Giggsy doing it for himself
There were several stand-out performances in Manchester United’s unusually comfortable hammering of Bayer Leverkusen.
Wayne Rooney with his trio of assists; Jonny Evans with his imperious defensive display and goal; the bounding wide duo of Antonio Valencia and Nani; the hitherto ostracised Shinji Kagawa, freed from the shackles of the left and allowed to roam in his preferred position.
It was an excellent team display, the best United have mustered under David Moyes, with much of the improvement down to a shift in formation resulting from Robin van Persie’s injury: Rooney adopted his central striker’s position, with Kagawa excelling behind and Nani relishing an opportunity that has been strangely absent this season.
But the most significant display was arguably that of Ryan Giggs.
While none of his actions were particularly eye-catching before that delightful assist for Nani’s goal, Giggs’ showing of energy, discipline and leadership was quite astounding for a man about to turn 40.
In two days’ time Giggs will be of an age when most outfield players are either long retired, or knocking about at a far lower level than Europe’s premier club competition; he will be of an age where most of us struggle to get up and down a five-a-side pitch let alone the sizeable BayArena.
The Welshman’s age is often raised when United’s more callow personnel come unstuck under pressure. His poise and calm is lacking among younger team-mates at key moments, a problem seen more frequently this season than in the Fergie era.
That Giggs started was a fluke of circumstance: with Michael Carrick injured, United needed a reliable playmaker to keep the midfield’s shape and keep the ball circulating. Anderson cannot be trusted any more, while Tom Cleverley’s development appears to have stalled for some reason. Perhaps his potential was overestimated.
Giggs’ longevity is a testament to his discipline, on and off the pitch.
While still in possession of a decent turn of pace – shown on one or two occasions in Germany – he is by no means the searing, jinking winger of old. While many would simply fade into their 30s, he has retrained as a crafty central midfielder, with astute positioning and intelligent use of the ball. Not to mention remarkable energy levels.
People in many trades can learn from such adaptability: progress in industry and technology can leave many an experienced professional a bumbling dinosaur, but the best always embrace change. The evil but gifted Rupert Muroch’s embracement of social media is a throwaway example, but those who mock his self-promoting tweets should remember what business he is in.
Giggs points to his adoption of yoga as a factor in his extended career. Many footballers have followed suit, but the simple adoption of yoga as a physical pursuit limits its effectiveness. Yoga, if practised correctly, is more than just an exercise of the body; it is a limitless pursuit of discipline, self-awareness, mindfulness and study of the individual. The focus on oneself is hugely important, even if it is only for a daily hour of stretches and meditation.
It may sound pretentious, but it appears Giggs – whose monastic eating and drinking habits have played a huge part in lengthening his career – has fully embraced the discipline. His professionalism and attention to detail combine with a lithe flexibility and a total understanding of his role. The late Steve Jobs – a fellow yogi – may well have agreed. Nicklas Bendtner, known to occasionally adopt the downward dog when not smashing up cars or gym doors, would do well to learn from yoga’s capacity for mental enhancement.
We should also not underestimate Manchester United’s careful management of Giggs, who mid-career looked worryingly like a Darren Anderton-style crock. Well, I say mid-career, but who knows how long he could go?
Leverkusen defender Emre Can was born four months after Ryan Giggs made his @ChampionsLeague debut, vs. Kispest Honved on Sept 15, 1993
— Mark Lomas (@marklomasESPN) November 27, 2013
Giggs is already the oldest player to score in a Champions League match.
He has to keep trotting out for another year if he is to pass Alessandro Costacurta as the oldest outfield player to appear in the Champions League or European Cup.
Provided he avoids serious injury, there is no reason why another landmark cannot be passed.