Giggs going for gold

RYAN GIGGS leads out Team GB at Old Trafford tonight with his Olympic spirit fired by a personal quest.

The most decorated player in English football history is determined to exploit an unexpected chance to fill the frustrating gap in his groaning trophy cabinet.

Giggs’ brilliance at club level has harvested 12 Premier League titles, four FA Cups, four League Cups and two Champions League winner’s medals in a glittering Manchester United career.

Yet the 38-year-old Welshman has paid dearly for his nation’s lack of depth, which has constantly cost the winger trips to major tournaments and denied him the international stage his ability clearly deserved. Yet today that is set to change against Senegal in a Group A opener that Giggs is adamant will begin a journey all the way to Wembley and Olympic gold-medal glory on August 11.

Giggs made his debut for Wales in 1991 but has been forced to watch the major finals on TV rather than make his own mark.

And he admitted: “As a footballer, you don’t start out in your career hoping to win the Olympics. You want to win leagues, FA Cups and European Cups.

“I’m still disappointed I never got to a major championship with Wales but we weren’t good enough to get to a European Championships or World Cup.

“But to get the chance to play in a tournament at such a late stage of my career is obviously one I’m excited about and looking forward to.

“Of course, you want to win every game and win the tournament. We know it’s going to be tough — but having seen the quality of our team over the last few weeks, we’re hopeful of going a long way.

“An Olympic gold would be up there with my European medals. I don’t like to prioritise any medal or trophy, because it’s always a good feeling when you win.

“It’s always a challenge — no matter what you win — and this is a big challenge.

“It’s going to be difficult because there’s a lot of quality in the tournament but there’s quality in our dressing room as well.”

Giggs pursues his mission with the blessing of United boss Alex Ferguson, who has in the past not always been so keen to wave him off when the midfielder was caught up in a club- versus-country tug-of-war.

But the Red Devils legend said: “Right from the start he was very supportive, which was great.

“I wanted to be a part of it and the manager wanted me to be a part of it.”

Elder statesman Giggs is twice the age of his youngest team-mate, 19-year-old Birmingham goalkeeper Jack Butland, but glows with youthful enthusiasm for the Olympic experience.

He said: “The onus is on me as captain and most experienced player to help the younger players as well, something I’m at ease with and I’ve done with the club for years.

“I’ve enjoyed every bit of the preparation. All the lads have embraced it.

“Even the kitting out, which took two hours, the walk round the Olympic Village and seeing other athletes from other sports have been good experiences.

“That day we were chatting with the divers and the swimmers — you get a chance to speak to other athletes who normally you wouldn’t get the chance to spend time with.

“Kelly Holmes gave us a welcome speech and she gave us a great insight as to what the Olympic experience is all about. We couldn’t have had anyone better speaking to us.

“It’s not something which will come around every year. But the bottom line is we’re playing football matches. You want to win football matches and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Giggs and his young charges can check out all the Group A opposition tonight at Old Trafford — the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay will kick off the double header at 5pm.

Team GB’s tie with Senegal follows at 8pm, but the Africans — who beat Oman in a play-off to qualify — are without striker Dame N’Doye, refused permission to play by FC Copenhagen.

Giggs’ United team-mate Tom Cleverley also insists there is enough ability in Stuart Pearce’s squad to challenge for a medal.

He said: “There is everything in this squad — youth, experience, enthusiasm, speed, technical ability and a good manager.

“There is no reason why we can’t do well.

“It is a strong tournament but if we work hard and turn up on the day, I am sure we will be amongst the medals.”

Cleverley is fit after injuries last term wrecked an impressive start to his senior United career.

He added: “To be back playing is all I want to do. It is all I work for. Being back for the Olympics makes it even sweeter.”

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