Ryan Giggs focus on Champions League Final

THERE are many accusations you can level at footballers.

That, like many of us, they can be vain, one-dimensional, selfish, demanding and a bit lax when it comes to morality.

Except such is their value to their clubs they normally get away with it.

The one thing you can't generally charge them with is being soft. That is why anyone expecting Ryan Giggs to crumble under the mounting pressure of a notorious injunction is in for a shock.

If anything, the 37-year-old Manchester United star has grown stronger.

Certainly, his performances on the pitch over the last six weeks have been a revelation.

And there is nothing to suggest even his naming in the House of Commons on Monday will have any impact on his performance this weekend in the Champions League final against Barcelona at Wembley.

There is also little doubt United manager Alex Ferguson will once again use adverse publicity surrounding one of his players as the best way to further weld his dressing room together.

He showed it yesterday when a reporter, daring to identify the elephant in the room, asked how important winger Giggs was to United's final plans. Ferguson responded bluntly: "Every player is important. Every one of them."

He then turned to the club official sitting next to him and asked: "Does he come to my Friday Press conferences?"

"Sometimes," came the reply.

"Well, not any more... "

Another one bit the dust.

In a business where the casualty rate among young, would-be professionals is huge, players have to be immensely tough just to win their first contract. And they have to be tougher still to get to the top and stay there.

Giggs has been at the top longer than anyone. An incredible 20 seasons in which he has won 12 titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups and two Champions League trophies.

At the same time, he has broken every appearance record at Old Trafford - 613 in the league and 875 overall.

He is also the only player to have scored in every Premier League season.

And he has never been sent off in a United shirt.

This last detail indicates the sort of self-control and level-headedness on which Giggs will have relied during the last couple of months.

Sure, footballers get a bad rap. And some don't help themselves one bit.

Yet the difference between Giggs and the explosion that greeted team-mate Wayne Rooney's recent unfrocking is that this one included injunctions, the development of a privacy law, an attempt to silence a huge debate on Twitter and the very freedom of the Press.

No sportsman has ever been anywhere near this kind of thing before.

But footballers live in a bubble, protected from the real world by their clubs, team-mates and a host of lawyers,agents, minders and friends. That is how Giggs, barely changing stride, has been able to get on with his life.

In the last six weeks, he has had four season-defining games - three against Chelsea, one away to Schalke.

In the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final at Stamford Bridge, he set up the winner for Rooney.

In the second, he laid on both goals for Javier Hernandez and Ji Sung Park.

He opened the scoring and could have had a hat-trick in the semi in Gelsenkirchen.

Finally, in the Premier League decider against Chelsea at Old Trafford, he launched the move from which Hernandez scored the opener before providing the cross for the second from Nemanja Vidic.

United won all four games. It was like turning the clock back a decade.

As for Ferguson, there has never been a doubt of him not standing by a man he views as a model professional.

Ferguson has dealt with the biggest, most wilful and headstrong players in the game during his time at Old Trafford.

First, there was the convivial trio of Bryan Robson, Paul McGrath and Norman Whiteside. Along with the barrack-room lawyer Gordon Strachan.

Then came Eric Cantona. And the unpredictable Andrei Kanchelskis. And Roy Keane. And David Beckham, Jaap Stam, Cristiano Ronaldo, Rooney and Carlos Tevez.

He sorted them all out.

He even survived the greatest threat to his authority when Rooney had to backtrack sharply on his ill-advised decision to quit the club earlier in the season. Now the England man is once again approaching his best. So Ferguson won't have any problem with Giggs.

Just the other day he said of the veteran, who has already made 37 appearances this season: "It's strange. Ryan's peak years seem to have lasted so long. You would think at his age he would be showing signs of waning. But I can't see any evidence of that at all.He's an amazing man."

Some will view Giggs as just the latest example of a footballer getting his come-uppance.

United fans, though, will see him as even more vital to their hopes against Barcelona on Saturday than Rooney.

Whatever way we look at him, Ryan Giggs is one hell of a survivor.

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