Evergreen Ryan Giggs makes case for return to spotlight at Manchester United
Veteran inspired Champions League comeback and showed what club have been missing in central midfield. But it's also given David Moyes a dilemma
In Sir Alex Ferguson's latest autobiography, Ryan Giggs often enters the narrative at key moments in the story, with what his erstwhile boss regards as cheeky comments. Like the chorus in a Greek tragedy, it is Giggs, for example, who responds to Ferguson's decision to postpone his retirement in 2002 with mock despair and the words, "but I've just signed a new contract".
As the player who served Ferguson longer than any other, it is understandable that it is Giggs' response above others that the Scot remembers at the major epochs in his Manchester United years.
Even after his last game in charge of United last May, that bizarre 5-5 draw with West Bromwich Albion, Ferguson recalls Giggs in the dressing room later. "He teased: 'David Moyes has just resigned.'"
Not that anybody would have been making that joke around the club in recent weeks, at least not in public. Before Wednesday, with seven defeats in 14 games, Moyes was in a very bad place, and even after the 3-0 victory over Olympiakos to reach the Champions League quarter-finals there is still the potential for the club to be plunged back into gloom. They face West Ham tomorrow and then Manchester City on Tuesday.
As for Giggs, before Wednesday night he had all but disappeared from view since the turn of the year with just four appearances in 2014 and only two of them starts. There had been very strenuous denials of rumours of a rift between the manager and his 40-year-old player-coach. Giggs has been through difficult times before over a 23-year career in the first team at United, but post-Ferguson everything is different.
His performance in midfield against Olympiakos – United appearance No 961 – said much about his enduring qualities, but it screamed one thing above all. He has to play against City. While the trip to West Ham will come too soon, there is no way that Moyes can leave him out of a derby game that has the potential to kill whatever hope might have been ignited by the win on Wednesday night.
It was with a hint of regret that the United manager explained Giggs' recent absence post-match on Wednesday by saying he had been "looking to the future". Unfortunately that future has not served him well and in the department where he seems most lacking, central midfield, Giggs currently offers something that few others do, least of all Marouane Fellaini.
As for Giggs, when asked if his Olympiakos performance might signal a run of games, there was a burst of awkward laughter. "I hope so, yeah, I have probably not played as much as I would like in the last few months but hopefully. I think the team [against Olympiakos] had a mixture of a lot of things: pace, experience, power. That's what Manchester United is about and we showed that. We showed what we are capable of."
He pulled no punches on the state of the current side. Giggs made his debut this month in 1991, in the last season in which Liverpool were defending champions, and he was not taken aback by the suggestion that United could suffer a decline like that which gripped their old rivals.
"Well, you can see why people are saying that because we haven't produced it this season on a regular basis," Giggs said. "I know from experience what these players are capable of and a lot of them have been written off. I think there is a lot of quality within the dressing room. We showed it [on Wednesday] and we have to show it more consistently.
"We have just been not consistent enough. And not produced football like we have [against Olympiakos]. We are capable of it so that's the disappointment. I see every day in training what the lads are capable of and they have not transferred that into the games and we need to do that."
In a season with all kinds of unwanted broken records for United – the least points in a Premier League season at this stage, the prospect of the lowest-ever league position in that era – it might seem unwarranted to focus on individual achievements.
Yet it will surely be a source of frustration for Giggs that, for instance, his unbroken record of having scored in every Premier League season since 1992 is under threat.
He has made just 11 appearances in the league, only six of them starts, and is yet to score in that competition or indeed any other. There are nine games for him to change that, as well as contribute to United's end-of-season run after so many false starts.
Giggs added: "I think we owe the fans and the manager a result and a good performance which we produced [against Olympiakos]. It's obviously not nice, not doing well – or as well as we have done in the past – but we still believe, and you still know that you have good players in the dressing room.
"You are sat next to quality players and I think you have seen a bit of that [on Wednesday]. That will give us hopefully that lift and carry us on because we have had good results this year and probably not carried it on. That is what we need to do now."
By this stage of the year it is typical for Giggs' future to be resolved for another season, although that process was always likely to become more uncertain the older he got. Wednesday night was, despite the relatively low standard of the opposition, another reminder of the remarkable quality of this footballer.
As ever, he just wants to play, which makes the next week at United all the more intriguing.
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