As the Euro 2012 Qualifier between Wales and England this weekend approaches it reminds me of a great sadness I’ve always had about Ryan Giggs. Despite winning 64 caps for his native Wales, he’s never appeared at any major international tournament. No World Cup, no European Nations finals. It just doesn’t seem right.
In general I’m not too bothered about international matches, which historically have had a horrible habit of leaving Manchester United players with injuries, sometimes career-ending, as with Steve Coppell in the 1980s. So I was relieved when Giggs retired from international football a couple of years ago, although it does still feel wrong that we have been deprived of seeing him on the world stage.
However, for United fans it may be no bad thing. One of the things that has always driven Giggs has been the spur of failure, almost more than the pull of success. In those rare years when the team has won nothing he spends the summer holidays brooding over what went wrong, full of resolve to ‘put things right’ the following season. It’s one of the things I’ve always loved about our Ryan, that unwavering desire to win trophies with United. It makes total sense that he should have won more medals than anyone else in the club’s history, as noted by every commenator marking the twentieth anniversary of his first team debut this month.
It’s a truly astonishing record, the two Champions League winner’s medals, eleven league titles, four FA Cups, four League Cups, an Intercontinental Cup, and a Club World Cup. What makes it even more remarkable is that almost no-one begrudges Giggs his success. Hardly anyone has a bad word to say about him, apart from perhaps those Liverpool fans who spat in his face after he’d given them his autograph after a match at Anfield. He’s one of the most respected sportsmen in Britain, admired as a role model on and off the pitch, one of the all-time greats, recently voted United’s greatest ever player in a poll of fans.
But amidst all this shower of utterly deserved praise one thing has slipped by unnoticed.
Ryan Giggs may be the most decorated player ever, but he’s also United’s biggest loser.
When totting up all the trophies Giggsy has won, people forget all those near misses, all those times he’s had to settle for second-best, when he’s been merely a runner-up, when he’s been a loser.
And yet, when you think about it, if you forget all the winner’s medals and just add up all his loser’s medals it is still an astonishing achievement. There are players for whom simply getting to one cup final is the peak of their career, even if it’s the Inter Toto Cup. Others may look back fondly on reaching a championship play-off at Wembley, or even getting to a Champions League semi-final, and think they had ‘made it’.
So consider how you’d feel if you were a footballer and at the end of your career you could look back at the following:
Runners-up in the Premier League (and old First Division): five times
Champions League Finals: One Loser’s medal
FA Cup Finals: Three Loser’s medals
League Cup Finals: Two loser’s medals
And throw in for good measure four or five Charity/ Community Shield loser’s medals.
It is actually a remarkable record, and no other player comes close to matching it at Old Trafford.
And remember that every one of those disappointments will have driven him on relentlessly in the next competition, making him even more determined to get his hands on silverware. Now , as the run-in approaches on three fronts it’s a good time to remind Giggsy of what coming second feels like.
So please join me in celebrating the career of the incomparable Ryan Giggs, serial winner, and United’s Biggest Loser
Come on Giggsy, show us your medals!