Giggs

Just how good is Ryan Giggs? I could keep this piece brief and very straightforward and merely say: “Very!”

999 games and counting...

999 games and counting…

That though wouldn’t do justice to the man who arguably has the right to think of himself as the greatest footballer of his generation, that is if you can actually work out which generation of footballers is his seeing as he has seemingly played so consistently brilliantly throughout endless ‘generations’ of footballers.

To put things in perspective, the player who most people rate as the world’s best player at the moment and perhaps of all time is Barcelona’s Lionel Messi.

Messi is a man who is constantly compared with his compatriot Diego Maradona who, before the likes of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo came along, was thought by most to have been the greatest player ever to have graced a football field.

However, a common sticking point in the ‘best player of all time’ debate is that you cannot compare the likes of Maradona and Messi because they never played in the same ‘era’ and things were ‘so different back then…’

Maradona though was still playing top-flight professional football up until the late nineties and by then Ryan Giggs (getting back to the point finally, I appreciate how convoluted this may have seemed!) had already been playing top flight football for almost a decade himself with Manchester United. 16 years on from Maradona’s retirement Ryan Giggs remains a regular in one of the world’s greatest club sides.

The point of raking up the past and mentioning such greats as Maradona and Messi was to demonstrate just how long Ryan Giggs has been around for, and more to the point just how long he has been around at the very pinnacle of football for.

From the moment Giggs broke into the first team at Manchester United under the early guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson, who lest we forget was only a fledgling name himself on the global footballing agenda at the time, he looked an enormous talent and he quickly became a key player in a developing and hugely successful side.

It is hard to believe now that United had before the early nineties endured a lengthy baron spell in terms of wining major trophies, but if their return to winning ways and worldwide prominence in the early nineties is mainly attributable to the brilliance of Sir Alex Ferguson, then surely the next greatest reason for this still ongoing golden era for the club has been the constant presence and genius of a certain Mr. Giggs.

In his club career Giggs has remained loyal to the club that gave him his big break and boy has he been rewarded for doing so.

His career to date has lasted longer than two decades which has brought us up to this point in time where he stands on the verge of his 1000th match, which is likely to take place on Saturday the 2nd March with Norwich City his likely opponents for this landmark outing.

Giggs' Manchester United yearbook photo

Giggs’ Manchester United yearbook photo

Remarkably though, in spite of his advancing years and the toll of having appeared in 999 top class football games for club and country, Giggs is continuing to demonstrate his genuine world-class ability and huge worth to the club that have served him so well.

He may be set to turn 40 in the near future but the past six weeks have served as a timely reminder of just why Giggs is still considered a major asset to his club.

His recent form has been logic defying and it has seen him continue his phenomenal run of having scored a league goal for United in each and every season since the Premier League’s inception. His form has been so good in fact that few of his peers, including the likes of Nemanja Vidic, Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie, have matched up to him over the past few games and now the great man has signed on the dotted line on yet another contract extension.

This new deal will see Giggs continue his playing time with United at the very least until the end of next season and almost up until his 41st Birthday.

People will of course continue to consign him to the scrapheap as they have done for a decade now, but I have no doubt that he will again feature heavily next season for the Premier League champions-elect and I wouldn’t even rule out the possibility of bagging himself another contract come this time next year.

Though there is an awful lot for Giggs to celebrate there have of course been a few blotches on his record along the way, perhaps most famously his farcical public humiliation following the airing of the dirty laundry in his personal life, but also regarding his records and achievements on the football field.

The major source of disappointment for him in this sense must surely be that he has never once had the opportunity to play in a major international tournament. It is staggering that a talent such as he who has been such a force in the game and for such a long time has never been blessed with the opportunity to play in a World Cup or even just in a European Championship with his native country, Wales.

As sad as this is though it does little to dampen the huge impression that the Welsh wizard has left on the English and global game.

Ryan Giggs has always been my footballing hero and has been my favourite player for as long as I can remember. Plenty of geniuses have come along during his time at the top such as Maradona, Figo, Zidane, Beckham, Scholes, Gerrard, Ronaldo, Henry, Ronaldinho, Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to name a few, but most have of them have also disappeared while he has still remained.

Ryan Giggs, you are an inspiration and to this day still a wonderful player.

I know you’re not reading this but I can’t help gushing. You’ve been that good.

