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…

Is Torres on the road to ruin or recovery?

Eighteen months ago he was arguably the most coveted centre forward in World football, but Fernando Torres is now the name on every football fans lips for the wrong reasons.

In his pomp at Liverpool

No matter whether you like a player or their respective club it is always immensely disheartening to see fading genius and there is nothing quite like it in football for causing widespread¬†compassion. There are of course people who can’t put aside silly prejudices and fail to have sympathy for players like Torres, but I think it is fair to say that the majority of real football fans would love to see ‘Nando’ firing on all cylinders once again.

Many are attributing his lack of form to the pressure he has felt under the burden of a huge ¬£50 million price tag. This is of course a staggering valuation of one single player’s potential contribution to a football club, but in the modern era you would expect one of the most able footballers of a generation to live up to the expectation rather than collapse under it. Also, it must be said that his form was ailing long before his switch to Stamford Bridge and this begs the question of whether he stayed with Liverpool for too long? Given his injury troubles towards the end of his stay and the lack of silverware won in his time at the club, it is not out of the question that an earlier move away from Anfield could have prevented his continuing slump. There certainly would have been plenty of takers had he expressed a desire to seek pastures new a little while before his eventual departure.

The other buzz-word attributed to Torres’ plight is ‘confidence’. Everyone (myself included) who has voiced an opinion on the topic has been guilty of using this cop-out of a reason for his apparent downhill slide and of course everyone is probably right. Of course he is low on confidence and of course it is inhibiting his play, but really this confidence issue is probably more a symptom than a cause. His lack of confidence is in my opinion just the most prominent knock-on effect of the frustrating period he has endured where he has struggled to avoid injury and to produce his best football.

The first time that Torres appeared to be drastically short of sharpness and form was the World Cup last summer when he begun the tournament as one of the stars of the World’s best side and ended it as the flop of the tournament (along with the England, France and Italy.) It is curious how one so talented can seem to burn out and drop from the pinnacle of World football so quickly, but it is worth baring in mind that he would be far from the first to do this if he never recaptures his finest.

Warming the bench in the World Cup final

If you think back to other greats of the past ten years then names like Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaka might come to mind. Ronaldo looked to have lost it on a couple of occasions due to weight gain, injury and mental deficiencies before the age of 26 and eventually slipped off the top of the World stage by the time he reached his thirties. Ronaldinho, despite having recently begun to find a little form back in his homeland had already seen easily the best days of his career by the age of 28 (just two years after winning World Player of the Year for the second time). The story unfolding for Kaka appears to be similar also. He too won World Player of the Year in 2007 and has failed to live up to this moment of glory ever since. He is still at Real Madrid but injury and a consequent lack of form seem to have put pay to his chances of lighting up the World again and he is just 29.

These are all sad stories of players losing their touch and their fitness well before their expected use by dates and there is a recurring theme. They are all successful Brazilian internationals, and they certainly aren’t the first players from this nation or South America as a collective that have fallen into premature decline having made it to the very top of the game.

Of course Fernando Torres isn’t South American so his development as a man and a player has been immensely different from the majority of the aforementioned players and his home nation of Spain ¬†have managed to produce several players of enduring quality. Current Real Madrid Captain Iker Casillas, current Barcelona Captain Carlos Puyol, and ex-Galacticos Raul, Michel Salgado and Fernando Hierro all provide great supporting evidence having enjoyed long and fruitful careers at the top of the game. The three ex-Madrid stars amongst them all managed to continue as top-class players up to the age of thirty five and beyond, in fact Raul and Michel Salgado are still playing first-team football in the Bundesliga and Premier League respectively.

If Torres needs motivation to work his way back to something like his best and to seek long-term success then he need look no further than his illustrious compatriots and the legacy left in their wake. It is entirely foolish to write Torres off as a spent force and Chelsea fans and management alike are right to keep faith with their man. His performance on Tuesday night was something more like his old self even if his significant contributions were more team oriented than self-glorifying, and maybe just maybe, the appreciation of his team mates on the night will go some way towards repairing his fragile state of mind.

Torres will look forward to trying to terrify United's defence once again

This weekend sees Torres come head-to-head with Manchester United (if selected) and he has enjoyed more success than most against the Red Devils. In the past he has given the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic a torrid time with his unrelenting probing runs in behind and towards the last line of defence and he will hope to be given the opportunity to do so again. If he plays, and if he scores then perhaps the re-building of his game will really gain some momentum. “Right him off at your peril”. “Form is temporary, class is permanent”. They are cliches for a good reason.