Giggs is a true great

Ryan Giggs...invaluable to Manchester United.-AP

The Welshman may not play the entire duration every game, but he is a player that Manchester United will struggle to replace when the time comes for him to hang up his boots, writes Craig Saunders.

The great debate that has troubled Manchester United supporters for years seems to have finally been put to bed, for now at least. Just who is the greatest player in the club's illustrious history?

A shortlist of the best was drawn up by the club's magazine, ‘Inside United', earlier this year containing the likes of George Best, Eric Cantona, Bobby Charlton, Duncan Edwards, Roy Keane, Denis Law, Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Scholes and Peter Schmeichel.

The fans voted and the man at the top of the list was the player that the Old Trafford faithful have seen fly down the wing for the last two decades, score vital goals and win just about every club honour.

He is the mercurial talent that is Ryan Giggs.

“I'd go for Scholesy as the club's greatest player,” said Giggs in regard to the poll. His modesty is one of the reasons that he is acclaimed, not only by United fans, but people who watch the game all over the world.

The 37-year-old's career is a highlight reel of what players can only wish to accomplish. The Welshman's achievements include 11 English Premier League titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups and two UEFA Champions League winners' medals. Also in his trophy room sit the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, the 2009 PFA Player of the Year crown and an OBE. Simply put, he is the most decorated British footballer ever.

Giggs reached another milestone when he celebrated an amazing 20 years at Old Trafford, a feat that, even he admits, is unlikely to be beaten.

Although it could have all turned out so differently had Sir Alex Ferguson not persuaded Giggs to turn down the blue side of Manchester on his 14th birthday to instead join United.

It was against Everton three years later that his legacy began. Giggs was a second-half substitute for Denis Irwin, giving the winger his first taste of the big time. Twelve days later he made his full debut, ironically against Manchester City, and scored the first of 161 goals for the Red Devils.

Fast-forward 20 years and he is still as crucial as ever for United. Giggs may not play the entire duration every game, but he is a player that United will struggle to replace when the time eventually comes for him to hang up his boots.

No one has higher praise for the winger than the man who brought him to the club.

“Ryan has shown by sacrifice what can be achieved. He is a model of how to carry yourself, both as a footballer and a human being,” said Ferguson.

“And then we can talk about his performances, which have been top class for 20 years. Even now, at the age of 37, he's amazing.”

As well as his impeccable professionalism on and off the pitch, Giggs is blessed with incredible skill. Although a winger for a great number of years, he has now developed into a well-versed central midfielder, adapting his style in his ageing years to remain a key man for his team.

Ferguson has often praised his balance, dribbling, finesse, rapid turn of pace and class in front of goal.

His solo goal against Arsenal in United's treble-winning season was a microcosm of what he is best at. Giggs intercepted the ball on the halfway line and used all his power, skill, speed and clinical nature to fire the Red Devils into the 1999 FA Cup final.

The United number 11 is truly an anomaly of world football. He is a one-off, someone who has broken the mould by staying consistently at the top of his game for two decades and had all his success at one club. Giggs also has a winning mentality that means that claiming another European or domestic crown is more important than talking about ending his career.

A young Giggs felt the legendary Ferguson hairdryer treatment after attending a party with Lee Sharpe. Allegedly, the Scot turned up but failed to find Giggs hiding in a cupboard.

Giggs tied the knot with long-term partner Stacey Cooke in September 2007. They have two children. The luxurious Mercedes Benz E Class is one of many cars owned by Giggs.

FACTFILE Name: Ryan Giggs Position: Midfielder Club: Manchester United D.O.B: 20/11/1973 Wales caps: 64 Wales goals: 12 Wales debut: v Germany, 1991 Moment to remember:

His 110th-minute solo goal against Arsenal in the 1999 FA Cup semifinal followed by an equally infamous bare-chested celebration.

Moment to forget:

United's League Cup semifinal draw with Blackburn in 2002. Giggs was booed off the pitch after a poor performance at home.

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