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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 March 2007, 09:38 GMT
Ryan Giggs in a league of his own
Ryan Giggs

By Andrew Benson

For Gary Pallister, the first time he saw Ryan Giggs play football was one of life's landmark occasions.

"I'd just joined Manchester United," remembers Pallister, a mainstay of the team's defence in the 1990s. "I was living in a hotel, there was very little to do, and I went to see an FA Youth Cup match at Old Trafford.

Ryan Giggs
Ryan could play football in a phone box and find the door no matter how many players were in there with him

Carlos Queiroz
Man Utd assistant manager
"Paul Ince and I sat in the directors' box with Alex Ferguson and he said: 'There's a kid playing tonight who's going to be special.'

"Ryan was still at school. I think he was 15, and we saw this spindly little pipe cleaner of a footballer running amok on the left-hand side. You could see straight off that he had a special gift."

Others have different ways of putting it. For Ince, his close friend and former team-mate is "a genius". Alan Shearer says he is "fantastic". To Manchester United assistant manager Carlos Queiroz he is simply "magic Giggs".

The subject of these accolades made his top-flight debut 16 years and 699 appearances ago this weekend.

And just about the only thing that has not changed at Old Trafford in that time is the continued presence of Giggs, now 33, in Ferguson's first-choice team.

Now well into veteran status, the Wales international is by common consent having one of his best seasons and - allowing for the contributions of Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Scholes among others - it is no coincidence that United are back on top of the Premiership.

606 DEBATE: Has any Premiership player been so good for so long?

TALENT

Giggs has been around for so long that it is easy to take his ability for granted.

But a quick search for highlights on YouTube makes it clear just how special is his combination of electric pace, elastic dribbling and eye for a killer pass.

GIGGS FACT FILE
Ryan Giggs
Born: 29/11/73
Clubs: Man Utd
Debut: 2 Mar, 1991 v Everton
Appearances: 699
Goals: 140
Premiership titles: 8
FA Cups: 4
Champions League: 1
League Cups: 2
Intercontinental Cup: 1
Wales caps: 54
Wales goals: 9
"He is one of those special and rare players," says Queiroz, "who could play football in a phone box and would always find the door, no matter how many players you put in there with him."

Pallister says the United defenders used to say they had "got twisted blood trying to mark him in training".

That metaphor was first used by Paddy Crerand about George Best, a player to whom Giggs was likened early in his career.

The parallel is drawn less often now, perhaps because of Giggs's decision to devote his life to the game rather than the lifestyle he could get from it.

But, according to Ince, the similarity in terms of ability remains.

"George Best in his time was a wizard," the Macclesfield manager says, "but Ryan can do exactly the same - they are comparable definitely."

Birmingham City manager Steve Bruce, formerly Pallister's partner in central defence, agrees: "When Ryan ran, he ran like the wind. You couldn't hear him he was that light on his feet.

"He had that natural body swerve, that way with a ball only the great players have got.

"No disrespect to [David] Beckham and Scholesy, but he's the only one who was always going to be a superstar."

THE PRIVATE MAN

Despite his high profile, very little is known about Giggs the person, as opposed to Giggs the footballer.

In his rare interviews, he is deadpan and often bland. Yet the former Manchester United captain Roy Keane described him in his autobiography as "a real character - streetwise and wickedly funny".

Former Man Utd defender Gary Pallister
Of all the people I've seen dealing with superstar status, Ryan has handled it best

Gary Pallister
Former Man Utd defender
Queiroz says Giggs has a "special sense of humour - very accurate, quick and sarcastic".

And he likes to celebrate winning trophies, according to Pallister, by "rapping on the stage and doing a bit of singing and dancing and entertaining the whole banqueting hall".

By nature, though, it seems Giggs is quiet.

"He doesn't like publicity," says Bruce, who was not remotely surprised Giggs had turned down a request for an interview for this article.

"That's Ryan. He wants to keep a certain amount of privacy, and he doesn't flaunt the press or the publicity, because he doesn't have to. People write about him because of his ability."

That was not always the case.

Early in his career, Giggs was the Premiership's poster boy, and his relationships with TV presenter Dani Behr and Hollyoaks actress Davinia Taylor meant he quickly found himself on the front pages of the tabloids as well as the back.

