Pseuds regulars offer their take on the best five British footballers of the last 50 years
Articles on the best footballers through history are usually an excuse to do two things. One is to court controversy to push up the readership of a blog site with little else to report at that moment. The other is to give the writer and enjoyable trip down memory lane. The first of those is entirely fine by me, but the second leads to a problem.
It is seemingly too easy to fondly recall players who hung up their boots years ago, rather than those still playing today. It seems natural to assume the best player of the last fifty years played fifty years ago, not last year. But surely football like most things improves over time, or at least shows little sign that it is inherently less now than once it was.
And so having recalled Dave Mackay, who joined Spurs fifty years ago this summer, it is now time to champion Ryan Giggs, who has played for Manchester United’s first team for a full third of the fifty years in question, and will play on longer still.
Firstly the medals - Giggs has won ten league titles. TEN. I’ll restate that in case it hasn’t hit home. TEN! Double figures! More titles in fact than any club in England has ever wracked up except three. And one of those is Manchester United who had only had seven before Ryan showed up. Then there are four FA Cups, two League Cups, six Charity Shields, two European Cups, a Uefa Super Cup, and an Intercontinental Cup.
Next up longevity: His first trophy was a League Cup win that came before the Premier League formed. Now read that again and take it in this time so I don’t need to repeat myself. Done that? Good. He lifted his tenth title and second European Cup two months ago.
Finally the stats - Giggs has played in 759 games for by far and away the best team in England of his era. So far he has scored 144 goals and created 371. He was the first player to be awarded the PFA Young Player of the Year award in consecutive seasons. And he is the only player ever to score in twelve consecutive European Cup tournaments.
I hope that has opened a few eyes to Ryan Giggs. This is a man who was lauded as the next George Best when he first emerged. Then the cult of Beckham relegated him to the role of just another player who wasn’t the next George Best after all. And then he carried on being brilliant for over fifteen years until finally people realised he was the next Bobby Charlton, who by coincidence also started on the left wing only to move to the middle later on.
Normally longevity comes at a price. To extend a career a player steps down a level and eventually disappears in a Chris Waddle-like haze of non-league football. Not Giggs. He started at the top and has remained a one club marvel. He hasn’t even taken a dignified step down to a Uefa Cup side. Instead he has risen to every challenge that the best team of the age could throw at him. As Manchester United have tried to outspend Blackburn, Newcastle and Chelsea in turn, and out think Arsenal in between, he has been constant.
Sir Alex Fergusson has won only two trophies with Manchester United that Giggs didn’t win as well, so if you think winning is everything then Giggs is clearly the greatest. But some people need more.
So think of him swerving through the Arsenal defence to win the FA Cup semi-final. Think of him with ‘Sharpe’ written across the chest of his red shirt volleying home a right hand cross from 15 yards. Think of him stepping over, jinking, turning and halting so quickly and cleverly that he left a thousand defenders floored.
There may not be many 50 year olds reminiscing about seeing Giggs when they were little and football was better. But there will be soon. Just give it 15 years.