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Ryan Giggs Set for 1,000th Match: How the Manchester United Legend Defies Logic

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Ryan Giggs Set for 1,000th Match: How the Manchester United Legend Defies Logic
Ian Walton/Getty Images
Ryan Giggs celebrates scoring against QPR last Saturday in his 999th career match

On Saturday afternoon, if selected, Ryan Giggs will make the 1,000th appearance of his career against Norwich City at Old Trafford on the 22nd anniversary of his debut for Manchester United.

There might be a presentation, something to commemorate reaching this milestone, but Giggs won’t be at all interested, he won’t want any fuss and it will all seem like a bit of an inconvenience to him.

For over two decades, it has been Giggs’ inherent lack of sentiment aligned with a fierce determination to keep winning that have seen him continue to play into his late 30s and enjoy a career of unprecedented success.

On one occasion when I interviewed Giggs, he was almost embarrassed to admit that he had recently found a Champions League winners’ medal, a couple of Premier League winners medals and his OBE down the back of a drawer he was clearing out at home: “I had no idea they were there, I had forgotten about them,” he said with a bashful smile.

When you are the most successful footballer in the entire history of the British game, it can be difficult to account for all your medals, and when I asked, Giggs wasn’t even sure how many he had won. 

At the moment the correct answer is 24 winners medals from major competitions (12 Premier League titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups, two Champions Leagues, one Intercontinental Cup, one FIFA Club World Cup and one European Super Cup), and when you throw in Charity Shields and runners-up medals too, it grows to a staggering 45.

But you will find none of these medals on display at Giggs’ family house on the outskirts of Manchester, no pictures, framed shirts or mementoes either, nothing at all. “If you walked in to my house you wouldn’t even know I was a footballer,” he has said. 

While Chelsea captain John Terry built an entire annexe to his house to display his medals, including mannequins behind glass dressed in his old shirts, Giggs has never had any interest in creating such a shrine to himself, and instead donates most of his medals to be displayed at the Old Trafford museum.

“I’ve never seen the need for it really,” he once told me. “I have got 50 years to go on about how much I’ve won, I’m not being blase, I am proud of what I’ve achieved, but looking at a medal or talking about what I’ve won doesn’t do anything for me.”

Success can easily sate a man. It was the great middleweight boxer Bernard Hopkins who said: “It is hard to feel hungry, when you’re refrigerator is full.” But Giggs has never stopped to look, and knowing how close he is to the end of his career doesn’t want to start now.

He admits to getting bored when the team are given a day off from training and has found recent summers, and the lack of football, increasingly difficult.

Ryan Giggs with writer Sam Pilger

Giggs is the personification of his manager’s belief that the glory of a victory lasts for around only 15 minutes before it quickly ebbs away and thoughts turn to how another trophy can be won.

This season, at age 39, Giggs continues to rewrite the rules for the ageing player and has once again emerged as one of United’s most influential figures.

In just the last month he has scored three goals, against Fulham in the FA Cup when he also gave a performance of such energy and verve it felt like 1999 all over again, against Everton to help send United 12 points clear at the top of the Premier League and last Saturday against QPR.

Giggs has now scored a total of five goals this season, more than fellow midfielders Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, Nani, Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley and Shinji Kagawa, even though he has started fewer games than all of them with the exception of Nani.

In his head, Giggs still believes he’s 25 years old, and it would be tempting to say he is playing like that too, but he has evolved from the burst of energy on the left wing he was then into a more complete player, wiser and more effective.

“Footballers will tell you your life changes after 30, it is the beginning of the end. You are thought to be past it, so if you have a bad game, people say ‘Well, he is over 30 now.’ I was determined that wouldn’t happen to me. I didn’t want to be judged like that,” he has told me.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Giggs scores against Everton in February to maintain his record of scoring in each of the 21 Premier League seasons

What is most remarkable about Giggs is there has never been any discernible dip in form, especially in these later years. As he has got older he has adapted and never had to trade on former glories. 

“He is just an incredible human being who defies logic,” the United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has said. “There is no other player who has done what he’s done or is ever likely to. He is quite an amazing man.”

Giggs’s longevity has also been due to a personal training regime, adopted about six years ago, which includes twice-weekly yoga sessions, designed to the exact contours of his body, and regular trips to the osteopath and acupuncturist to ward off injuries.

Giggs also has to adhere to a strict diet, which forbids virtually any fast food or alcohol. He recently went over a year and a half without a drop of alcohol, and felt better for it.

Giggs’ body is now so finely tuned that he can feel sluggish if he has just a slither of butter on his toast in the morning. “I feel mentally and physically sharper if I completely abstain from foods I like, so just a bit of butter or a bar of chocolate can make me feel different,” he told me.

So just how much longer can Giggs go on for? Two years ago he told me there was “no way” he would still be playing when he turned 40, which will happen later this year in November, but in his current form, and still in pursuit of three trophies this season, it is a promise he should probably break.

 

Sam Pilger is the author of Manchester United's Best XI, which can be ordered here.

Follow Sam on Twitter @sampilger   


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