Did Alex Ferguson Stunt Ryan Giggs' Career at Manchester United?

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Did Alex Ferguson Stunt Ryan Giggs' Career at Manchester United?
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

No doubt about it, Ryan Giggs is a Premier League legend and deservedly so. However, as good as the Welsh star is, the question has to be asked: Did Sir Alex Ferguson stunt Giggs' development to the point that he is not the great he could have been?

When you look back at Giggs' amazing career, and it is truly phenomenal, you realise what a fantastic player and professional he was and still is. The first player in English football history to win two consecutive PFA Young Player of the Year awards in 1992 and '93 respectively has had a glittering career.

Over the course of the last 23 years as a one-club player at Manchester United, Giggs has won every single honour available in top-level club football. To name all his trophies would take an article in itself; it takes an entire page on ManUtd.com. Any player who has won 12, soon to be 13, Premier League titles and two UEFA Champions League titles, to name but a few, deserves to be called great.

Giggs and his trophies from therepublikofmancunia.com

Giggs is a celebrated and unrivaled Premier League legend; he will go down in history as one of Manchester United's best ever players and he has amassed more trophies in 23 years as a player than many clubs manage in a century. But for all of that, just how great a player will Ryan Giggs be remembered as? 

For that we need comparisons.

The players Giggs is most commonly compared to are Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.

Cristiano Ronaldo is the last great to walk to the doors at Old Trafford. The Real Madrid star is a world-class talent and heir to the great history of wingers at Manchester United. Ronaldo inherited all the great traits one would associate with both George Best and Ryan Giggs.

He took his phenomenal attributes, combined them with the lessons he learned under Giggs and Ferguson and became one of the greatest players the game has ever seen.

Current thinking in the English game suggests that Giggs' Welsh compatriot, Gareth Bale, will be the next world-class player the league produces.

Giggs, Ronaldo and Bale all share eerily common traits, skill sets and physical attributes. They are all recognized as having cut their teeth in the game as wingers before moving inside to central positions. In the case of Bale and Ronaldo their super-human levels of power, pace and incredible skills mark them out as central players almost impossible to mark.

For Giggs, his experience, vision and positional sixth sense make him one of the most effective centre-midfielders in the Premier League, even if he is just shy of 40.

As players today, there is simply no comparison that can be made between Giggs, Ronaldo and Bale.

Or is there?

Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Giggs and Ronaldo in days gone by.

When Sir Alex Ferguson recognized that Cristiano Ronaldo was a special talent, he moved him inside as quick as possible. Once there, the evolution of the player we see today began to take place. The same can be said of Gareth Bale under Harry Redknapp and Andre Villas-Boas.

Tottenham Hotspur's new Portuguese manager instantly understood the phenomenal talent that is Bale and in recent times has also moved him inside to great effect.

It is here that the question of Giggs' greatness is asked. 

Did Sir Alex Ferguson stunt Ryan Giggs' evolution as a footballer by not moving him inside sooner as he did with Ronaldo?

Looking back at the beginnings of Giggs', Ronaldo's and Bale's careers, one can see eerily similar statistics that perhaps suggest that Ferguson should have acted sooner.

The table below shows the first eight seasons for Giggs, Ronaldo and Bale. Both Giggs and Ronaldo made their debut as mere 17-year-old teenagers while Bale bettered that by beginning his career at 16.

 

Ryan Giggs

 

 

Cristiano Ronaldo

 

 

Gareth Bale

 

 

Games

Goals

Caps

Games

Goals

Caps

Games

Goals

Caps

2

1

2

31

5

2

2

0

0

51

7

3

40

6

16

43

5

4

46

11

6

50

9

10

12

3

4

58

17

1

47

12

14

30

0

9

40

4

3

53

23

10

34

3

4

44

12

3

49

42

8

42

11

3

37

5

3

53

26

7

42

12

6

37

9

1

35

33

11

30

17

6

 

The table shows a very similar trajectory for all three players. For Bale, we must take the fact that up until his fourth season he played at left-back.

With that taken into account we can see very similar goals-to-games ratios developing amongst the three players as young men.

However, Ronaldo's career takes a sudden turn after year four. Two major factors combined to make the player a superstar in 2006. The first was the experience he gained whilst playing for Portugal in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. The second was his club and international managers moved him from the wing to a more central position.

We can see a similar improvement in Bale's output in year eight after he too was moved inside by Andre Villas-Boas.

With Giggs, however, we see no dramatic improvement. If anything there is a decline and flattening off in output which stayed with him for the rest of his career. We can see this in the fact that he only scored double figures twice more after his 12 in 1996.

The reasons for Giggs' flattening off is twofold. The first is that Sir Alex Ferguson pigeon-holed the star as a winger and as such his game evolved at a completely different rate to Ronaldo's. The second is his complete lack of experience at international level.

By the time Giggs retired from international football in 2007 he had played 64 times for Wales. This return from a 17-year career is not as good as it should have been. Ronaldo played more than 64 times for Portugal by the time he was 25. At 28, he has now played a staggering 101 times for his country.

Michael Regan/Getty Images
Bale to succeed Giggs?

Bale, at 23, has already played 39 times for Wales.

The significance of international football in elite players' development cannot be underestimated. It is the highest standard in the game and provides the kind of pressure, intensity and experience that cannot be matched in any other competition, even the Champions League.

Giggs, of course has played in the Champions League but would have been better equipped if he had more international experience.

The two factors of lack of international experience and being seen as only a wide player by his manager have robbed Giggs of the legacy of what could have been. 

He will be remembered as an English league great and a Manchester United great, but he will never be remembered as the true great of the game he could have been.

Over the course of the history of the game we have had maybe five or six true greats.

Think Pele, Diego Maradona, Alfredo Di Stefano, Johan Cruyff and Lionel Messi as the greatest players to have ever caressed a ball. There is even a very good argument that Cristiano Ronaldo deserves to be on that list too.

Ryan Giggs could have been there too.

 

Statistics provided by www.eplindex.com, www.soccerbase.com and www.premierleague.com

You can look me up on Twitter @WillieGannon

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