End of the road for Giggs?

More than 23 years since he made his first-team debut, Manchester United’s greatest ever player is likely to be entering his final month at Old Trafford. After featuring in 962 competitive first-team games (with friendlies it’s well over 1,000), Ryan Giggs, 40, is out of contract at the end of the season.

Sir Bobby Charlton’s 758-game appearance record for Manchester United was long considered insurmountable but Giggs passed that mark more than five years ago in Moscow, when he won his second European Cup with United.

Giggs has played 190 more games than the combined appearance total of United legends Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo and Nemanja Vidic. 

Cantona was more decisive during his time at Old Trafford, while George Best might have been a more talented footballer and Denis Law the “King of the Stretford End,” but Giggs has had many moments that will likely be highlighted when he hangs up his boots. A home-drawn “Giggs ties Forest in Notts” flag at the 1992 League Cup final, for example, could have been twisted to apply to many foes.

And then there's "that" FA Cup semifinal replay goal versus Arsenal, which was scored on this day, 15 years ago.

Despite not being a striker, he is seventh on United’s all-time top scorers’ list with 168. Giggs has played 151 times for one club in the Champions League, more than any other player. The Welshman has played more for his club than Paolo Maldini did for AC Milan. Read that sentence again.

Giggs started against Bayern Munich at Old Trafford in the last 16 of the Champions League, but his last meaningful contribution in Europe came in the previous round versus Olympiakos, when he played 90 minutes and helped United overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit. He wasn’t expecting to play for so long and his body ached for days later, but he did it.

After featuring in United's first four games of this season, Giggs has been used more sparingly since. He’s achieved a recent ambition of playing Premier League football at 40, but it’s been an inglorious final term for a club and player so decorated that United fans have flags showing how his individual trophy haul surpasses that of several major rivals. 

In more than 23 years in United’s first team, Giggs has won more major trophies -- including 13 league titles -- than Chelsea or Manchester City have in their entire history. 

So what’s his future? I’ve been told on a consistent basis since November that there was much room for improvement in his relationship with David Moyes. Such speculation built and, in March, United put out a statement (in which Giggs was not quoted) saying that the Cardiff-born player was furious with the speculation. In April, he said he had no idea where such talk came from and that he had no problem working with Moyes.

If Giggs does have an issue with Moyes, he’s unlikely to criticise him publicly while he’s under contract. He does very little publicly, except hold back, and has long let his football do the talking, since Sir Alex Ferguson wrapped him in cotton wool and indoctrinated in him a suspicion of the media when he first broke into United’s first team. That was so long ago that Liverpool were reigning champions.

Giggs almost never comments on stories of his private life and, if he ever does open up to a journalist, it’s to talk football. There are countless stories with which other players have gone on the record about Giggs, which Worsley’s (the Salford suburb where he’s spent most of his life) finest has said nothing about publicly. 

From stories of fights with the son of United’s chairman to his own teammates, his own autobiography wasn’t revealing because he chose for it not to be. His private life is just that and, given the more salacious headlines about his private life, maybe that’s with good reason. 

But what do his teammates say about him? He enjoys legendary status among them for a start; he’s still seen as the main man in the dressing room, a fair but hard person who doesn’t suffer fools. 

Giggs’ professionalism has never diminished and he’s done all his UEFA coaching badges while still playing, something that not even the best-intentioned, recently retired footballers find the time or commitment to do.

Players will recount countless stories of Giggs helping them. In 1995, Andy Cole had been at Old Trafford for a week and was struggling to find his feet while living in his agent’s spare room (he would later be invoiced for rent) when Giggs invited him for a night out at Cream, the-then legendary house music club in Liverpool. He went, loved it and stayed at Giggs’ house that night. The pair became good mates.

That Giggs could go to Liverpool and not get abused shows that he was respected even in enemy heartland. He was wise, too, to pick his venue carefully. While other footballers may have gone to cheesier venues, Giggs went to where they played the best music.

“Me and Ryan used to go to [famous former Manchester clubs] The Boardwalk and the Hacienda a lot,” long-time teammate Nicky Butt told me. “The Boardwalk was the greatest place in the world; the best club I’ve ever been to because the music was so good.”

Oasis rehearsed daily at The Boardwalk before releasing "Definitely Maybe" and it became renowned as one of the finest clubs in Manchester. 

Giggs never encouraged Manchester’s three-man paparazzi scene to wait for him at clubs. I remember interviewing him at Old Trafford in January 1996 when, to his great relief, David Beckham had arrived to take away a limelight he didn’t want to occupy. 

Two years later I had a heated argument outside a Manchester bar with a United player. We can both laugh about it now, and it would have carried on until dawn but Giggs split it up. He said little but calmed the situation. Ever the peacemaker, he is the kind of guy who could ease tensions in Ukraine by having opposing factions dancing while singing songs about his former United teammate, Andrei Kanchelskis.

Giggs can be wise, too. In 2000, United played in the Club World Championship in Rio de Janeiro.

“Me, Butty, Roy [Keane] and Giggsy were sitting by the pool at our hotel in Rio,” recalled Cole. “We talked about going up in a glider, which flew off from a cliff nearby and over the Atlantic Ocean. 

“I realised it was Friday the 13th and ducked out; so did Giggsy. Next thing, we hear these screams. (Keane) and Butty were up the sky having the time of their lives.”

Giggs has been unfortunate with timing this season following Ferguson’s departure. Under different circumstances, he could have been made an assistant with a view to one day taking over as manager, but Giggs is one of several who could say that; Carlos Queiroz being another.

Unless Giggs feels that he wants to continue working as an assistant coach and that, yes, he does get on brilliantly with Moyes and fully embraces his footballing philosophy, I don’t see him being at Old Trafford next season. 

Circumstances might change but, even if Moyes were to be dismissed, it's doubtful that Giggs is ready to be the first-team manager of United. Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique, for example, both flew the Barcelona nest before starting out in coaching with the club’s B-team. 

Giggs may have to do similar and may finally leave, which will be United’s loss, but he’ll be back. 

Feared by the blues and loved by the reds.

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