Smalling looks up to birthday boy
Manchester United defender Chris Smalling has labelled birthday boy Ryan Giggs the role model all his team-mates look up to.
Giggs celebrates his 40th birthday on Friday with United manager David Moyes believing the Welshman is still improving.
Certainly his performance in Wednesday night's 5-0 Champions League demolition of Bayer Leverkusen suggests Giggs still has plenty to offer and, should he so wish, he worthy of yet another contract extension at the end of the season.
Giggs did not score on Wednesday night. Nor, indeed, could he claim more than one direct assist given Wayne Rooney was responsible for the final pass for the first four United goals.
His experience still shone through as he controlled the game at the pace he wished, always seeming to make the right pass.
"Ryan is a role model for us all," said Smalling.
"He is a cool head in the middle.
"Despite his age, even in the 90th minute he was still taking on three or four players.
"It is terrific to see such a legend playing amongst us.
"His pass for Nani's goal at the end just sums him up. He has that incredible vision. He is terrific and an example to everyone."
The biggest issue Moyes has with Giggs right now is when to pick him and when to give him the rest so obviously required.
It cannot be easy, especially with Michael Carrick on the sidelines and neither Marouane Fellaini nor Tom Cleverley able to match Giggs' influence in central midfield.
Leverkusen boss Sami Hyypia doubtless wishes Moyes had elected to save Giggs' legs in readiness for Sunday's trip to Tottenham given he was responsible for an overall United performance the Finn accepted was far too good for his own side.
"We really punished them," said Smalling.
"Bayern Munich were the only team to take points off them at their ground in the league this season, which speaks for itself.
"But we put them to the sword.
"Once we got two goals ahead you could see their heads drop.
"They knew they were going to be well beaten because we were not going to let that lead slip."
Only once in their entire history have United won an away game in Europe by a greater margin.
That 6-0 win in 1957 was at the expense of Irish part-timers Shamrock Rovers, not the team presently second in the Bundesliga/
Remarkably, Leverkusen could still join United in the knockout stages providing Shakhtar Donetsk do not leave Old Trafford with a victory that would deprive Moyes' side of top spot in Group A when the sides meet in a fortnight.
Not even Sir Alex Ferguson won a European away fixture by five goals.
The best he could manage was a 6-2 success against Brondby in Copenhagen during the group stage of the 1999 Treble winning campaign.
It could, therefore, turn out to be a significant evening for Moyes, who has still not convinced everyone he is the right man to replace Ferguson.
Smalling can look back on the evening with satisfaction too.
Criticised by Moyes for conceding the injury-time free-kick from which Cardiff got their shock equaliser on Sunday, the former Fulham man was a far more confident presence at right-back.
He even chipped in with a goal, finishing off from close range at the far post, from a cross provided by Rooney.
"We have been threatening to do that all season," he said.
"There have been a few times when we have gone ahead in games and not got the second that would allow us to kick on to make ourselves a bit more comfortable.
"I am quite pleased to get on the scoresheet too.
"I have been getting closer and closer over the last few games, although my goal was probably the easiest chance I will ever have.
"We are starting to look a real threat from set pieces, which is important because the manager wants us to chip in.
"We have a few players who can be dangerous in those areas and with the delivery Rooney and Giggs were putting in, we were due."