Giggs feels pain of losing out on league and Euro 2004

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The Independent Online

The television was switched off and there were no Sunday newspapers spread around Ryan Giggs's front room. Arsenal were not only champions, they had gone through the season unbeaten and now they were parading the Premiership trophy through the streets of Islington. Giggs, a man who has won more Premiership medals than anyone else in the English game, did not want to watch or read.

The television was switched off and there were no Sunday newspapers spread around Ryan Giggs's front room. Arsenal were not only champions, they had gone through the season unbeaten and now they were parading the Premiership trophy through the streets of Islington. Giggs, a man who has won more Premiership medals than anyone else in the English game, did not want to watch or read.

"I suppose it will hurt more when you get away in the summer," he said. "You're sitting on a beach analysing what went wrong. It's hard to see someone else with that trophy. I couldn't watch any of Arsenal's title celebrations. Absolutely not."

For Giggs especially this will be a cruel summer. This time last year, he was celebrating an eighth championship, won by Manchester United against the odds, and Wales were top of their European Championship qualifying group. For the first time it seemed likely the greatest player the Principality had produced since John Charles would be seen at a major international tournament. Then came the collapse; a reverse in Belgrade, a rout in Milan, a 1-1 draw with Finland at the Millennium Stadium and finally a 1-0 defeat in the play-off with Russia, one of whose players, Yegor Titov, failed a drugs test. It appeared a blow upon a bruise, an injustice which appeals first to Uefa, the governing body of European football, and then the International Court for Arbitration in Sport in Switzerland failed to overturn.

"I think they had made their decision before the hearing," he said. "As far as I am concerned, their minds were already made up. It hurts but through experience of it you come to terms with handling it better." Perhaps Giggs can be more philosophical than the likes of Andy Melville and Robbie Savage. Giggs has his medals with Manchester United, the Champions' League and tomorrow there will be another grand occasion, the FA Cup final with Millwall.

Manchester United know that, like Arsenal's victory over Southampton in last year's final, any triumph over Millwall will give only a brief respite. Giggs is over 30 now and the core of the team, which won the FA Youth Cup under Eric Harrison and which underpinned all Sir Alex Ferguson's triumphs since they were unleashed together in 1995, is approaching that landmark.

"When you don't win the championship there are always questions asked, tough questions. We had the same scenario midway through last season when we were going through another bad patch and the same questions were being asked. It's about what you do when the chips are down. We came back to beat Arsenal to the title then and I'm confident we can come back next year and do better.

"If you don't win anything at Manchester United, people want to know why. We all understand that. All it was, to me, was consistency. Arsenal deserved it but I still think we are a better side than them. They have not beaten us for a while and we're going through one of those stages when we seem to be getting one over them every time we play them." Perhaps, although Ferguson habitually points out that Manchester United always used to enjoy considerable success against Kenny Dalglish's Liverpool and the championship still never left Stanley Park. For the record, Arsenal have won just one of their last seven encounters with United, the 2-0 victory at Old Trafford which knocked them out of last year's FA Cup and which was overshadowed by Ferguson kicking a boot into David Beckham's face.

Then, in February 2003, it was Giggs, rather than the golden child of English football, who was expected to leave Manchester. Giggs' form was poor, he was booed off by United fans when substituted against Blackburn. Internazionale expressed an interest and nothing happened.

"I was going through such a bad patch. It was my first season of having no injuries whatsoever and, looking back, I found it hard to come to terms with playing the whole season uninterrupted. I was tired before Christmas, not playing well, and my confidence was low. I was disappointed with the criticism but I've always had great faith in my own ability."

Naturally, he still has faith in Ferguson, who signed him from under Manchester City's nose as a 14-year-old, a move the Scot claims has justified every penny he has been paid as United's manager. Despite the disappointments, no Manchester United player has demanded, as Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard have of Liverpool, that they expect their manager to make big signings in the summer. They would not dare.

"It's a mixture of fear and respect," Giggs says of his 17-year association with Ferguson. "The first thing is respect. He's always had that here for what he's achieved. The way he handles players one on one is probably his greatest asset." Giggs does not take the line that Ferguson has mellowed. Eric Djemba-Djemba exclaimed that he "absolutely killed Gary Neville" when the defender was sent off against Manchester City in the fifth-round at Old Trafford. "I've been here a long time and he probably bollocks me the most," Giggs said. "But he knows he will always get a reaction from me on the field and that's what he wants. He's good at knowing who needs an arm round their shoulder and who needs something said. Sometimes, you get someone shouting back, maybe at half-time, when all the tension is there but not too often."

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