Ryan Giggs should be putting his feet up rather than pulling on the Manchester United jersey before running out to face Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League. The Welsh wing legend celebrates his 40th birthday today and is showing no signs of slowing down. Giggs performance against Leverkusen was nothing short of magical and was more in line with a 25 year old footballer in his prime than a player close to retirement. By the age of 40, the majority of footballers have long since retired with the average age of players quitting being 34. The physical and emotional damage done to a footballers body during the course of their career results in a quickening of the aging process, with injuries taking long to heal and a general slowing down the muscles reaction times. But Giggs is different; he is a player who keeps himself in pinnacle condition to prolong his career. He sticks to a strict diet, exercises daily, takes extra steps to help his muscles recover and more importantly doesn’t drink. It’s the latter than generally catches up on many footballers with the rich lifestyles and the excess notoriety eventually taking its toll. The Manchester United legend has stayed away from the limelight as much as possible so that he could focus on his playing career. And what a career he has had.
Having played over 1,021 senior games to date, including a record breaking 953 for his one and only club, Manchester United, Giggs is quite simply a living legend. His medal cabinet speaks for itself: 13 Premiership titles, 4 FA cups, 4 Football League Cups, 9 Community/Charity Shields, 2 Champions League titles, 1 UEFA Super Cup, 1 International Cup and 1 FIFA Club World Cup during a glittering 24 year career. Added into this, Giggs has been awarded the personal honours of 2 PFA Young Player of the Year, 1 Players Player of the Year, 1 BBC Sports Personality of the Year, 2 Welsh Player of the Year awards, an English Football Hall of Fame inductee award and an OBE from the Queen. Not a bad haul for the now 40 year old. When he does retire, Giggs will be able to look back over all the various awards and trophies he has collected with a sense of pride in his achievements but for the fans of Manchester United and Wales, it will be his on field displays that live long in the memory.
Famous displays like his dazzling run and goal in the 1999 FA Cup Semi Final replay against Arsenal, his superb performance against Juventus in the Champions League in 2003 where he scored two goals to send United through, his strike against West Ham in the 2009 season that would help guide United to their eleventh title or his goal and stunning performance in the 3-3 draw with Barcelona during the now famous 1998 Champions League winning run. Whilst Giggs never played at a World Cup, his passion and determination to push Wales forward was always evident to see. With 68 caps for Wales (including 4 at Under 18 and 21 level), Giggs is an icon in his homeland. As a youngster, Giggs did captain England Schoolboys and played once for England under 16’s, scoring on that occasion. But contrary to popular belief, he was never eligible to play for the full England team having been born in Wales to Welsh parents. His appearances for England Schoolboys were due to his enrollment at a school in Salford, England. Giggs has since revealed that even if he was eligible, he would have always chosen Wales, who he eventually went on to captain on eighteen occasions. Giggs also represented Great Britain in the 2012 London Olympics, playing four times and scoring once before team GB crashed out in the quarter finals against South Korea.
His contribution to United’s cause over the past 24 years, under the guidance of manager and mentor Sir Alex Ferguson, have made him a legend at the club. That journey continues today as Giggs remains an important fixture at the club under the new role of player/coach in David Moyes backroom setup. Whilst his long term future lies in coaching and possibly one day in management, Giggs focus is on continuing his playing career and has targeted 1,000 senior appearances for United as his next goal. With talk of a contract extension on the cards and with 26 games left in the league plus more in the various cup competitions that United are still competing in, it may not be an unrealistic goal. If Giggs continues to put in the same types of performances that he did against Leverkusen on Wednesday, it will be hard for Moyes to leave him out of his team, despite his age. Age appears to be only a number to Giggs who still has the same spring in his step as he did when he first took the field for United all those years ago.