LONDON - If anyone can put off-field
problems out of his mind and concentrate solely on the huge task
of beating Barcelona at Wembley Stadium on Saturday, it is
Manchester United veteran Ryan Giggs.
Instead of being allowed to prepare for a fourth Champions
League final in relative peace, the 37-year-old has endured a
tsunami of publicity because of his role in trying to prevent
the world's media from exposing an extra-marital affair.
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Giggs's case has become a cause celebre with his name
mentioned in parliament and his photo on every front page. He
was identified millions of times on the social netowrking
His vast experience and his acknowledged calmn and maturity,
built over the last 20 years and nearly 900 matches playing for
his only club, cannot be under-estimated.
There is little doubt he will start on Saturday and every
reason to believe that, if all goes according to plan for
United, he will make a major contribution to their success.
He may have his troubles off the field now, but ever since
he made his debut as a 17-year-old nearly 20 years ago, it has
been glory, glory nearly all the way.
Remarkably, he was knocking on the first team door when
Manchester United met Barcelona in the now defunct European Cup
Winners' Cup final in 1991 when United won 2-1 with two Mark
Hughes goals in Rotterdam.
Naturally disappointed to miss out then, he has more than
made up since, overtaking Bobby Charlton's United appearance
record and become the most decorated footballer in the history
of the English game.
After Giggs had set United on their way to their semi-final
victory over Schalke 04 last month, United manager Ferguson, for
the umpteenth time, was asked about the Welshman's contribution.
"It's strange because Ryan's peak years seem to have lasted
so long," mused the Scot, who has seen key players come and go
at Old Trafford while Giggs has remained a fixture.
"You would think, at 37, he would be showing signs of waning
but I don't see any evidence of that.
"We look after him in terms of rest before games but when he
gets that freshness he doesn't show any sign of fatiguing at
all. He is an amazing man."
He was an amazing boy when Ferguson first heard about his
exploits and personally visited his parents' home on Giggs' 14th
birthday clutching a signing-on form.
He turned professional on his 17th birthday in November 1991
and made his debut four months later.
Last week he picked up his 12th Premier League winners'
medal to go with four FA Cups, four League Cups and two triumphs
in the Champions League.
A key member of the 1999 treble-winning team, when his
iconic solo goal won the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal, it
was also Giggs who stroked home the decisive penalty in the 2008
Champions League Final against Chelsea.
Those two moments encapsulate his development as a player as
Giggs has managed against all odds to not only keep up with a
game growing faster by the year and peopled by seemingly ever
The youthful Giggs was a beautifully balanced left winger
with brilliant control who could pass defenders inside and out
with the drop of a shoulder.
Now he has become a wise old man of the game. He is more at
home in central midfield where his eye for space, instinctive
passing ability and vast experience make him the focal point of
the team and where a penalty shoot-out in a Moscow deluge to win
the Champions League is taken in his stride.
His remarkable contribution to the game was recognised when
he was named player's player of the year in 2009 as well as
being voted the country's BBC sports personality of the year.
Those awards have lost a little lustre since the emergence
of the off-field issues that have dented his reputation as one
of the game's leading role models.
However, when he runs out at Wembley on Saturday night to
make his 876th appearance for his only club there is no gagging
order in the world that could silence the welcome he is
guaranteed from the United fans forever grateful for what he has
done for them for almost 20 years.
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