Ryan Giggs isn’t ready to retire just yet. On Friday afternoon it was announced that the Manchester United legend had signed a one-year contract extension that will prolong his Old Trafford career until June 2012. The evergreen Welshman will have hit the ripe old age of 38 by the time this contract (which will take him into his 21st year of Premier League service) expires.
With 926 appearances for club and country, 170 goals, and 32 winners’ medals (including 11 from the Premier League titles and two Champion’s League titles), his success is almost unparalleled in world football, let alone in England. But it is more than mere silverware that makes Ryan Giggs the greatest footballer in Premier League history.
The Welsh winger has been a permanent fixture in Sir Alex Ferguson’s United squads since establishing himself as a starter in the 1991-92 season. Even at 37 he’s still considered one of his club’s biggest assets, both off and on the pitch, and he’s already made 24 appearances this season.
Suffering only minor injury troubles throughout his career, Giggs has been able to maintain his form and ability over a period of time that only United team-mate Paul Scholes can rival in the Premier League era.
His skills need little introduction. Once an energetic winger with outstanding technical ability, time has forced Ryan Giggs to adapt to his aging body. Intelligence, experience and a range of passing that has never deteriorated now compensate for his lack of pace. Giggs might not terrorise full-backs like he used to, but he’s the most creative player in United’s squad and a vital playmaker.
The vast majority of players have either retired or are well past their prime by the time they reach his age, but Giggs is as dangerous as ever. He’s never been troubled by major injury, and has switched to a more conservative role in the middle of the park in recently years.
This factors coupled with nurturing from Manchester United’s first-rate coaching staff have helped produce arguably the most consistent midfielder that the modern era of European football has ever seen.
It would be unfair declare Giggs the league’s best ever player without considering his rivals.
Thierry Henry was probably the best player in the world during Arsenal’s “Invincibles” era. With impeccable goals and assists tallies, the Frenchman was unplayable on his day, but his spell in England lasted just eight-and-a-half seasons compared to Giggs’ 20. Perhaps Henry was the most talented player the league has ever seen, but his spell at the top was much shorter than Giggs’.
Some will point to Alan Shearer, the Premier League’s all-time leading goalscorer, but injuries left the Geordie hitman an almost pedestrian figure towards the end of his career. Dennis Bergkamp, Arsenal’s brilliant Dutchman, also deserves consideration. His medal haul is impressive (three league titles, four FA Cups), but it’s hard to call him the “best ever” when you compare his accolades with Giggs’.
Paul Scholes, Eric Cantona and Peter Schmeichel may also be considered. All three of Giggs’ United team-mates were fantastic players in their own right but each can be ruled out.
Scholes’ weaknesses (as anyone who’s witnessed his attempts at “tackling” opposition players over the years will testify) are far more glaring than Giggs’ despite his undeniable attacking prowess. Cantona only graced England’s shores for five years and retired early, and it is almost impossible to compare Ryan Giggs’ attributes with those of Schmeichel, a goalkeeper.
The likes of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are mentionable too, but it will be a couple more years before we can fairly assess their careers.
Critics will no rightly point out that Giggs has always played with an excellent team. He has never single-handedly carried a team like Shearer at Newcastle or, at times, Gerrard at Liverpool, and has been surrounded by outstanding talented players throughout his career. But writing him off as just a cog in a well-oiled machine is shortsighted.
It is no surprise that United’s rise in prominence from mid-table battlers to dominating powerhouse coincided with the Welshman’s emergence. There are, of course, numerous other factors that have contributed to United’s success over the years, but Giggs has been an ever-present. The David Beckhams and Ruud van Nistelrooys of the world have played their part, but Giggs has been unmatched an icon of consistency over his 20-year career.
His presence (along with that of Scholes) has ensured that United have always had a dangerous team, even when they have missed out on the title. From “that” solo goal against Arsenal in the 1999 FA Cup semifinal to being voted the PFA Players’ Player of the Year in 2009, Giggs has done it all. It would be criminal to overlook his contribution because of the calibre of his teammates.
But aside from all that, Ryan Giggs is the kind of player that the term “model professional” was made for. As football continues to succumb to liars and cheats, Giggs’ conduct has been impeccable. He’s never been red carded while playing for United, and has shown his philanthropic side by working with UNICEF. He never speaks out of turn in the press and never carries himself without dignity and respect.
In stark contrast to many of the league’s millionaire playboys, he’s shunned the limelight thrust upon him since the start of his career. He is the perfect example of what every young footballer should aspire to be, and his inspiration will live on long after his eventual retirement. Dennis Bergkamp and Frank Lampard may be great professionals, but they’re no Ryan Giggs.
Dedication, decorum, skill, consistency, and adaptability are what make Ryan Giggs the greatest player in Premier League history. Others may have rivalled (or even surpassed) him in terms of ability, but there is no better ambassador for the English Premier League than Ryan Giggs.
His arrival as a live-wire 17-year-old with sublime skills ushered in a new era of English football, and he’ll keep going strong until the day he decides to hang his boots up.