Who would have thought it, some 22 years on, that the gangly kid who floated like a paper-thin butterfly, on as an early substitute for the injured Dennis Irwin, would make 1,000 senior appearances for club and country. The number is arbitrary of course; just one more excuse to laud Ryan Giggs’ extraordinary career. But with Manchester United talking on Norwich City at Old Trafford this weekend laud the fans will as the Welshman reaches an epic milestone.
In the intervening years Giggs has not always been the fans’ favourite; only on occasion the club’s best player, but the impact has been without peer. Two decades on from an inauspicious début against Everton, Giggs survives as testament to both will and rare talent.
“Twenty-three years in the first team, it is unbelievable,” said manager Ferguson.
“I said to him on [Friday] morning: ‘I expect a bill from your mother, all these sandwiches and teas she used to make for us,’ when I went to his house every week trying to get him to sign a schoolboy form. It seems a long time ago but what an incredible career. Absolutely fantastic.”
Indeed, Giggs’ role is still worth plenty of merit this season, with game defining contributions against Queens Park Rangers, Everton, Fulham and West Ham United in recent weeks. So much so that the midfielder-cum-winger has signed on for yet another season at Old Trafford, which will take Giggs past his 40th birthday.
Giggs’ experience will certainly play a part as the season comes to its dénouement.
With United boasting a 12 point lead in the Premier League, and facing Real Madrid at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, the 39-year-old could start this weekend – with rotation in mind and not sentiment. Madrid in three days’ time will certainly play some part in Sir Alex Ferguson’s team selection this weekend, although the United boss is not short of options with a nearly fit squad available for the Canaries’ visit.
Robin van Persie is available after suffering from a sore hip in recent days, although defender Phil Jones will miss the match against Norwich with an ankle injury.
“Phil Jones starts running today,” said Sir Alex.
“He’s got a fight on his hands to be ready for Tuesday but we’ll give him every chance. He won’t be available for tomorrow. We have no injury issues. Robin van Persie has trained this week – he’s available for tomorrow. His hip was very tender but he’s okay now.
“Tomorrow is an important one because Tuesday will look after itself. It’s an occasion on Tuesday whereas tomorrow is the mundane practical situation in that we need to win.”
Elsewhere, Ferguson is likely to pair captain Nemanja Vidić in central defence with Jonny Evans on Saturday, bringing veteran Rio Ferdinand in for Madrid’s visit next week. Meanwhile, Nani, Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young and Shinji Kagawa will compete for two spots in midfield.
van Persie could start, although Ferguson is unlikely to take any risks with his top goalscorer should the Dutchman’s hip still be a problem. Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernández will come into the side should Ferguson bench the former Arsenal striker.
Indeed, United’s position in the Premier League dictates that complacency comes into play against Norwich, with minds surely drifting towards Real’s arrival early next week. Yet, there is also an incentive: with City facing Aston Villa in Birmingham on Monday night United could open up a 15 point Premier League lead by Saturday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Chris Hughton’s side is without midfielder Alex Tettey who has a knee injury, although new signing Kei Kamara could start after impressing against Everton from the bench last weekend.
The Canaries come into the match having salvaged some form after the 5-0 thrashing at Liverpool and the humiliating cup exit against Luton Town. Hughton’s side beat Everton last weekend, and secured draws against Fulham, QPR and Tottenham Hotspur before that.
Now eight points clear of the relegation zone, the visitors are in a good position to retain Premier League status come the season’s conclusion.
United, meanwhile, hasn’t lost to Norwich at Old Trafford since August 1989. In five Premier League visits to Old Trafford, Norwich has secured just a single point. While history is on United’s side, form also points to a comfortable home victory.
The Premier League isn’t as simple as that, of course, and there are few that understand the vagaries of the modern game quite as well as Giggs. The equinox Giggs’ career may be turning from autumn to winter, but the Welshman is still likely to play an important part in whatever success United achieves in the coming months.
“He sets an example – and has done for a number of years. He is Mr Manchester United,” midfielder Michael Carrick told ManUtd.com.
“He sets the tone around the dressing room. He doesn’t say an awful lot but when he does speak, everyone listens and everyone respects him. It leads onto the pitch. Not many people have lasted as long as Ryan. You have to take it year by year and see how your legs hold up. He is a one-off.
“It is not just that he is still playing, it is the way he has adapted his game. In his younger years he had a totally different way of playing than he has now. To be able to do that can’t be easy. It shows the qualities that he has.”
Quality that Old Trafford will applaud with vigour on Saturday. Provided the Reds pick up three points, of course.
Manchester United v Norwich City – Premier League, Old Trafford – 3pm, 2 March 2013.
United (4-4-2: de Gea, Rafael, Vidić, Evans, Evra; Valencia, Anderson, Giggs, Young; Hernández, Rooney. Subs from: Lindegaard, Smalling, Ferdinand, Büttner, Nani, Powell, Cleverley, Carrick, Kagawa, Welbeck, van Persie.
Norwich(4-4-2): Bunn; Martin, Bassong, Turner, Garrido; Snodgrass, Howson, Johnson, Hoolahan; Kamara, Holt. Subs from: Camp, Rudd, Fox, Jackson, Whittaker, E Bennett, Pilkington, Becchio, Barnett, Tierney, R Bennett, Murphy
Referee: N Swarbrick
Assistants: S Long, A Halliday
Fourth official: C Foy
Head to Head
Last 10: United 8, Norwich 2, Draw 0
Overall: United 32, Norwich 16, Draw 13
- Ryan Giggs’ goal on his 999th professional appearance and a stunning strike from Rafael da Silva secured United three points against QPR last weekend;
- Rafael’s superb goal against QPR is hardly indicative of the Brazilian’s shooting this season, with the full-back sporting a 57% accuracy rate from 14 attempts shots;
- Robin van Persie’s availability is a bonus given the Dutchman’s form this season – he has achieved a shot on target once every 42.9 minutes, as well as contributing 43 crosses and 11 assists;
- Tom Cleverley continues to mature this season – he has successfully completed a pass in his opponents half once every 3.1 minutes he has been on the field of play;
- Rio Ferdinand may be the wrong side of 30 but leads the United squad in defensive contributions this season, with 133;
- Two late goals from Kei Kamara and Grant Holt stunned Everton as Norwich ran out 2-1 winners last weekend in a game which moved the Canries towards safety;
- Grant Holt could be key to Norwich’s chances – the big frontman has successfully hit the target with 62.2% of his 37 attempts on goal this season;
- Holt is also the Norwich player with the most fouls to his name, having now conceded 49 this term;
- Sebastian Bassong has made 93 interceptions this season according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index – the highest in the Norwich squad;
- Forward Robert Snodgrass has delivered 105 crosses in the Premier League season to date – the best tally in the league.