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Page last updated at 13:24 GMT, Monday, 16 February 2009

Alan Hansen's column

Alan Hansen
By Alan Hansen
BBC Sport football expert

Manchester United delivered a scintillating team performance against Derby in the FA Cup on Sunday but, for me, one player stood out.

Despite playing in an unaccustomed role as a central striker, Ryan Giggs was absolutely magnificent for United. He was at the heart of their best attacking moves and had a hand in three of their four goals.

Ryan Giggs
I don't know if Ryan has got the credit he's deserved during his career

Alan Hansen

His performances this season have been excellent and he actually seems to be getting better with age. At the moment, he would definitely be my choice as footballer of the year.

This is Giggs's 19th season in the United first team and he is 35. You cannot overestimate how difficult it is to play at such a high level for so long.

I found it hard to keep going after 14 seasons with Liverpool. It's not fitness that is the problem but the ability to summon the same levels of hunger and desire season after season.

Ryan has won 10 Premier League titles, two Champions Leagues and four FA Cups. Last season he broke Bobby Charlton's all-time appearance record for the club.

Yet, somehow, he manages to maintain the same intense desire to win the next game and the next trophy.

When you get past the age of 30 at a top club, the level of scrutiny you are under also increases hugely. If you put in a below-par performance, it is suddenly because your legs have gone.

FOOTBALLER OF THE YEAR ODDS
N Vidic 6-4 Fav
C Ronaldo, R Giggs 4-1
S Gerrard 9-1
E Van der Sar 12-1
A Young 18-1
* Betfair 1030 GMT, 16/2/09

Yet Giggs seems to go onto the pitch and relish the pressure and scrutiny.

Of course he has had to adjust his game as he's got older. He made his name as a flying left winger and, although he's still very quick over the first four or five yards, he can't make the same runs he once did.

He has compensated for that with his superb touch and reading of the game. And his versatility this season has been incredible. He has played as a central midfielder, out wide and through the middle, and excelled in each position.

Most players would find that impossible, but Ryan has the quality on the ball and the intelligence to make it appear straightforward.

I don't know if Ryan has got the credit he has deserved during his career. Despite being an integral part of United's success during the last couple of decades, he has never been named footballer of the year.

606: DEBATE
BBC Sport's Simon Austin

Players like Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo and Roy Keane have seemed to get more of the headlines.

Yet Giggs has been key to United for longer than any of them and is a manager's dream, a team player who looks after himself, keeps out of trouble, never complains and delivers consistently excellent performances.

In short, he is the model professional and a great example to any aspiring young footballer.

You obviously have to give immense credit to Sir Alex Ferguson for the way he has managed the player. When he was young, Sir Alex protected him, and now he's older, he paces his appearances.

I've met Ryan a few times and he's such a nice guy. He's friendly, down-to-earth and has a very dry sense of humour.

He recently signed a new one-year extension to his contract and I have no doubt that he can play at the top level for another couple of seasons.

I also hope he gets the recognition he deserves when the end-of-season awards are handed out.

Alan Hansen was talking to BBC Sport's Simon Austin

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see also
Derby 1-4 Man Utd
13 Feb 09 |  FA Cup
Giggs signs new Man Utd contract
12 Feb 09 |  Man Utd
In Pictures: Ryan Giggs
22 May 08 |  Photo Galleries
Spot-on Giggs overtakes Charlton
21 May 08 |  Man Utd


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