After today it will be 1,000 games and counting, the mind boggles…

Southern Football Back On The Map

For many a year now the football league has been dominated by London based and Northern based clubs but finally Southern football seems to be returning to prominence. In the not too distant past the likes of Portsmouth, Reading and Southampton were going head-to-head in the Premier League whilst Brighton and Hove Albion were plying their trade in the Championship. This brief era of hope was sadly followed by a major decline in the region and in the space of just a few years each of the aforementioned sides had slipped down at least one division.

At last though it does appear that the region’s football clubs are on to something rather good. At the forefront of this resurgence are Southampton, Brighton and Crawley Town. Each of these clubs have gone from strength to strength in recent times and have each been climbing up the football league hierarchy.

Southampton experienced a torrid time following their Premier League exit in 2005 and in fact came very close to becoming involved in a second successive relegation battle. Luckily at the time a late season surge of form and results saved them from the threat of dropping even further down the football league, but sadly for them this luck wasn’t to continue for too long. In 2009 Southampton’s slump years got even worse when they had to go into administration. With this change in club status came the punishment of a 10 point deduction which sadly ensured another relegation for the club. Even in spite of the club’s continuing failure to meet expectations they were labelled as favourites to lift the League One title. True to form though the Saints once again flattered to deceive and missed out on a return to the Championship.

Adkins has been guided Southampton through a successful past year or so

Finally after five successive years of disappointment Southampton have made a turn in the right direction. Last year saw manager Nigel Adkins inspire his side to a second placed finish and automatic promotion back to the Championship. Upon their return the club’s good fortune has continued and they currently sit pretty in second place after five games. In addition to their good league form they have so far also had great success in their only Cup matches of the season. Their opening round match in the Carling Cup saw them thrash Torquay by four goals to one before a second round victory over fellow Southerners Swindon by three goals to one helped add to the feel good factor around St.Mary’s at present.

The only team to better the Saints in last year’s League One table were Brighton, and they too are enjoying a fantastic start to life back in the Championship. They have also endured a tough last few years including a few non-event seasons of League One football where they found themselves locked in either mid-table mediocrity or battling just to avoid relegation. Gladly though these years appear to be behind them and they are currently staking a very good claim to being the happiest club in World football.

The past year has been nothing other than sheer delight for the Seagulls and their fans as manager Gus Poyet has managed to mastermind a perfectly timed promotion back to the Championship, which has been marked by the long awaited unveiling of their new stadium.

Brighton's glorious new ground

The trials and tribulations of Brighton’s stadium dream have seemed to last an eternity, but finally they have their new ground, The Amex Stadium, and the start of this season has suitably reflected the excitement surrounding the club at the moment. Five games into the league they are yet to have lost a game and are flying high at the top of the Championship. They have also advanced to the third round of the Carling Cup with a thrilling victory after extra time at home to a near full-strength Sunderland. The packed ground raised the roof after record signing Craig Makail-Smith’s winner and their Premier League conquest has furthered the Seagull’s ever-growing ambitions for the rest of the season.

As if the feel-good factor wasn’t already booming at the Amex, Poyet this week tied up a deal to bring Spanish international Vicente to the club on a free transfer. Though his career has been blighted with injury, he was once regarded as one of the finest up and coming talents in World football and it is understood that Brighton fended of Premier League and La Liga interest to land their latest recruit. If he manages to keep fit then they may well have signed a seriously good player capable of impressing not just at Championship level but at Premier League level also. It is an astonishing statement of intent from the Seagulls to have signed a player of such a high calibre.

Could Vicente inspire Brighton to the Premier League?

Sussex is a county that has had very little to celebrate on the football pitch in recent times and Brighton’s resurgence has left many reeling, but it isn’t only Brighton that are drawing attention to the area.

Crawley Town have also been beginning to cause a stir in the football league and they are becoming notorious for their recent influx if finances into the club. Having been taken over, the club then went on to enjoy great success last season resulting in a famous FA Cup run that saw them travel to Old Trafford as well as storming to the Conference title. A combination of recent success and their considerable financial backing has seen them touted as favourites to win League Two this season and if they are to achieve this feat then who’s to say that they can’t go on and make it three promotions in a row next year?

Crawley's big day out Vs. United last season

All in all, things are beginning to really look good again for Southern football’s big hitters. There is an awfully long way to go still this season but the likes of Southampton, Brighton and Crawley have all made hugely encouraging starts upon their arrival into their respective divisions. Speculation of greater things to come is rife around the stands at a lot of Southern football grounds at present and it would be fantastic to see such expectations being met. If clubs such as Portsmouth, Reading, Bournemouth, Swindon and Plymouth can turn their form and off-field strife around then this era of positivity could gain even greater potential.