Ryan Giggs admits Gareth Bale "better for Wales than I was"
"People have different views on myself, Ian Rush, Mark Hughes, Big Nev.... but Bale could be the most important of the lot" -the big Giggs verdict
Ryan Giggs admits that Gareth Bale is poised to be come a greater player for Wales than he was.
The Manchester United legend, assistant boss at Old Trafford, won a record 13 Premier League titles and lifted two Uefa Champions League trophies during a glittering club career, but he never quite managed to match that success on the international stage with his country.
Giggs twice came close to helping Wales to a major finals, the 1994 World Cup and Euro 2004, but the team agonisingly fell at the final hurdle on each occasion.
But even though he is viewed by most as the greatest modern-day Welsh footballer of the lot, Giggs himself reckons Bale will eclipse him in the standings if he leads Wales over the line in the race for Euro 2016.
“Whether Gareth is more important to Wales, or better than myself or Ian Rush or Mark Hughes or Neville Southall, well, people have different views on that,” said 41-year-old Giggs.
“That is what is special about football, it’s about those different opinions. But for a Welsh team to get to a major Championship you would have to say they are better than any Welsh team, and certainly the sides I played in.
“And if you say that, then perhaps you would have to say for Wales, Gareth has been the more important player because he would have helped them qualify. I did not manage that, but I know how hard we tried.”
The current crop of Welsh players stand on the brink of ending that near six decades of hurt, with victories over Cyprus and Israel next week taking them to the finals in France.
Even if Chris Coleman’s table-topping side slip up, they have October matches against Bosnia and Andorra in which to seal qualification.
Bale has been the pivotal figure in the push for Euro 2016 and the similarities between himself and Giggs are obvious.
Each from the Welsh capital, they were singled out for their talents at an early age, Giggs at United, Bale first at Southampton, then Tottenham and today at Real Madrid, arguably at the biggest club on the planet.
Each are gifted left-footers, capable of striking fear into the best defenders in the world when rampaging down their flank. Each has worn the number 11 shirt of Wales with distinction.
Giggs’ commitment to his country has often been questioned, his record for turning up for international friendlies regularly criticised, but he insists he was as proud to wear the famous red shirt as Bale is right at this moment.
But Giggs does contend that his 26-year-old counterpart is set to eclipse his own international career by getting Wales to the Euro finals... and also backed his heir to the Wales throne to prove a smash hit in the tournament in France next summer.
“Gareth is just a brilliant player. He’s the standard of player who will just walk into any team in the world,” enthuses Giggs.
“For me the Welsh team right at this moment is like a club side with the team spirit excellent, but then again you do have that special player in there who can produce magic moments to win games.
“He has already shown he can produce those moments in this campaign, against Belgium, Israel and Andorra. It looks like he feels at home too in that squad with the players. They look after him and he looks after them.
“He just keeps making goals and scoring goals. His record is fantastic over the last couple of years for Wales. I really hope he gets us over the qualifying line because he is capable of lighting up Euro 2016.”
Giggs first became aware of Bale when excited rumours began spreading through the game about a youngster rising through the ranks at Southampton. The Manchester United man quickly got the chance to see what the fuss was about first hand when Bale was called up at a tender age to John Toshack’s senior team, which veteran Giggs was captain of.
Giggs has followed Bale’s development with interest since and actually draws parallels with Cristiano Ronaldo more than himself.
Ronaldo, of course, played with Giggs at United and is a current team-mate of Bale’s at Madrid.
“When Gareth was a youngster, I kept hearing people talking about this teenager at Southampton who was going to be really special,” recalls Giggs.
“That was when he was maybe 15 and shortly after he joined the Welsh squad. I was with him a couple of times in there so I saw him as a player then for the first time.
“But he’s moved on from there of course. For me, it’s been a similar thing as happened with Cristiano. He’s just filled out physically and become the kind of player who at his best is just nearly impossible to deal with.”
Of course, even the most talented individuals in the game are not immune to criticism. Giggs himself was almost unbelievably questioned by Manchester United fans and even on occasions by some Wales supporters.
In the harsh glare of the Spanish press and public in La Liga, Bale has also been singled out for some of his performances in the famous white shirt. Having seen it himself, Giggs knows you have to take the rough with the smooth and urged Bale to just carry on doing what he is in order to deal with the stresses and strains.
“You have to take the pressure which comes with playing at that level on board. It’s part and parcel of being a top player,” explained Giggs.
“You are going to have ups and downs, there’s no doubt about that and if you come through the downs it will make you a better player in the future.
“In the good times you are going to get the plaudits and adulation and even that can be a little difficult to handle. Then when you are maybe not playing so well for whatever reason and you are getting stick, you have to deal with that too. That is what being a footballer at a big club is about.
“The criticism is real and sometimes it can be harsh. But you don’t listen to the papers, you just listen to your manager. If he keeps picking you then you know that you must be doing something right. I think Gareth is handling that in just the right manner.”
One thing is for certain, Chris Coleman will definitely keep picking Bale. Like Giggs, in fact, he is the first name on the team-sheet.
Unlike Giggs, Bale may just get Wales to a major finals... and according to Ryan himself, that makes him the greatest modern-day Welsh footballer we have had.