There is a certain magic that surrounds Ryan Giggs. An initial disbelief from reviewing his achievements. A true icon of the modern game, the Manchester United star's next achievement will, quite possibly, be the most impressive of his glittering career.
Giggs’ next appearance will be his 1,000th senior appearance for the Red Devils—in a crucial return Champions League game against perennial power Real Madrid on Tuesday.
A league title is a massive achievement; Ryan Giggs has 12. FA and league cups are to be treasured, as Giggs treasures the eight he has won. A Champions League title is the pinnacle of any career—unless you have won it twice, like Giggs.
The CV is unparalleled, the achievements almost mythical, but without a doubt Ryan Giggs’ greatest achievement is his longevity.
He has been at Manchester United for his entire senior career after joining the side from arch rivals Manchester City’s youth section. A 22-year senior career at the most successful club in the country, Giggs maintains the unique achievement as the only player to have scored in every Premier League season since its inception.
Ryan Giggs is not a charity case. Even at 39 years young, the Welsh wizard is an asset to Manchester United. A 22-year career as a glorified mascot would be one thing, but Giggs can still lay realistic claim to a starting spot.
A clear indication of his enduring principality in Sir Alex Ferguson’s side came this weekend in the League match against Norwich City on Saturday. Giggs was rested for the game. "Rested" could also read "dropped," but if you analyze the nuances of the decision, Ferguson’s motives become obvious.
Sir Alex could have started Giggs against Norwich (a fundamentally easier game) at Old Trafford and given him a befitting tribute without compromising the result. His decision to the contrary is a clear indication that Giggs will feature against Madrid. It would be the ultimate tribute: in front of a bumper Old Trafford crowd in the club’s most important game of the season. Quite a way to celebrate an impossible milestone.
The highest accolade that can be derived from the decision, however, is that Ferguson has selected Giggs almost certainly as a starter. He would not compromise the result and start Giggs simply out of respect. It sends a very clear message that at 39 years old, Giggs is still first-choice, at least for this game.
A footballer is usually considered over the hill at 33. Ryan Giggs is six years past that and will almost certainly secure the contract that will take him into his fifth decade.
Such a feat to be repeated would require super-human levels of tenacity, natural fitness, adaptability and passion, not to mention supreme ability. Such a situation is incredible unlikely, yet with the advancement of technology, nutritional advice and medical advice and treatment, not impossible.
It is feasible to say that, one day, a man cut from the same unearthly ilk as Ryan Giggs could muster the passion, drive and ability to replicate the Welsh wizard's longevity.
At this juncture, I feel I have to corroborate that the boundaries of such an abstract omit goalkeepers due to the reduction in physicality. Unfortunately, this excludes the nevertheless incredible feats of Brad Friedel, the only current Premiership footballer older than Giggs.
One aspect of Giggs’ achievements though, will remain unattainable.
Never again will there be a Premier League footballer who will eclipse 1,000 appearances for the same club.
Since Giggs began his career, football has irrecoverably evolved.
The tentative prongs of commercialism have warped to the extent that they now come to define the game. Money has become a primary focus, with huge transfer fees and ludicrous wages exacerbating the player traffic between clubs. Indulged prima-donnas and exploitative agents now set the agenda. Geographical boundaries are no longer the issue they were, with footloose players simply chasing the coin.
Another factor is the success. It is doubtful, in a world where the next mega-money Arab takeover is always just around the corner, whether a club will ever again enjoy a period of success like Manchester United have during Giggs’ tenure.
The loyalty and dedication shown by Ryan Giggs over two decades of service have been admirable, yet it is pertinent to ponder what motive he could have justified for leaving. He was a cult hero for the greatest club in the country. He has won a league title once in every two seasons he has played, and has procured the highest accolades in the game during that time. Where could he have gone?
The old adage “The grass is always greener on the over side,” is symbolic of the way football is going. There will always be a club who will offer the world's best a viable escape route. The players know that, their agents know that, and so they are at perfect liberty to hold their clubs ransom with extortionate requests.
The most recent example of the one-team man is Lionel Messi. Although barely halfway through his glittering career, the World Player of the Year has shown admirable loyalty to Barcelona, consistently asserting his intentions to stay at his boyhood club. To play devil’s advocate, however, Messi’s situation is similar to Giggs'. Why would he want to leave a club at which he is so adored while enjoying such phenomenal success?
Indeed, according to the BBC, Messi has stated his desire to finish his career in his native Argentina after his Barcelona contract expires in 2018.
Today will not be about Lionel Messi, although his time will come.
In just a few short hours, as Ryan Giggs runs out to be embraced by his adoring crowd, savour the moment, for you will never see anything quite like it again.