Lee Dixon: Giggs and Scholes are the last of their kind – careers will shorten as demands increase

The Weekend Dossier
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The fact that Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes are still playing for Manchester United into their late 30s is testament to the way they have looked after their bodies throughout their careers.

Giggs says he still wants to play next year when he will be 38, while Scholes – who is only 36 – has yet to decide whether he will retire this year or not.

Both have been wonderful examples of how important it is for players of all ages to spend their down time wisely. As footballers you end up with a lot of time on your hands, as you only train for maybe 10 or 11 hours a week, and play a couple of games.

So it is really important how you spend your time off. Guys like Giggs and Scholes have got it down to a tee. They know how to prepare their bodies, and the incentive of still playing for Manchester United gives them all the motivation they need.

Cynics might say they are paid so much it's no wonder they are playing on, but although it must be nice to pocket that whopping pay packet every month it is not the reason they are doing it. They don't need to play on, but they do because they love the game so much. I know the feeling – I would have loved to have played on to 40, but as it is I retired at 38 when injuries to my right knee and right ankle made it impossible for me to continue.

My pace had gone but I still managed to squeeze a few more years out of my body. I realised I was slowing down, and just tried to train even harder to compensate for it. For a while your experience can see you through but in the end you realise that you are being followed around by Father Time and you can't outrun him.

I did all I could to fight it though. I remember going for an ultrasound scan on my ankle, which was never right again after it had been broken going for a 50-50 ball with Peter Beardsley a few years earlier. The nurse doing the scan only knew I was from Arsenal, and when she looked at the results she asked me how long I had been retired. I was a bit taken aback as I had just signed a new three-year contract with the club. But she couldn't believe that I was playing on with my dodgy ankle.

By the end, my knee was even worse. I'd had an operation when I was 18 and most of my cartilage had been removed, and over time it just wore down. I walk with a limp now but I must admit some of that is in my head because it doesn't hurt all the time. It's just the price you have to pay for having had the best job in the world.

Giggs and Scholes are exceptional, and I don't think it will lead to a spate of footballers following their example and playing late in their careers. Generally I think there will be a trend towards players retiring earlier and earlier. They are paid so much money these days at the top level of the game that the financial incentive of continuing your career has vanished. And the physical demands of playing have increased. It is certainly a much faster game than when I retired in 2002.

It is much like what happened to rugby when the game went professional. The whole sport became much tougher physically and players' careers were shortened as a result. We will gradually begin to see that happening in football as well.

It does all come down to how well an individual player has looked after himself and prepared for matches. Internazionale are a good example of that. Last season they won the Champions League with one of the oldest squads in the competition, with an average age of more than 29 years.

That's because they had an outstanding blend of young and old. The older guys, who have looked after themselves, can be priceless in passing on their experience. It's pretty much the perfect situation.

I can see a lot of players retiring younger in the years to come. These days, if you haven't been looking after yourself off the pitch, it will catch up with you on it. Tony Adams played until he was 36 but I don't think he would have been able to do that now, even though he gave up drinking in the second half of his career.

It just goes to show how well Giggs and Scholes have done to have played so long, and coped with the changes of the modern game. At their age they have so much wisdom and experience to pass on to younger players, and they can be a very calming influence on the team in times of trouble. Sadly, I don't think we will be seeing their like again.

Five Asides

1. Roman road could pave Torres' way to Chelsea

A lot of people, including myself, were thinking that Roman Abramovich had had his head turned a little by the fact that Russia had been given the World Cup, and that he was losing interest in Chelsea. The club's bids for both David Luiz and Fernando Torres demonstrates that clearly he has not. It shows that he is just as ambitious for Chelsea as he ever was, as we are talking about a huge amount of money for both players. The move for Torres is a fascinating one. It would certainly seem to make sense for footballing reasons for Torres to move to Stamford Bridge, as Chelsea are the Double winners and play every year in the Champions League. That is such a big thing for top players like him. But the Spaniard will miss out on playing under Kenny Dalglish if he does decide to leave Anfield. His relationship with Dalglish is an unknown factor. But it might be the thing that keeps Torres at Liverpool.

2. Fabio may have spoken too soon on Wilshere

I think Jack Wilshere is a fabulous player but at his tender age I think Fabio Capello should be more cautious before he starts eulogising about him too much, particularly bearing in mind he has had a few off-the-pitch problems recently. Some players, like Cesc Fabregas for instance, can handle the attention and praise when it comes their way when they are still very young, but for others it can go to their heads. The fact that Jack has been in a bit of trouble already in his career means that maybe the England manager should think twice before he starts building him up as the next big thing.

