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Ryan Giggs: A True Legend

Chris DowdingCorrespondent IJanuary 14, 2009

When Sir Alex Ferguson announced his team to play Chelsea in last Sunday's Premier League clash, there were more than a few raised eyebrows at the inclusion of Ryan Giggs in a central midfield role.

Against a powerful midfield of Joe Cole, Michael Ballack, Deco, John Obi Mikel, and Frank Lampard, surely the 35-year-old Giggs would be outnumbered, outplayed, and outfought?

Not a bit of it. Instead, the veteran gave a midfield master class, helping control the game, putting in a sound shift defensively, and providing guile and craft going forward. Not bad for someone who spent a good 16 years playing on the left wing.

Giggs has been almost as central the success Manchester United have enjoyed over the last decade and a half as Sir Alex Ferguson.

His medal haul speaks for itself: 10 Premier League triumphs, four FA Cups, two League Cups, two Champions League victories, seven Community Shields, one UEFA Super Cup, one Intercontinental Cup, and one FIFA Club World Cup.

Considering he was on Manchester City's books as a youth player, he must be glad that Sir Alex Ferguson stepped in.

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Giggs has, in part, been the architect of his own success, having to reinvent himself a couple of times.

He started out as a flying winger, not always sure of when to release the ball instead of taking on his full-back. If his end product, whether in the form of a goal or a telling cross, had not been so good, there is a chance he would not have received the plaudits he did.

As in Argentina, the search for "the new Maradona" is never ending (although Lionel Messi seems to fit the bill for some people). The search in Manchester has been for the "new George Best." Giggs is as close as anybody has come to filling that title.

Giggs had competition on the wings at Manchester United. Lee Sharpe was considered a contender for the title of "the new Best," also a left winger like Giggs. On the other flank was the flying Ukranian, Andrei Kanchelskis.

Rotation of these three classic wingers was essential, and it was rare that the same combination played week in, week out. The one constant always seemed to be Giggs, whether on the left or right flank.

Soon, the buzz over the young winger spread to Italy, and Inter reportedly made a big offer for Giggs. He himself had admitted he considered the move, but his longing to play at Old Trafford overcame his curiosity and he stayed.

As Giggs matured, so did his play. He began to realise that a ball infield or back to his full back (normally the ever reliable Denis Irwin) could be just as effective as a dazzling run. His understanding of keeping possession and the improvement of his delivery from wide positions helped him become a better player.

Championships began to pile up, and in 1999 came the incredible Treble. Giggs played a major part in each success. In the league he provided goals and assists. In the FA Cup semifinal replay he scored one of the great goals of all time.

Picking up on a loose pass from Arsenal's Patrick Vieira, Giggs beat five men before smashing the ball high into David Seaman's goal. His celebration—waving his shirt above his head to reveal a chest so hairy that Neanderthal man might have felt like a bit of a girl—has become almost as famous as the goal.

In the Champions League, he scored a late equaliser against Juventus at Old Trafford in first leg of the semifinal. This helped set up a win to take United to the final.

The final itself was a disappointment for Giggs. United had been stripped of their central midfield pairing of Roy Keane and Paul Scholes through suspension, forcing David Beckham into central midfield for the final. Giggs lined up on the right for the final, with Swede Jesper Blomqvist on the left.

Despite the incredible win, United were poor and Giggs found it hard to get into the game. His work over that season, however, had been invaluable, and he deserved his medal as much as any other player.

So, fast-forward nearly a decade and we find Giggs looking a bit grey, with a noticeable bald patch beginning to form, and without the pace to fly up and down the wing for 90 minutes.

For some players, this would be the beginning of the end.

Not for Giggs. Once again, he reinvented himself, this time into a central midfielder, still with a fair turn of pace, but with over 15 years of experience. In a team packed with midfield talent, Giggs realises he will be used sparingly, often as an impact player with 20 minutes left.

The 2008 Champions League Final saw Giggs break Sir Bobby Charlton's appearance record for Manchester United, as United triumphed in the biggest club game in the world for the third time.

In the modern game, a player like Giggs is a rare commodity. He is a one-club man who has won everything there is to win with his club. AC Milan's legendary defender Paolo Maldini is someone who can point to a record that is better than Giggs. Not many others can.

Some will argue that Giggs' biggest weakness has been his nationality, which is Welsh. Born in Cardiff but raised in Salford, the Welshman with the Manc accent could have played for England.

Indeed, he played for England Schoolboys, but when the senior call came, he chose to represent his nation of birth. But while being Wales' most exciting player, Giggs frustrated the nation by constantly pulling out of friendly matches—a rare blot on his copybook.

If Giggs had chosen to represent England he surely would have filled the gaping hole in the left-side of midfield that has plagued the Three Lions for the last decade.

Perhaps the exposure on the world stage would have made Giggs an even bigger star. Maybe it would have been a catalyst for more overseas clubs to look to sign him.

There is a case for saying that in global terms, Ryan Giggs is not appreciated as much as perhaps he should be. While he is still playing, this may remain the case.

The last week saw speculation that Giggs' hometown club Cardiff City are considering making a bid for his services. While they would no doubt love to have Giggs in their lineup for the first game at their new St. David's Stadium next season, they shouldn't hold their breath.

Ryan Giggs is Manchester United through and through.

Perhaps for now the most fitting tribute one can pay to Ryan Giggs is recognizing that with every game he is breaking and extending his own record for games played for Manchester United.

To have been such an integral part of one of the world's biggest clubs, with one of football's most ruthless managers, for such a long time is incredible and not to be underestimated.

The true value of Giggs to his club and football in general will only be felt once he hangs his boots up and gives his notoriously dodgy hamstrings a rest.

No matter who you support, it is hard to disagree over Giggs' contribution to football: enduring brilliance, sensational goals, and a medal collection that most players can only dream of. With a distinct and welcome lack of controversy away from the pitch, the man is a true role model.

This word may be overused at times, and many are hesitant to apply it to players still active in the game, but for Giggs it is perhaps the only title that does him justice: legend.

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