Ryan Giggs' decision to sign another one-year contract at Manchester United is immensely important to a club that has entered a phase of major change.
Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement signals the end of the Red Devils' most impressive era. The Scotsman's run of success not only propelled United towards being one of the world's most recognisable sporting brands, it underlined the importance of individuals within any football team's hierarchy.
The gum-chewing genius' philosophy and attacking style has come to define his consistent ability to land trophies. Manchester United's never-say-die attitude is part of English football's folklore, but with Ferguson leaving his post, are the Premier League champions in danger of losing everything the 71-year-old "Govanor" strived to produce?
Not a chance.
Giggs worked alongside Ferguson for 23 of the manager's 27 years in charge. During this time, the Welshman has established himself as one of football's most respected individuals and arguably the greatest player both Manchester United and the Premier League has ever seen.
Just months before turning 40, Giggs' greatest attributes have come to the fore. He continues to look after his body, remain in shape and offer an excellent alternative to United's younger players. His willingness to adapt his game—from relentlessly pacey winger to versatile and technical midfielder—has offered the Old Trafford fans a sense of assurance.
More importantly, it has offered incoming players a figure of experience that continues to help the club towards glory.
Now Ferguson has retired, Giggs' role is set to change once again. Paul Scholes' decision to quit football ensures Giggs is the last remaining Fergie Fledging to play for United. He is the final representation of the club's emergence as a superpower and the embodiment of what it takes to remain at the top.
How important does this make the man who nearly signed for Manchester City? He now becomes United's most valuable constant. Despite Ferguson's presence in the director's role, Giggs' presence allows new boss David Moyes to come in and assert himself without ever worrying about the reaction of key players.
Giggs will act as a useful go-between for players and manager. If things go wrong, he can offer assurance. He is used to dealing with all of football's pressures, both on and off the pitch. If Moyes' ideas fail to capture the playing staff's imagination, it is Giggs who can soften the blow for both his teammates and the man in charge.
Turnover of staff continues to define modern football. Whether it's Chelsea sacking a Champions League winning manager or Manchester City ridding themselves of an individual who landed their first Premier League title, many clubs believe the grass is always greener. Longevity is exchanged for the lure of immediate success; often wrongly.
As we have seen with United's dominance, maintaining personnel that understands the club is vital to winning trophies. Bayern Munich—who fell 2-1 to Manchester United in the 1999 Champions League final—also emphasise the importance of this model.
With former players such as Franz Beckenbauer, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeneß maintaining authoritative positions at the club, Bayern's values and way of doing things has been preserved. The German side's recent Champions League triumph is the culmination of hard work that started years before the current team was built.
Despite signing an extension to his playing career, Giggs is likely to become increasingly important as a United coach. Scholes and Nicky Butt are already confirmed for United's coaching staff, ensuring the remnants of Ferguson's reign remain.
For young players such as Wilfried Zaha, arriving at Old Trafford and seeing individuals of this stature on the bench will only continue to galvanise Manchester United's particular brand of footballing philosophy. In a sport of constant flux, the continued influence of Giggs and teammates from his haydey remains a reminder that loyalty can match mega-riches when producing champions.
Ryan Giggs has been tearing opponents apart since 1991. With Ferguson's retirement confirmed, he'll have a huge say in whether the next generation of Red Devils can do exactly the same.
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