Lee Dixon: Giggs and Scholes are the last of their kind – careers will shorten as demands increase

The fact that Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes are still playing for Manchester United into their late 30s is testament to the way they have looked after their bodies throughout their careers.

Giggs says he still wants to play next year when he will be 38, while Scholes – who is only 36 – has yet to decide whether he will retire this year or not.

Both have been wonderful examples of how important it is for players of all ages to spend their down time wisely. As footballers you end up with a lot of time on your hands, as you only train for maybe 10 or 11 hours a week, and play a couple of games.

So it is really important how you spend your time off. Guys like Giggs and Scholes have got it down to a tee. They know how to prepare their bodies, and the incentive of still playing for Manchester United gives them all the motivation they need.

Cynics might say they are paid so much it's no wonder they are playing on, but although it must be nice to pocket that whopping pay packet every month it is not the reason they are doing it. They don't need to play on, but they do because they love the game so much. I know the feeling – I would have loved to have played on to 40, but as it is I retired at 38 when injuries to my right knee and right ankle made it impossible for me to continue.

My pace had gone but I still managed to squeeze a few more years out of my body. I realised I was slowing down, and just tried to train even harder to compensate for it. For a while your experience can see you through but in the end you realise that you are being followed around by Father Time and you can't outrun him.

I did all I could to fight it though. I remember going for an ultrasound scan on my ankle, which was never right again after it had been broken going for a 50-50 ball with Peter Beardsley a few years earlier. The nurse doing the scan only knew I was from Arsenal, and when she looked at the results she asked me how long I had been retired. I was a bit taken aback as I had just signed a new three-year contract with the club. But she couldn't believe that I was playing on with my dodgy ankle.

By the end, my knee was even worse. I'd had an operation when I was 18 and most of my cartilage had been removed, and over time it just wore down. I walk with a limp now but I must admit some of that is in my head because it doesn't hurt all the time. It's just the price you have to pay for having had the best job in the world.

Giggs and Scholes are exceptional, and I don't think it will lead to a spate of footballers following their example and playing late in their careers. Generally I think there will be a trend towards players retiring earlier and earlier. They are paid so much money these days at the top level of the game that the financial incentive of continuing your career has vanished. And the physical demands of playing have increased. It is certainly a much faster game than when I retired in 2002.

It is much like what happened to rugby when the game went professional. The whole sport became much tougher physically and players' careers were shortened as a result. We will gradually begin to see that happening in football as well.

It does all come down to how well an individual player has looked after himself and prepared for matches. Internazionale are a good example of that. Last season they won the Champions League with one of the oldest squads in the competition, with an average age of more than 29 years.

That's because they had an outstanding blend of young and old. The older guys, who have looked after themselves, can be priceless in passing on their experience. It's pretty much the perfect situation.

I can see a lot of players retiring younger in the years to come. These days, if you haven't been looking after yourself off the pitch, it will catch up with you on it. Tony Adams played until he was 36 but I don't think he would have been able to do that now, even though he gave up drinking in the second half of his career.

It just goes to show how well Giggs and Scholes have done to have played so long, and coped with the changes of the modern game. At their age they have so much wisdom and experience to pass on to younger players, and they can be a very calming influence on the team in times of trouble. Sadly, I don't think we will be seeing their like again.

  • Related keywords: Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs
  • Advertisement
    Advertisement