Giggs strives to stay calm in the heart of a storm
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.
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.
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 networking platform Twitter.
His vast experience and his acknowledged calm 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 fitter players.
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.