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Five Aside: Di Maria a skillful crosser

Five Aside 23 hours ago
Read
May 19, 2014

Giggs flies from the pitch to the bench

Ryan Giggs was a frequent visitor to Manchester Airport last week. First, he took a private flight to the Netherlands to meet Louis van Gaal properly for the first time.

Without their relationship being forced, the pair hoped to hit it off with a view to working together next season. They'll be far better as allies than adversaries around the lush fields and hi-tech gyms and labs on the training fields beyond Manchester's urban fringe.

They did. Giggs admired Van Gaal's forthright and direct approach and had long respected his reputation in football as a driven winner who'd led his teams towards football's greatest club honours.

The Welshman returned to Manchester, where he watched the Under-21 Premier League final against Chelsea at Old Trafford. Summer signings approved by United's new manager will make headlines, but Giggs' knowledge of the talent in United's ranks will be vital to Van Gaal.

Giggs first lit up Old Trafford as a young schoolboy player himself. It was so long ago that Old Trafford still had terracing on all four sides and the club couldn't afford to build a new roof on the partially covered, ageing Stretford End terrace.

Giggs made his United debut in 1991, as the club began what would be a 15-year redevelopment Old Trafford. In his 963 first team appearances between March of that years and May 6 2014 vs. Hull City, Giggs saw United revolutionised from nearly men, failures and cup kings to a pre-eminent and sustained force in British football, the team who won the treble.

In 1988, a United banned from competing in European competition hired AC Milan to play the role of distinguished guests for an Old Trafford friendly. Milan were perceived to be the stars playing at a level unattainable by United. They were European Cup regulars with world-class players who regularly appeared in front of 50,000 plus crowds.

By the end of the Millennium, United were richer, more successful and far better supported than the Rossoneri. In 1992, United fans had worried that they were going to lose their young winger to Milan for 15 million pounds. At that point, the Old Trafford club had never paid more than 2.3 million for a player.

Yet United grew as Giggs grew. He was fortunate to find a club on the cusp of greatness under Sir Alex Ferguson. Giggs has said himself that had he stayed at Manchester City, where he trained before being lured away to United, signing on his 14th birthday, then it would have been unlikely that he would have stayed at one club for long.

The City scout Eric Mollander had first watched him as a 10-year-old.

"Every time I see him play he reminds me of when I first saw him," said Eric. "Ryan was a younger, smaller version of what he is today. He was very, very quiet off the field but on it Ryan showed us that wonderful left peg. He could swerve, weave and dribble. And boy did he have good pace."

Mollander was disappointed Giggs didn't stay with City, but the player made the right choice. United had stability under Ferguson and the financial muscle to keep hold of their best players. Though he wasn't to know it, Giggs timed his rise to perfection.

- Giggs retires to become Man United assistant manager
- Payne: Top Giggs moments
- Five Aside: Statistical look at Giggs' career

Sir Bobby Charlton's record of 759 United appearances was considered insurmountable. In 2008, on the night he lifted his second European Cup in Moscow, Giggs surpassed it. He has played 190 more games than the combined appearance total of United legends Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo and Nemanja Vidic.

Giggs saw the changes over the years and was a key part of them. In his time at the club, average attendances doubled to make United the best supported team in the world.

Never shy to exploit their appeal commercially, United protected and yet exploited Giggs' handsome features and the God-given talent that had been honed on muddy Salford pitches.

When the club started selling bedding featuring Giggs' face in a converted warehouse called the "Megastore" in the early 1990s, there was surprise that anyone would buy them. By the end of the decade, other clubs were trying to replicate United's commercial activity. And Giggs played on and on and on for the club he'd grown up supporting. He was the first of the famed Class of '92 to play in the first team -- and the last.

His peers like David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and Gary and Phil Neville enjoyed stellar careers themselves but Father Time caught up with them all. Giggs felt comfortable in his own longevity and told friends he wanted to play Premier League football at 40. It was another milestone he reached.

The implausible 1000 landmark loomed (though he went well beyond it with international appearances for Wales, plus friendly and junior matches with United), but the number of his appearances reduced with age. Giggs started just six Premier League matches under David Moyes, though he featured in 22 altogether last season.

When Giggs flew back to Manchester last Wednesday, he was still undecided about whether to play on. When he returned to the airport on Friday to go on holiday, he was still wasn't sure.

The contract offered to him to be Manchester United's assistant manager saw a big drop in the wages he'd been used to as a player, not that money was a priority as he looked to the next stage in his career.

Learning the ropes with a view to becoming a future United manager was more important for Giggs, who had experienced how tough it was -- the constant mental pressure, the sleepless nights -- in his four games in charge as interim boss.

In Van Gaal he saw a potential mentor he hadn't seen in the man who'd given him his first chance at coaching, David Moyes. Giggs passed back through the airport, chatting with United fans he knew and talking about a future he was optimistic about for Manchester United, despite the disappointments of last term.

Three days later, after finally having some time to himself, he announced that he would retire from playing. Giggs won 34 trophies at United, and was a star in the most successful British team of the last 25 years. He was man of the match as United were crowned world champions in 1999 and the main man in the dressing room where younger players looked up to him.

He's decided to quit playing but stay as assistant manager, which is news that has been welcomed by fans. Other United legends have left the club with high hopes for bright footballing futures which seldom materialised. Bobby Charlton, for example, had an inglorious run as Preston North End manager.

Giggs can lay claim to being United's greatest-ever servant and United fans, buoyed by the announcement of Van Gaal's arrival, are delighted that he's continuing, even if they'll be sad to never see him running down the wing for their club again.