Giggs aims to learn from 'the master'
No player understands the DNA of Manchester United quite like Ryan Giggs.
He has been wearing that famous red shirt for 21 years. He has seen all the changes, the expansion of Old Trafford, the move from the intimate Cliff to gleaming Carrington and the commercial phenomenon that United have become, yet believes the dressing-room remains the heart and soul of the place.
"We regard it as the biggest and best club in the world but it is still a family club,'' Giggs said.
The winger was sitting in a corporate box at Old Trafford on Thursday afternoon, contemplating the latest stage in United's development. He was looking at details of how United are enhancing their facilities with a new complex at Carrington, in a £10m partnership with Toshiba Medical Systems, bringing scanners for early diagnosis of everything from soft-tissue injuries to cardiac conditions.
"I saw Steven Gerrard saying about St George's Park that there are no excuses now for England,'' reflected Giggs. "That's been the case at Manchester United for a long time. It's changed massively. When I was at the Cliff, we had one ultrasound machine!
"The move to Carrington got things developing quite quickly with the sports science coming into the equation. Even with that, I don't think we would have foreseen having an MRI scanner within the training facility."
United still endure injury problems, hence the investment, yet Giggs is the picture of health at 38, hoping to feature against Stoke City today, still hungry after all these years. "People say, 'How are you still playing?' It's not one thing. I tap into everything." Sports science, yoga, eating sensibly.
Giggs still knows the sands of time slip quickly through his fingers.
Is this his last season? "It could be, yes. I'm a similar mindset that I've been for the past couple of years: evaluate after Christmas, see how I feel, see what the manager thinks. If I'm not enjoying it, if I'm not contributing like I have done in the last couple of years then I'll finish. I'm 39 in November. I'm not worried by it (retirement). It's been coming for a couple of years. But I'm still enjoying it. I still feel I'm contributing to the team.
"I speak to so many players who I played with, Brucey, Robbo, Denis Irwin, and they always say to me, 'play as long as you can'. I imagine there's no substitute for the feeling you get playing, the adrenalin.''
He reflected on the many years, the many opponents. "The most difficult was Javier Zanetti. We played Inter Milan here when we won the Treble, and he was right-back. He had everything: power, experience, intelligence.
"The stadiums I'll miss are those where you wait in the tunnel, and you can't wait to get out there, knowing you're in for a test. Take your pick: San Siro, Bernabeu, Nou Camp, Anfield.
"Anfield is the ultimate test for a United player because of the atmosphere. It's not intimidating. No. It's the ferocity of the rivalry. It's a true test. It's an old-school stadium. It's those games when you know you have to be at your best.
"When I do finish playing, I'll try to find the next best thing. Management does interest me. The nearer I get to finishing, the more I think about it. All I can do is prepare myself as best I can for when I do finish. I've been doing my coaching courses with Nev (Gary Neville) -- levels one, two, A-Licence. We're starting the Pro-Licence next year."
What would a Ryan Giggs team be like? "I'd like a few wingers in there!" he laughed. Like Alex Ferguson. Giggs has listened constantly to the United manager, storing up ideas for the future.
"I've learnt from the master here,'' said Giggs, admiring how the Scot sets the tone for the "family club". "It all comes from the manager. You see him joking with all the staff in the canteen. He knows every schoolboy's name who comes in during the holidays, every apprentice's name. It still fascinates me how he still does that.''
There is a feeling of continuity, longevity, solidity. "There is still that nucleus of coaching staff. Mike Phelan was an ex-player. Rene Meulensteen has been here a long time. The medical department have been there a long time. Players like me, Scholesy, Nev, even Rio and Wayne, have all been here a long time. It's keeping that nucleus really, recognising the DNA of Manchester United.
"We regard it as the biggest and best club in the world but it is still a family club. The fans here want to see young players coming through which is massive in the history of Manchester United. It gets harder and harder each year because the bar gets raised. There's a bit of pressure of having the time to see players through and not just buying the best."
There is a balance. Ferguson blends recruits such as Robin van Persie with the home-grown Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley. "When you start off scoring that always helps you bed in,'' said Giggs of Van Persie. "When you score a hat-trick in your second start (against Southampton) it's a dream start. Robin has carried on scoring (seven in nine). His performances have been good.''
The arrival of a superstar is rare at United. "It doesn't happen very often. The manager likes to buy young players and groom them. When you buy a ready-made world-class player, we are good at acknowledging the qualities they've got and welcoming them to the club. Robin's come in to an environment that's good to work in, to train in. We've always had a good team spirit, always worked hard in training. Robin has bought in to that.''
Welbeck, meanwhile, continues to mature. "Because Daniel is so big and had growing spurts throughout 18, 19, and with that comes a few injuries, he never really got a run in the team,'' Giggs added. "Now over the past 18 months he's had a run in the team. He's a man now, strength-wise, power-wise.
"He's always had the talent. Now he's got the physique, the experience of playing with the likes of Wayne and Dimitar Berbatov, learning from them and other players, he's got stronger and stronger.
"Tom has had to wait his turn because of the quality we've had in the team. Some players like Wayne burst on to the scene at 16. Others develop a bit later. Becks developed a little bit later than Butty, Scholesy and Nev. You're probably getting that with Tom. He's had a couple of years getting loaned out. He's got rid of all the injury niggles. Now you're seeing his full potential.
"I had first-hand experience at the Olympics, not only in the games but in training, of his enthusiasm. He's the sort of lad who wants to get better, wants to learn and wants to become a top player. When you have that attitude and with the talent he's got, I'm pleased how well he's doing for United and England."
As for Rooney, Giggs agreed with England manager Roy Hodgson that the striker can deal with the pressure of being captain when Gerrard steps down.
"Wayne can handle that no problem. There has been pressure on his shoulders since he was 16 and he's handled it really well. Even though he's still young, only 26, he's been 10 years as a top-flight footballer. He's got the experience, he's got the head on his shoulders and, of course, he's got the talent."
Was Ferdinand still good enough to play for England? "Yes. He's playing for United. That says it all. Rio's pedigree is brilliant. His not playing for England is good for United, because he's getting the rest during the international breaks that I've experienced over the last four or five years. I know the benefits it can give you. It's great for United."
United will need such experience in the fight to regain the title.
"At the top it is as strong as I've known it. City with the money they've had, the players they've brought in. Chelsea are Champions League winners. Arsenal are a great club, who are always going to be there. Ourselves. Liverpool are always going to be there because of their history. The likes of Tottenham.
"You've got other clubs doing so well, playing really good football like Swansea over the last couple of years. West Brom have started well this year. Credit to Tony Pulis, he has got strength, power and talent with some of the players he has got at Stoke. He has brought in Charlie Adam, one of the best passers in the league. The gulf has come in a little bit."
Giggs is still up for the challenge. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Manchester United v Stoke,
Live, Setanta Ireland, 3.0