George Best
Comparisons between Best and Giggs only go so far
So, Bruce says, Giggs was "delighted when Becks came along to take the heat off him a little bit".

Giggs left behind the glitz years ago for a quieter life in the village of Worsley near Manchester with partner Stacey Cooke and their two children.

"Of all the people I've seen dealing with celebrity superstar status, Ryan has handled it best," Pallister says.

"He got all the George Best stuff, the playboy thing, and it just washed over him.

"You never saw an ounce of change in Ryan all that time, and that is probably because his mates kept his feet on the ground.

"They weren't averse to ripping the mick out of him and keeping him real. It was fantastic to watch him, because a lot of young players nowadays have their heads turned by the money and status that goes with it."

HUNGER

As well as resisting the tempations and distractions of wealth and fame, elite sportsmen require a desire to succeed that matches their ability - and the dedication required to devote their life to an intense physical activity and the highs and lows that it brings.

Birmingham City manager Steve Bruce
He could play with any team in the world he's been that good

Steve Bruce
Birmingham City manager
"For Giggsy," Ince says, "it has never been about earning a lot of money. He always had the passion to play at the highest level for as long as he could."

"[To] the top, top players," Bruce adds, "it doesn't matter if they've won eight championships or four FA Cups or whatever, he'll want to win the ninth and 10th.

"It comes from within - that fire in your belly that you still want to be the best. It's a very rare attribute."

VERSATILITY

Skill alone secures Giggs's place in United's team, but it is his adaptability that has made him so valuable in the long term.

"Despite his physique, he is a tough, solid player," Queiroz says. "He has the right spirit to dispute balls in the air as well. He can do all the things that he needs to play as a forward.

Former Man Utd player Paul Ince
The way he is playing at the moment, he is close to being a complete player

Paul Ince
Former Man Utd player
"And as you can see in the last few years, if we need him sometimes as a left-back, he can give the right contribution to the team.

"Last season he played centre midfield, and I think it was a great surprise to everybody that he was able to play in that position.

"Why could he do that? Side by side with his fantastic skills, he is a player with intelligence. It seems he is able to make others play better around him.

"He knows the game, but more than that he understands it, and when you understand the game you can control it.

"It doesn't matter if he plays left wing or centre midfield, with a few words he can adapt, and always he can create something special."

Ince regularly holidays with Giggs, but even he has been surprised by his friend's versatility.

David Beckham shares a joke with Ryan Giggs during an international between England and Wales
Those close to Giggs say he has a quick, cutting sense of humour
"He knows he's not going to be the wizard he was four or five years ago running up and down the left wing," says Ince, a central midfielder himself.

"But for him to go into central midfield and perform the way he has is awesome.

"He still has that bit of trickery when he needs it. The way he is playing at the moment, he is close to being a complete player."

LEGACY

"Sometimes we use the word great too often," Bruce says, "but if you were going to put a team together, certainly from the last 20 years, and you're looking for a left-sided player, you aren't going to get any better anywhere in the world.

"He could play with any team in the world he's been that good.

Ryan Giggs poses with the Premiership trophy
After eight Premiership titles, Giggs is still hungry for a ninth
"He's graced the stage for 16 years. He's been the ultimate professional. He's kept himself in tip-top nick. That is the sign of greatness."

But perhaps Queiroz puts it best.

"He is one of the best players I saw in my life," says the man who coached Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo at Real Madrid.

"He is one of the few players who have a right to a place in the history of the game.

"When you play at a level where you stay in the memories of football fans, you are talking about the best players in the world.

"You cannot be a special person in the world if you are a copy of something. You really become a star when, with your football, your art, your style, you create your own identity.

"So the best tribute we can pay to Ryan Giggs is not that he compares to Best or anyone. It is to say that he won the right to be Ryan Giggs."

Additional reporting by Andrew McKenzie



SEE ALSO
Giggs 'can continue until 2010'
02 Mar 07 |  Man Utd
Giggs eager to carry on playing
15 Jan 07 |  Man Utd
Brazil's Dunga dazzled by Giggs
06 Sep 06 |  Internationals
The teenage tornado
12 Nov 03 |  Man Utd


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