3. Premier League fine for Blackpool is farcical

I cannot fathom why the Premier League would fine Ian Holloway for changing his Blackpool team against Aston Villa. It's just farcical. Would they do the same to Arsène Wenger, who made eight changes to his Arsenal team when they played Wigan? Arsenal drew 2-2, so should they also be punished for putting out a weakened side? The situation is inexplicable, and the Premier League should be ashamed.

4. It doesn't look like Grant has spark to lift Hammers

Losing a semi-final is always hard to take, but it will be even worse for West Ham, having at one point been 3-1 up on aggregate. They have got a chance to make amends tomorrow, but they will face a tough challenge in Nottingham Forest. It is at times like this that players sometimes look to the manager to provide a bit of a lift, some inspiration that will help them lift themselves off the floor. Avram Grant may be that man, but he doesn't look like it from the outside looking in.

5. Can Crawley get through and draw the big guns?

I was at Crawley three weeks ago to witness their third-round victory over Derby, and so I now have an affinity with them. They've got Torquay away today, and if they make it through they'll be in the fifth round with a chance of drawing one of the big guns. Now that would really be something to see.

Weekend FA Cup Guide

Everton vs Chelsea

Kick-off: Today, 12.30pm (ESPN; Highlights ITV1, 10.45pm)

Last FA Cup meeting: 2009 Final, Everton 1 Chelsea 2


Leading scorer: T Cahill 9

Team news: Victor Anichebe (groin) is a doubt and Tim Cahill is on Asian Cup duty. Louis Saha returns to the squad and Phil Jagielka could play for the first time since New Year's Day.


Leading scorer: N Anelka 13

Team news: The Blues could welcome Frank Lampard back, but Yuri Zhirkov (calf), Alex (knee) and Yossi Benayoun (Achilles) are out.

Aston Villa vs Blackburn Rovers

Kick-off: Today, 1pm (Highlights ITV1, 10.45pm)

Last FA Cup meeting: 2010 Third round, Aston Villa 3 Blackburn Rovers 1

Aston Villa

Leading scorer: Three players on 6

Team news: Darren Bent is cup-tied, so Emile Heskey may come back into the starting line-up. Fabian Delph, Ciaran Clark and Kyle Walker all return, but Luke Young remains out.

Blackburn Rovers

Leading scorer: M B Diouf 6

Team news: Steve Kean's side are without Ryan Nelsen (knee), but long-term absentees Keith Andrews and Vince Grella are available for selection, as is Steven Nzonzi.

Birmingham City vs Coventry City

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Setanta Ireland; Highlights ITV1, 10.45pm)

Last FA Cup meeting: 1981 Fourth round, Coventry City 3 Birmingham City 2

Birmingham City

Leading scorer: C Gardner 6

Team news: Craig Gardner, Roger Johnson (both calf) and Cameron Jerome (hamstring) are doubts, but David Bentley, cup-tied for the midweek Carling Cup win, returns.

Coventry City

Leading scorers: F Eastwood, G McSheffrey 5

Team news: Lee Carsley (Achilles) is ruled out of a return to his old club, but Ben Turner could be back in the squad after three months.

Burnley vs Burton Albion

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights ITV1, 10.45pm)

Last FA Cup meeting: Never played in FA Cup


Leading scorer: C Iwelumo 10

Team news: New signing Charlie Austin is cup-tied after joining from Swindon yesterday, while Martin Paterson is a doubt and Chris McCann (knee) is out.

Burton Albion

Leading scorer: S Harrad 13

Team news: The Brewers' new loan signings, Calvin Zola and Nathan Redmond, go straight into the squad, while Andy Corbett, Darren Moore and Nathan Stanton all return.

Torquay United vs Crawley Town

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights ITV1, 10.45pm)

Last FA Cup meeting: Never played in FA Cup

Torquay United

Leading scorer: E Benyon 13

Team news: Striker Elliot Benyon is available despite breaking his nose against Gillingham last week, while midfielder Joe Oastler has had his loan from QPR extended.

Crawley Town

Leading scorer: M Tubbs 24

Team news: The Blue Square Premier leaders have a clean bill of health as they seek to become only the sixth non-League team to reach the fifth round in the post-war era.

Southampton vs Manchester United

Kick-off: Today, 5.15pm (ITV1; Highlights ITV1, 10.45pm)

Last FA Cup meeting: 2009 Third round, Southampton 0 Manchester United 3


Leading scorer: A Lallana 9

Team news: Captain Dean Hammond (calf) is a doubt, while Adam Lallana has missed the past two matches. On loan Leicester winger Dany N'Guessan is available.

