Manchester United v Real Madrid: Silence is golden for Ryan Giggs ahead of 1,000th game
Midfielder will make 1,000th appearance tonight
The closer you come to a great contest, the less there is to say and that would have suited Ryan Giggs.
As he waited to walk out to face George Foreman's forbidding fists in the "Rumble in the Jungle", Muhammad Ali said nothing memorable to the entourage in his dressing room. He just repeated over and over again that he was not scared. And he was talking to himself.
Giggs may have been born in Wales, 40 years ago this November, but he has never been afflicted with the lyricism of the Welsh and a room jammed with cameras and journalists was no place for it. Manchester United were playing Real Madrid and it mattered only who won. Words were superfluous.
Giggs was asked for his impressions of the night a decade ago when Madrid last came to Old Trafford. It was the stuff of memories, a hat-trick from Ronaldo – "the older, fatter Ronaldo" as Sir Alex Ferguson called one of Brazil's greatest forwards – and two from David Beckham. Ronaldo walked off to a standing ovation, something Old Trafford, unlike Anfield, rarely grants opposition players.
Beckham, seeing the look of contempt Ferguson flashed his way from the dugout, decided he must leave Manchester. An unknown but very wealthy Russian, Roman Abramovich, was so enthralled by the night that he decided he wanted a part of the Premier League.
In his autobiography, Giggs summed it up as: "Going out of Europe was depressing". Yesterday when asked for his memories of that tie, what really mattered was that United had lost it.
In the first leg at the Bernabeu last month Giggs was given an ovation by the Madrid crowd. He had not scored a hat-trick, he had not even stepped on to the playing surface. They were merely acknowledging greatness. Giggs remarked that he had been so enveloped in his own preparations that he only appreciated its significance when the night was done.
The last time Giggs had been on a stage this big was at Wembley for the European Cup final against Barcelona in 2011. Among the United fans was a banner that proclaimed: "Giggs is our Messi." He was no such thing.
The boy from Rosario produced one of the great performances in a major final. Giggs, his private life enmeshed in a scandal of super-injunctions and tabloid front pages, appeared irrelevant.
Nobody there could conceive that two years later, Giggs would be preparing for his 1,000th senior game, a statistic Ferguson believes will never be equalled in the modern age. In the way he does, the manager had suggested the landmark would have been attained on Saturday against Norwich.
He deceived us and it is more fitting that Giggs should reach the figure on one of Old Trafford's grandest nights than in a fixture that even his manager described as "mundane". Tonight, with tickets changing hands for upwards of £1,000, will be far from that.
And yet, despite his appearances in four finals, the European Cup is not a competition upon which Giggs has left deep marks. If you conjure Steven Gerrard to mind, Istanbul, Olympiakos and the two semi-finals with Chelsea come instantly into view. With Giggs you would have to look harder.
There are two contests that stand out, both against Juventus. In 1997, he had inspired their defeat at Old Trafford, the first time in the Champions League that United had overcome anyone of real significance. The year before, they had performed so badly against the Italians that during half-time, Giggs had thrown his interval drink away in disgust and succeeded only in covering Ferguson's trousers with Ribena.
The other came six years later in the Stadio delle Alpi just after Giggs, astonishingly, had been booed by his own crowd. He, rather than Beckham, appeared the favourite to leave Old Trafford. In Turin, he produced one of the great performances of his career. You could argue it was in a group game but it ripped apart a side that were to eliminate Barcelona and Real Madrid as United won 3-0. It was mesmerising and it was definitive and, when he came to write his autobiography, Giggs made no mention of it.
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