EPL: Giggs is Manchester United's greatest

EPL: Giggs is Manchester United's greatest
Manchester United's Giggs challenges Hull City's Bruce during their English Premier League football match at Old Trafford.

With the retirement of Ryan Giggs, Manchester United's last link to a world before the Premier League has been severed.

The Welshman signed youth forms for the club in 1987, went professional in 1990, made his debut in 1991 and played his final game 23 years later.

Thus, the question has been asked: Was Giggs the greatest player of the Sir Alex Ferguson era?

Well, no. He was not.

Giggs is the greatest player who had played for the club, full stop.

There are three players of the Ferguson era whose contributions mark them out for special recognition.

Paul Scholes, the footballers' footballer, Eric Cantona, commonly seen as the catalyst for United's conversion from contenders to champions, and Roy Keane, the heartbeat of the Treble-winning side of 1999.

Scholes has the best claim of the three. Neither Cantona nor Keane, for all of their achievements, contributed as much to United's success as Giggs and, in different ways, they would both let the club down.

Cantona's indiscipline cost the club more than some are willing to admit.

In his first full season with the club, the French talisman was sent off in United's European Cup exit to Galatasaray and then dismissed twice in consecutive games against Swindon Town and Arsenal.

Most memorably, he was banned for half of the 1994/95 season when he drop-kicked an abusive Crystal Palace fan, which was incredibly amusing, but cost his team dearly.

In his absence, United lost the title to Blackburn Rovers. He also quit at the age of 30, which was his right, but limited his sphere of influence to just four and a half seasons.

Keane was a phenomenon, the physical and spiritual leader throughout the greatest era the club have ever known.

He was, until the end, utterly selfless. His performance against Juventus in the 1999 Champions League epitomised his career.

Even when he knew that a caution would rule him out of the final, he refused to waver and only redoubled his efforts in order to send his colleagues there without him.

But the manner of his exit, however justified his verbal evisceration of his teammates, taints his legacy.

Scholes is closest. By any normal standards, his longevity at United would be unparalleled.

But Giggs was there longer. In terms of technique, Scholes arguably has the edge. He was one of the world's best midfielders for many years.

But Giggs was one of the best wingers, and then converted to himself to a title-winning midfielder.

However, older fans might claim George Best as the greatest player of all time.

He certainly has a chance as the most skilful. But Best played his last game for United at 27, his latter years ruined by a loss of focus and an excess of good time.

Denis Law is a particular favourite of the old guard, and with good reason, but as brilliant as he was, he played only 309 games compared to Giggs' 963.

And then there's Bobby Charlton, regarded by many as the soul of the club.

The man who was there before and after the Munich disaster. The man whose stoic resolve and loyalty was as valuable on the pitch as it was behind the scenes when he became an unofficial adviser and ally of Ferguson in the boardroom.

Giggs beats him too. More appearances, more medals, more sustained excellence at the very top of the English game.

Giggs has had issues off the field that cloud his contributions in the eyes of many, but as a player, he has been incomparable.

There have been no tantrums, no disputes, no catastrophic losses of form, no breathtaking decline, just a rapid rise and a long, drawn-out plateau of genius that only began to sag towards the end of his 23-year career.

United are a club blessed with many great players. But Giggs might just be the greatest of them all.

GIGGS IN NUMBERS

963

Appearances

168

Goals

2

Champions League

34

Trophies

13

League titles

This article was published on May 21 in The New Paper.

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