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.

Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test