Timeless Giggs approaches 1,000 with no letup in sight

Posted by Musa Okwonga

There is some corner of a dressing room that will be forever Giggs. The timeless Welsh winger has enjoyed -- or endured -- a tenure at Old Trafford that is, in its own way, as remarkable as that of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Ryan Giggs' arrival in the first team can almost be seen as the Big Bang era of Ferguson's dominance of the English game: it was shortly after his emergence that Manchester United's ambitions began to expand rapidly out in all directions. And what a glorious universe the two of them have made.

-- Giggs signs for season No. 24

In Ferguson’s autobiography "Managing My Life", he is most lyrical in his description of Giggs, of whom he wrote "he floated across the ground like a cocker spaniel chasing a piece of silver paper in the wind". Now, as Giggs is about to play his 1,000th game of professional football -- so far, 931 for United, 64 for Wales, and 4 for Team GB at the Olympics -- it is an appropriate time to reflect on his career.

After all, there has never been a player quite like Giggs, the sprinter who won the marathon. Though any video compilation of his finest work will contain a multitude of wonderful highlights, Giggs was not the sort of player to deliver utterly thrilling performances every single week, in the style of George Best or Cristiano Ronaldo. Instead, he released his genius in short, controlled bursts, like a champion cyclist breaking free of the peloton.

On that theme, it should be noted that for all his technical genius, Giggs' greatest asset has been in staying with the pack. To do so, he has had to adapt his style of play like few other footballers before him, and like few will do so after: from a boy with the speed and elusiveness of a jackrabbit to a man of calm and stately vision.

Though his waning pace has at times cost him, he has never wanted for courage. Many wingers have viewed Old Trafford's left touchline as tentatively as a man with vertigo might viewed a tightrope: Giggs, even at 39, bounds towards it as if he were Indiana Jones in the depths of some ancient temple. Giggs is in remarkable physical shape, but this would be nothing without his desire, which is almost unrivalled in the modern game.

That desire is evident in the decisiveness with which he produces a crucial moment: whether that be his famous voyage through the Arsenal back four in the FA Cup semi-final, or his almost casual penalty in the shoot-out of the 2008 UEFA Champions League final. His trophy cabinet at Manchester United is almost the size of Ferguson’s, and his demise has been predicted with about as much regularity. Yet still, somehow, he glides onward; and with a contract renewal just signed, and his coaching badges completed, it does not seem that he will be leaving the club anytime soon.

Of course, there are uncomfortable footnotes to this eulogy. While Paul Scholes is roundly revered far beyond Old Trafford, the legacy of Giggs will always shift a little more awkwardly in the public gaze. The startling revelations about his private life were the strongest possible reminder that sports fans should be wary of the pedestals on which they place their heroes.

These revelations were also a reminder that Giggs, even more so than Scholes, was thoroughly unknowable. They were the first glimpse that many supporters had of a man who, beyond the pitch, was a scrupulously private soul. There’s a line from Jay-Z’s track “The Watcher 2”, where Hova tells hip-hop's young pretenders that "I was doin' this s--- when you was sh----’ Pampers"; the same is true of Giggs, who has enjoyed a similar longevity, and who was literally winning titles before some of his current teammates could walk.

Like Jay-Z, Giggs may not ultimately be regarded as the very greatest of his era, but the sheer scale of his achievements should always make him part of the conversation. What’s more, they have given his admirers an endless supply of moments from which they can choose to remember him: and for those who cannot identify just one, they can simply immerse themselves here.

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