Jim White is a sports columnist for the Daily Telegraph.
Published: May 21, 4:12 AM
Updated: May 21, 4:13 AM
The statistics insist Ryan Giggs was the greatest footballer of the Premier League era. Thirteen Premier League titles, two Champions League wins plus a variety of other cups, medals and baubles are all stuffed in a drawer somewhere in his house.
For him, the most important thing has always been the future. When talking about Giggs’ achievements, it is impossible not to use the term longevity. But the fact is, he is the only person connected with any of the top-line clubs who was involved in the pre-historic times before the Premier League. He made his debut before Manchester United were champions and bowed out when they were no longer at the top. In between, he spent 22 years surfing success. And much of it is his personal responsibility — he scored goals in all but his final season in the Premier League.
Giggs was a beguiling mix of ruthlessness and grace. The way he ran, passed and moved was balletic and also wholly damaging to opponents.
Over the years, he transformed himself from a thin, frail winger into a grizzled, canny central midfielder and stayed at the top through an extraordinary combination of yoga and diet, and what Sir Alex Ferguson described as a ruthless determination to prove the genius within him.
His father, Danny Wilson, was a hugely skilful but flaky rugby league player who served as an inverse role model for his son.
Ferguson provided the platform for his skills and Giggs seldom disappointed. That goal against Arsenal in the 1999 FA Cup semi-final was the summation of his ability to inflict pain in the most aesthetic manner.
This last season has long had the feeling of farewell. Distancing himself from David Moyes’ disastrous regime, he was no longer central to United’s efforts. But there were moments. His magnificent performance in the game against Olympiakos defied all theories of age. Against Hull City — his final senior appearance — he gave a couple of fleeting images to sear into memory; now greying of beard and balding of thatch, there was still something of the old Giggs in the way he ran.
Like John McEnroe’s serve and Arnold Palmer’s swing, his running style seemed to defy time. Ryan Giggs’ story is not just about longevity but the longevity was incredible.
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH
Fact File (selected):
Born: Nov 29, 1973 in Cardiff
Joined United in July 1990, made senior debut against Everton in March 1991.
Scored 168 goals in 963 appearances for United.
The most decorated player in English football with 34 trophies, including 13 league titles, four FA Cups and two Champions Leagues.
Won 64 caps for Wales, scoring 12 times.
(Hope Giggs is an inspiration for our veteran badminton players.)