather than something he is driven towards. He's never been a leader the way Giggs has. Although not vocal in the way Gary Neville or Roy Keane were, in his later years Giggs has been a stoic figure, an embodiment of United's spirit of winning, and fighting until the final whistle.
I believe Giggs has the ambition and qualities to become United's manager at some point, possibly beginning as an assistant to Ferguson's successor. That is why I believe he is United's most important player. Scholes is the quiet genius in the Ferguson cog-machine, Giggs could become the Guardiola of the operation. A man of the machine, Giggs grew up within it, became a part of it, and may eventually become the operator of it.
If eventually, the United hierarchy decide on an inside appointment...
I cannot think of anyone more worthy.