Manchester United winger Ryan Giggs finally gets leading role on the world stage with Olympics captaincy
Monday 09 July 2012
It is not on a par with a World Cup, nor even a European Championship, but the Olympic Games football competition will at least allow Ryan Giggs to complete his honour-laden career without the regret that he never played in an international tournament.
He will correct the omission, moreover, by leading Team GB in their pursuit of the gold medal at London 2012 as captain, after the team manager, Stuart Pearce, announced he had given the Welshman the armband – a decision that, he said, had been "one of the easiest of my life".
"It has always been a disappointment never getting to a major tournament with Wales and that will always be there," Giggs said.
"I have not played in tournament football and I'm thankful for getting a chance. To be involved in the Olympics as a 38-year-old is something you wouldn't expect to happen, so to be involved in a tournament like this, and on home turf, is a massive honour. It ranks very high in my career, especially being captain as well.
"I have been fortunate to win a lot of trophies in my career but as a footballer you never think you might win an Olympic gold medal. It is going to be tough: there are some good teams and good players in the tournament. But, with home advantage and the players we have, we have a good chance."
Pearce said that Giggs, who has captained Wales and Manchester United during his 21-year senior career, had all the right credentials to be captain.
"Making Ryan the captain was probably one of the easiest decisions of my life," he said. "Over 20-odd years he has been an outstanding professional, his reputation and professionalism goes before him. He has the respect of the group, he has the respect of me.
"I'm looking forward to working with him not just as a player but as a captain. I think he will take this role as a great honour and embrace it.
"We have a man here who has never played tournament football, which for a player of his ability is a crying shame. I think for him to play a tournament on his own shore and captain the team will be fantastic."
Giggs won 64 international caps for Wales. He captained England Schoolboys but, having been born in Cardiff to Welsh parents, he was never eligible to play for senior England teams and has said he would have chosen to play for Wales in any event.
When he made his senior international debut as an 18-year-old in 1991 he was the youngest player to represent Wales at senior level. He retired from international football in 2007, having twice been denied the chance to play in a major tournament at the final qualifying hurdle.
Wales would have gone to the 1994 World Cup had they beaten Romania in their final qualifying game, at home. But, after Paul Bodin missed a penalty with the scores at 1-1, the Romanians went on to secure the win. A decade later, with Giggs' former Manchester United team-mate Mark Hughes in charge, Wales lost to Russia in a play-off for Euro 2004.
As one of the most gifted players of his generation, he would almost certainly have experienced a World Cup had there been a Great Britain side but he said he did not regret that Wales and the other home nations retain their own identities. "I think there will always be England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland teams," he said.
In that respect, he is in line with the Welsh FA, which was against Great Britain fielding a team in the Olympics, fearing it might pave the way for Fifa to end the right of the British home nations to be seen as individual countries. But he is also squarely behind the right of the other Welsh players in the squad – Craig Bellamy, Joe Allen, Neil Taylor and current national captain Aaron Ramsey – to take part.
"You were always going to get a bit of negativity but the players wanted to be involved and I think for the young Welsh players it can only help them and help Welsh football. With another World Cup qualifying campaign round the corner it can only be a good experience.
"As soon as the opportunity was there to put my name down as available I jumped on the chance. I've wanted to be part of it from the start."
Given his enormous collection of winners' medals – 12 Premier League titles, five FA Cups and two Champions Leagues – it might be supposed that even an Olympic gold would seem small beer.
But Giggs refused to be drawn into downplaying the event. "I never like to say one trophy is better than another," he said. "They are all great experiences, whether it be winning the Champions League in the last minute or winning a hard-fought league, they all bring different feelings. Hopefully, I will get the chance to tell you later how this one feels."
Pearce had no doubt it would be a high spot of his career, particularly in management. "I've been to tournaments as a player but in management terms I still see myself as someone who is learning."
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