In praise of Ryan Giggs

Ryan Giggs has an impeccable sense of timing. Today, he stands to make the 1000th senior appearance of a career few can ever hope to emulate. If he does so, it will come 22 years to the day after his debut, when he replaced Denis Irwin in the 2-0 loss to Everton. The milestone also comes at the exact moment at which the man long tipped to be his heir - Gareth Bale - has stepped onto the world stage. Of all the facts circulating about Giggs' longevity (Phil Jones not even being born when the Welshman made his debut, etc), perhaps the most pertinent is this: if Bale were to match Giggs' 22 years in the game, he would still be going strong in 2028.

He might even have to keep going a little longer than that; this week, Giggs penned another one-year contract at Manchester United, a deal that will see him playing into his 40s. At this stage, few would bet on this being his final payday.

Plenty has changed since Giggs emerged onto the scene as a skinny 17-year-old. Not least football itself; he, more than any player, has straddled the staggering sea change in the game. His "new George Best" years were spent in the Panini-stickered, muddy-pitched purgatory of post-Thatcher football, scoring goals like this and ensuring his face would adorn a thousand bedroom walls. He was there as the Premier League emerged into the light, the oldest young head among (the horribly named) Fergie's Fledglings. He helped United gain a foothold in the increasingly glitzy Champions League, scored one of the goals for which YouTube was surely created, and has seen new rivalries develop at the top of the English game. He has also, on occasion, been cut with the second edge of the modern life-in-the-public-eye sword.

Perhaps Giggs' greatest achievement lies in his having stuffed two careers into one. There have been two Ryan Giggses - the lithe, mercurial boy wonder and the lithe, mercurial guru brimming with savvy and experience. He's been both Gareth Bale and Gary Speed - and sometimes both at once. For the startling thing is how often Giggs Mark II - greying, furrowed of brow and increasingly gaunt - has channelled his former self, drifting to the flanks to show Nani and Ashley Young how it should be done. If central midfield has become his primary hunting ground over the past few years, he remains a force to be reckoned with on the touchline.

He may have lost a yard of pace over the years, but his style has never relied upon pure speed. Nor is Giggs one for FIFA-loading-screen showmanship. He bewitches defenders with the movement of his body, his hips, knees and shoulders spelling out an ever-changing bluff. As we have seen in recent years, Giggs' dribbling is far from wasted in central areas: his ability to surge into pockets of space between the lines has been devastating on occasion, with rival midfielders increasingly ill-accustomed to opponents running at them instead of passing. (The same technique is part of what makes Mousa Dembele and Yaya Toure such tricky customers - albeit in slightly different ways.)

Yet he has also added a solid arsenal of playmaking skills to his repertoire. Giggs may occasionally blow hot and cold as central creator, but his knockout passes - to Michael Owen in the Manchester derby; to Robin van Persie in the FA Cup - stand alongside those of an Andrea Pirlo or a Xavi. He can also point to individual performances that rival any of the attacking midfielders; his display at the San Siro against Internazionale in February 2009, for instance, was a lesson in calm and restraint under pressure.

Of all the things you can say about Giggs, the most telling may be this: that he has been consistently picked and valued by one of the greatest managers in history. For 22 years. Sir Alex Ferguson is hardly known for his sentimentality; Giggs has simply been - and continues to be - an enormous asset to Manchester United as a player. Fans should treasure every moment they get to watch him in action. A career of this magnitude won't come around again any time soon.

Ryan Giggs is 10.00 with Unibet to be Manchester United manager by 31 August 2017.

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