Manchester United

Leading scorer: D Berbatov 20

Team news: Rafael da Silva, Edwin van der Sar, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra all miss out, and Michael Carrick (ankle) is a doubt. Anders Lindegaard could make his debut.

Arsenal vs Huddersfield Town

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 12pm (ESPN; Highlights ITV1, 10.50pm)

Last FA Cup meeting: 1932 Sixth round, Huddersfield 0 Arsenal 1


Leading scorer: S Nasri 14

Team news: Manuel Almunia returns after four months, while Abou Diaby (calf), Sebastian Squillaci (hamstring) and Tomas Rosicky (sickness) also make comebacks.

Huddersfield Town

Leading scorer: J Rhodes 16

Team news: Manager Lee Clark is without top scorer Jordan Rhodes (ankle), Tamas Kadar ( hamstring) and on-loan Arsenal forward Benik Afobe, who has been ruled out by the FA.

Notts County vs Manchester City

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 2pm (ITV1; Setanta Ireland; Highlights ITV1, 10.50pm)

Last FA Cup meeting: 1995 Third round replay, Manchester City 5 Notts County 2

Notts County

Leading scorer: L Hughes 11

Team news: Midfielder Alan Judge misses out for Paul Ince's side with a broken foot, although centre-back Mike Edwards could return from a hamstring injury.

Manchester City

Leading scorer: C Tevez 16

Team news: Micah Richards should make his first appearance in three weeks after recovering from a back injury, although Adam Johnson (ankle) sits the game out.

Fulham vs Tottenham Hotspur

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 4.30pm (ESPN; Highlights ITV1, 10.50pm)

Last FA Cup: meeting 2010 Sixth round replay, Tottenham Hotspur 3 Fulham 1


Leading scorer: C Dempsey 9

Team news: New signing Gaël Kakuta is cup-tied, while Steve Sidwell could retain his place. Bobby Zamora (leg) remains out, as does Mark Schwarzer (international duty).

Tottenham Hotspur

Leading scorers: G Bale, R v d Vaart 11

Team news: Gareth Bale (back) misses out, but Heurelho Gomes (shoulder), Wilson Palacios and Benoît Assou-Ekotto (both knee) are all available.

The Weekend's Other Games

*Today (3pm ko unless stated)

Swansea v Leyton Orient (12.50)

Bolton v Wigan

Sheffield Wednesday v Hereford

Stevenage v Reading

Watford v Brighton

Highlights: ITV1, 10.45pm, repeated tomorrow, 9.55am

*Tomorrow (2pm ko unless stated)

Wolves v Stoke (1pm)

West Ham v Nottingham Forest

Highlights: ITV1, 10.50pm

* The fifth round draw will take place on ITV1 after tomorrow's Notts County-Manchester City match. Comedian Mark Watson and former England international Neil Ruddock will be making the draw.

Fifth round: 19/20 February

Sixth round: 12/13 March

Semi-finals: 16/17 April

Final: 14 May (Wembley)

Mind the gap - Why the biggest shock could come from Turf Moor this weekend

Judging by the league tables, victory for Burton at Burnley today would rank as the biggest upset of the weekend because 59 league places separate the clubs. Notts County are the same distance from Manchester City, but are at home. The most evenly matched ties would appear to be at Villa Park and Upton Park, with five places splitting Aston Villa from Blackburn Rovers and West Ham United from Nottingham Forest respectively.

Burnley (C, 9th) v Burton Albion (L2, 20th) 59 places

Notts County (L1, 18th) v Manchester City (PL, 3rd) 59 places

Stevenage (L2, 11th) v Reading (C, 8th) 51 places

Southampton (L1, 4th) v Manchester United (PL, 1st) 47 places

Arsenal (PL, 2nd) v Huddersfield Town (L1, 3rd) 45 places

Swansea City (C, 4th) v Leyton Orient (L1, 16th) 36 places

Sheffield Wednesday (L1, 10th) v Hereford United (L2, 21st) 35 places

Watford (C, 7th) v Brighton & Hove Albion (L1, 1st) 18 places

Birmingham City (PL, 17th) v Coventry City (C, 14th) 17 places

Torquay United (L2, 12th) v Crawley Town (CF, 1st) 13 places

Everton (PL, 14th) v Chelsea (PL, 4th) 10 places

Fulham (PL, 15th) v Tottenham Hotspur (PL, 5th) 10 places

Wolverhampton Wanderers (PL, 19th) v Stoke City (PL, 10th) 9 places

Bolton Wanderers (PL, 11th) v Wigan Athletic (PL, 18th) 7 places

Aston Villa (PL, 13th) v Blackburn Rovers (PL, 8th) 5 places

West Ham United (PL, 20th) v Nottingham Forest (C, 5th) 5 places