Giggs slips quietly into the sunset

United's loyal servant was more anonymous on the pitch than in the tabloids

As if to prove that stereotypes linger, the pre-match entertainment for London's European Cup final consisted of dancers in bowler hats and umbrellas.

The skies above the stadium remained a cool, pale blue, which for Sir Alex Ferguson would have been a poor omen. He had won three of his four European trophies in the driving rain and the only water that fell on Wembley's perfect pitch came from the sprinklers that soaked Pep Guardiola and his boys as they danced with the European Cup that their manager had won as a player here 19 years before.

For Ferguson there was only a final press conference and an acknowledgement that Manchester United had been overwhelmed by the finest side in world football. There was little he or his players could have done to prevent the dam burst that flooded over them. As David Villa slammed the third, killer goal home, Ferguson simply sat cross-legged, the breakers already washing over him.

He had always shied away from discussing the failure to beat Barcelona in Rome two years ago. The margin of defeat in the Stadio Olimpico had been too great for pleasantries. It was narrower than it was at Wembley. Sometimes it seemed United's only hope would be the kind of over-confidence that had betrayed the Holland of Johan Cruyff against an inferior West Germany in the 1974 World Cup final. Wayne Rooney's goal paradoxically ensured that would not happen.

On the evening he was awarded his customary accolade of manager of the year, the Tuesday night of Gary Neville's testimonial, the emperor posed for a picture with his praetorian guard. Beside Ferguson were the men upon whom he had built his empire. Nicky Butt had rather less hair, David Beckham rather more tattoos, Paul Scholes looked much as he did in 1995.

Ryan Giggs was greyer, older if not necessarily wiser. There has been no footballer, not even Lionel Messi, whose life has been as discussed, debated and dissected. Of modern sportsmen, only Tiger Woods can understand what it is like to be the lead item on national television news and then have to make an inch-perfect pass or putt. Woods's touch had deserted him as quickly and completely as his sponsors' endorsements.

Bullfighting is on the point of being outlawed in Catalonia and its great centrepiece in Barcelona, Las Arenas, is now a shopping centre. However, no animal surrounded by picadors can have been so mercilessly and repeatedly wounded as Manchester United were before the great broadsword of Rooney's boot swung the teams level. Then the fantasia of Barcelona, echoing through the boots of Messi and Villa, sent the spears driving again into naked, bleeding flesh.

At times on this long London night, it was hard to tell whether Giggs's touch was there at all. Before kick-off the big screen had shown the Busby Babes merging into Ferguson's squad. Bobby Charlton melded into Giggs, which seemed an apt comparison.

Charlton, even more than George Best, had been the decisive figure of the 1968 final but the short pass for the equaliser was Giggs's only real contribution and, before the end, he had been put flat on his back trying to wriggle past Daniel Alves.

There was a banner in the United end that declared, "Ryan Giggs Our Messi". He was nothing like Messi last night, nobody in a white shirt came anywhere near the boy from Rosario, who at 23 may already have eclipsed Diego Maradona as Argentina's greatest footballer. Nobody in Spain much cares what he does off the pitch.

Giggs's private life is no more scandalous than that of Bobby Moore, whose statue adorns this stadium. The England captain had no need of thousand-pound-an-hour lawyers because he had something more precious, the trust of journalists who knew him. A private life is no measure of greatness, otherwise Kenneth Williams, who never had sex and hardly drank, would be judged a finer actor than Richard Burton, who did far too much of both.

Shortly after being enveloped in the scandal of the jewellers shop in Bogota, Moore gave one of his great performances against Brazil in Guadalajara, made famous by the photograph of his embrace with Pele. It was too much to hope Giggs might do the same.

Instead, the comparison was with another of England's great sportsmen, Geoffrey Boycott, trying with every sinew to lay a bat on a jagging ball in Barbados as Michael Holding bowled the finest and possibly fastest over in Test cricket. The age difference between Boycott and Holding was the same, 14 years, as between Giggs and Messi, and the result was the same.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest in Sport
Sport
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen