For a flair player Ryan Giggs had machine-like ability to make the difference
It says everything about Ryan Giggs' longevity that his first testimonial was 13 years ago, a full-blooded contest with Celtic at Old Trafford. Giggs, who announced his retirement yesterday aged 40, was around so long as a player that his shirt number, No 11, actually related to his original position, left wing.
As Giggs hangs up boots that have shown a clean pair of heels to so many defenders, the record books rejoice in his 963 appearances for Manchester United, scoring 168 goals and winning 13 Premier League titles, four FA Cups, four League Cups and two Champions Leagues.
United fans will feel bereft that they will never again watch and admire Giggs taking possession under pressure, spinning his marker and racing off towards goal, the ball a willing accomplice. United supporters will also feel a sense of privilege to have witnessed his career, since his debut on March 2, 1991 against Everton.
Looks of bemusement adorned Juventus goalkeepers Angelo Peruzzi in 1998 and Gianluigi Buffon in 2003 as Giggs raided. He outwitted the Old Lady but ultimately not Father Time. Now is the right moment for Giggs to stand down from playing, and focus on assisting Louis van Gaal as United crave a brave new dawn. He could probably have played on, contributing occasional important cameos but Giggs will be of far greater influence on the suited side of the touchline. He's already had an impact with his work with Adnan Januzaj at Carrington, educating United's next generation.
Extraordinary revelations about Giggs' private life in 2011 cannot alter the fact that at work, he set the highest of standards. United fans will hope that all who come through into the United first team aspire to replicate his level of dedication to his profession, to being the best.
They will cherish the fact that Giggs was driven by winning but also by winning with elan. Football has made Giggs very wealthy but it always seemed more about the glory for him. He just loved running with the ball, a quality memorably captured by Alex Ferguson who described his first sighting of a special 13-year-old who "floated across the ground like a cocker spaniel chasing a piece of silver paper in the wind".
Sinewy of frame and strong of mind, Giggs was the perfect blend of aptitude and attitude. He played without fear. He took responsibility.
Early on in his career, challenging Liverpool in October 1992, Giggs kept troubling Mike Marsh so much that Ian Rush began tracking back to try to subdue his fellow Welshman. Giggs' devastating crossing on the run was highlighted when he picked out the stooping Mark Hughes to score. At only 18, Giggs' willingness to take corners reflected his own belief and also his team-mates' trust.
For a footballer who flowed so gracefully across the pitch, there was also something machine-like about Giggs in his reliability: dribble after dribble, cross after cross, goal after goal. His haul of 168 goals for United (and 12 in 64 appearances for Wales) was a treasure chest of variety.
All the Giggs' traits of anticipation, acceleration, touch and daring were displayed as an 18-year-old rampaging through the Spurs defence on September 19, 1992. When Dean Austin misjudged a ball, Giggs was away, nutmegging Jason Cundy and scoring past Ian Walker.
There was the dribble through QPR's defence in 1994, leaving a trail of hooped shirts dispersed like washing in a hurricane before placing the ball past Jan Stejskal.
Similar qualities were paraded as he hared down the inside-left channel against Juventus at Old Trafford on October 1, 1997, thumping the ball past Peruzzi. "Pace, precision and ultimate power,'' intoned the commentator. Giggs arguably scored an even better one against Juventus in 2003, eluding defenders of the stellar calibre of Lillian Thuram, Ciro Ferrara and Paulo Montero before beating Buffon with his right foot.
He scored all types of goals. There was a towering header in the 3-3 draw with Barcelona in 1998. Most famously in the semi-finals of the FA Cup in 1999, Giggs punished Patrick Vieira's loose ball, racing away from Lee Dixon, leaving Martin Keown on the ground, and finishing past David Seaman as Tony Adams slid in despairingly. He had just humbled some of the best defensive forces in the history of English football.
Afterwards, Ferguson stood yards from the pitch, talking passionately about how the goal deserved worthy comparison with the very finest work of Diego Maradona, George Best and Marco van Basten. Fuelling many a pub debate, Giggs' goal against Arsenal fills the requirements of a truly "great" goal as it combined both beauty and significance. When United fans reflect on the run to the Treble, Giggs' own run was the key moment.
So many goals. A 30-yard free-kick against Bolton Wanderers in August 2003, an elegant chip over Chelsea's Petr Cech in 2005 – a masterpiece of impudence and geometry – and a wonderful volley at Fulham in 2007 were among Giggs' best.
He varied his game in latter years, still scoring, but also plotting victories with killer passes such as for Michael Owen to settle the Manchester Derby in 2009. As interim manager, Giggs clearly knew the final whistle was about to sound on his glittering career when he sent himself on against Hull City in United's final home game of the season. Old Trafford sensed it could be their last sight of Giggs the player, chanting "keeper, keeper, let it in" when he lined up a free-kick.
Eldin Jakupovic's save was greeted with derision. You can't beat every goalkeeper every time. The joy of Ryan Giggs' thrilling, history-making career is that he had a real go.