Belfast Telegraph

Monday 14 July 2014

Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs is fab at 40, and better than ever

Ryan Giggs has won as many league titles as Arsenal have in their entire history

Mal Donaghy believes that Ryan Giggs' performance against Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday night showed why he is still a key member of the Manchester United first team at the ripe old age of 40.

The Welsh wizard hits the landmark today, yet as he enters his fifth decade Giggs remains an integral part of David Moyes plans.

And after starring in United's 5-0 Champions League romp in Leverkusen Giggs showed that he is a long way from being finished.

"I was gobsmacked by his performance on Wednesday night," said Donaghy.

"He was simply phenomenal.

"I was amazed after seeing what was a pretty inept performance against Cardiff City last Sunday – albeit they were only denied a win by a late goal – because Manchester United looked like a different team.

"As a football coach I tried to analyse the game and look for reasons why that was the case and all I can put it down to was the manager's decision to play Ryan Giggs in midfield beside Phil Jones.

"Jones being there allowed Ryan to go and express himself and for me it was beyond comprehension to see someone performing like that in a Champions League game a couple of days before his 40th birthday."

Donaghy was in the team when Giggs made his United debut as a 17-year-old against Everton at Old Trafford on March 2, 1991. The former Northern Ireland international left Old Trafford 16 months later, while Giggs has gone on to win 13 Premier League titles, four FA Cups and two Champions Leagues in the last 22 years.

"When he first came into the team he was a flying machine," said Donaghy.

"In those days you could tackle, but I saw defenders try to hack him down and he was just too quick for them. He'd have them beaten and the next thing the ball would be in the back of the net.

"He's lost a bit of pace, but has reinvented himself and moved into a central role where his passing has improved and he's been able to continue playing at the highest level."

Donaghy believes the fact that Giggs is still playing at all, let alone in the Premier League, when those he grew up with at Old Trafford have long since retired, is down to a number of factors.

"Motivation is part of it and he has looked after himself on and off the pitch too," said Donaghy.

"He has been fortunate with injuries as well, I don't remember him having anything major or long-term.

"He has undoubted talent too and all that put together has helped him to have the longevity he has enjoyed in his career."

His record of 953 games for United puts him way out in front in terms of appearances for the club, but he isn't at the top of Donaghy's all-time list of Red Devils stars.

"He would be in my top five," said Donaghy.

"George Best would be my number one, he was my boyhood hero. After that you have so many to choose from, with Eric Cantona another obvious one..

"If he plays to 50 he could maybe make the top two or three, but George will always be number one."

Denis Irwin, the man who limped off injured in the game against Everton to give Giggs his debut, does not believe the records he has set will ever be broken.

He said: "That volume of medals will never be broken.

"The number of games? That would take some beating as well.

"What he has done is unbelievable. That kind of longevity at such a top club.

"This is no run of the mill mid-table team or one in the Championship. You are talking the very highest level for the last 23 years.

"The amount of games. The number of trophies. The dedication needed to go the distance and challenge yourself every year.

"To come back for pre-season training and keep going with the same intensity shows what type of player and person he is."

Irwin played a unique role in the Welshman's career.

For well over a decade, the pair patrolled the left-hand side of the field. Giggs was the flamboyant winger, Irwin was Sir Alex Ferguson's Mr Dependable, but the Irishman has a secret. He doesn't believe his own contribution could have been possible without Giggs' assistance.

"I was a right-footed full-back," he said.

"Throughout all the time we played together, Ryan was my left foot. He wasn't afraid to do his defensive duties. He would always do the dirty side of things.

"I could always trust him to come back and mark the overlapping full-back. It was a pleasure to work with him. He made my job a hell of a lot easier."

Irwin is impressed by his one-time colleague's ability to keep going.

As Irwin acknowledged, once players reach their mid-30s, they tend to get bracketed as veterans and their actual age is forgotten.

Yet, in much the same way as they develop from 25 to 30, so the change continues from 35 to 40.

Having reached the age of 38 before calling time on his own career, Irwin is acutely aware of the effort Giggs has put into the latter years of his career.

"At that age, all you need are two or three indifferent games and the end of the horizon starts to come into view," said Irwin.

"To the media you are a veteran and they are ready to pension you off."

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