Ryan Giggs: The ageless phenomenon
In his 23 year career, Ryan Giggs has surpassed expectations, defied odds and redefined what it means to be a professional footballer.
Jim White, writing in the Telegraph, put his virtually unrivalled longevity to the fact that he has ‘not touched beer or chocolate for years.’
Indeed, Giggs himself has hailed yoga as the key to his longevity.
However, whilst the figure of a 21-year professional career is impressive in itself, it is the level that Giggs has continued to play at that is so impressive.
If you consider that most players that do play on into their late 30s are often struggling to find a club to play for, then you realise that Giggs’ career is all the more astonishing.
Take Edgar Davids as an example. He retired for the first time in 2008 at the age of 36. He briefly joined Championship side Crystal Palace in 2010 only to make only six appearances.
Indeed, his value to the team based on these figures was definitely questionable. He is now player-manager of Barnet, having overseen their League 2 capitulation and subsequent drop into non-league football.
Meanwhile, Giggs has stayed at one of the best clubs in the world for the entirety of his career. He has consistently appeared more than 20 times a season for Manchester United, with his debut 1990-91 season being the only one where he appeared less.
All the more remarkable is the way he has adapted in order to continue as a player.
It is almost written into the footballing book of norms that attacking players retire at the earliest age because they generally rely on age-diminishing skills such as speed.
Up until around three years ago, Giggs had made his name as a left winger, utilising pace, trickery and know-how to seemingly effortlessly ghost past player after player.
Who can forget his 1999 one-man demolition of Arsenal that started at the half-way line? However, with his speed fading, Giggs realised that in order to continue playing at the highest level he needed to adapt.
Sir Alex Ferguson began playing him in central midfield and it was as if he had always been a central midfield player.
He was and is a player that Ferguson has relied on in the big matches; he is someone who will invariably start the big games and will otherwise make an appearance when United are winning in order to steady the team over the finishing line.
Equally, when United are losing, Giggs will be brought on to provide attacking nous, quality passing and a goal threat. Indeed, don’t forget that Giggs is the only player to have scored in every season of the Premier League since its inception.
With Ferguson, Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Phil Neville all retiring in the season just past, Giggs has outstayed all of them.
He remains a phenomenal player. Time after time he has made the difference in matches and although it was never anticipated that he would stay on past Ferguson’s retirement, his contribution in the season to come will most probably still be integral.