James Lawton: If Welsh winger needs pointers he should look no further than Giggs

Bale has for some months carried the highest expectations - and with an admirable refusal to submit to the perils of celebrity. Giggs has been doing it for 20 years
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The Independent Football

It can't be so easy responding to the gravitational force of the earth when you are Gareth Bale and, even after being ushered out of Europe by Real Madrid, Jose Mourinho waits to give you his embrace.

Not when a rather tawdry attempt to steal a penalty is inevitably cast into the margins of another performance filled by a magnetic combination of speed, power and skill, one indeed to give still more substance to the gushing appraisal of Spanish newspaper El Mundo.

In Madrid, they are not short of perspective on football greatness, not after the likes Alfredo di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, Zinedine Zidane and now Cristiano Ronaldo, which is something to remember when we read that Bale is equipped with the running rhythm of Steve Ovett, the fierce eye for the jugular of world champion wing three-quarter Bryan Habana and the ball skill of any of the more serious Brazilians.

So where does Bale look, as he frets over every twinge and tweak, for sure footing as he waits to see if he is indeed the next mega transfer deal, the player who according to his knowing team-mate Rafael van der Vaart is capable of injecting terror into any opponent?

It is surely Ryan Giggs. There is, after all, an extraordinary symmetry in the stories of these players born 16 years apart in Cardiff who in their different ways so quickly captured the imagination of football.

Bale for some months now has carried the highest expectations – and with an admirable refusal to submit to the perils of instant celebrity.

Giggs has been doing it for 20 years now and if Bale thinks a heavy burden of expectation has been placed on his shoulders, he need only consider the scale of the one his compatriot ran so brilliantly from beneath when he was several years younger.

Bale has been told that he can inherit the football world. Giggs was told that he was the next George Best, which of course is pretty much the same thing.

But then Giggs was never Best – no one ever will be – and the swift and ferocious declaration of this was not the least evidence that Sir Alex Ferguson not only had a fine eye for outstanding young talent but a sure instinct for how it would best develop.

For several years Ferguson put Giggs into a version of football purdah. He was screened from the world. The details of a fraught family background were not so easily picked over – nor the personal development of a young man who would become a model for avoiding all those pitfalls that in a more innocent age had bedevilled the hauntingly brilliant but tragic Best.

It is ancient history now, perhaps, but no less astounding when you weigh it against the performance of Giggs two decades on, his almost surreal ability to remain so relevant, albeit in a vastly different form, to the best hopes of United.

This week Wayne Rooney, who has probably discounted himself, suggested that a knighthood was surely in the works for his veteran team-mate, which was a poignant reminder of Best's wry comment when he was taken to the cells after being sentenced for a drink-driving offence. "There goes the knighthood," said the genius who never found anything so easy as having a ball at his feet.

If Giggs is a genius – and certainly there is a case to be made – it is in his ability to re-make himself, physically and mentally, with each new challenge.

You could not have reasonably imagined, in his early days as a flying, corkscrewing winger, that in another two decades he would have a huge hand in the three goals that carried United into the semi-finals of the European Cup, goals that were so much the inventions of a man who had nursed his body and his mind through so many of the obstacles thrown up by all the years.

For Ferguson, he is both a gift and a huge challenge. In this season of all seasons he has to simply eke out the last of a great player. He has to draw the line between ambition and inevitable fatigue.

The dilemma comes again at Wembley tomorrow when he picks the side to go against Manchester City, against whom a few weeks ago Giggs had arguably his worst game of the season. But then who better to pick at the composure of a City side who last Monday night displayed the body language of the doomed than the man who this week played such a vital part in tearing away Chelsea's last chance of redemption in a season that had gone horribly wrong?

Bale, who has so much before him, can only marvel at the enduring presence of the running, grafting, crafting legend – and count his example among the many gifts he received back home in Cardiff.