In an era when players commonly switch teams like they change brands of coffee, Ryan Giggs has been an exception.
He is entering his 22nd season with the top club in the world at Manchester United, bypassing opportunities at large payoffs elsewhere to stick with the club that brought him along since his 14th birthday.
Now 37, Giggs has 12 Premier League titles, 4 FA Cups, 8 Community Shields, 2 UEFA Champions League titles and a FIFA Club World Cup to his credit.
And while those 21 seasons with Manchester United may not have brought the adulation that it has for players like Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo, he is no doubt among the greatest in the club’s storied history and the most decorated player in English football history.
After all, you can’t play 21 years, registering 110 goals in 613 league matches, with a club like Manchester United without being held in a high regard by players and coaches alike.
Back in 1987 when he decided to join Manchester United, it was an easy choice. The reason he chose to play for them at such a young age is the same reason he continued to play with them for so many years.
He’s played each year of his professional life for Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and even recalls when the venerable manager came to his house to try to convince him to sign for the club.
From that day forward, Ferguson – who was then in his first season as manager after a successful run with Aberdeen in Scotland – has been a father figure for Giggs, using the midfielder as an extension of his coaching arm on the field.
Despite his early successes, he didn’t overwhelm Giggs and his family with bravado or arrogance, but rather generosity and sincerity.
“Little things stood out. He knew my parents’ names at that age. He just makes you feel welcome even though he’s the manager at Manchester United and you’re just a schoolboy,” Giggs said.
That approach didn’t end with Giggs’ recruitment either and has added to the legacy of the legendary manager.
“He’s always told me from day one that his office is always open if I had any problems,” Giggs said. “Football-wise, he’s the king when it comes to preparation and building a team and building exciting teams. I’m just proud to be part of that.”
While he hasn’t announced his retirement, or even hinted that it is coming soon, he may not have to have a life after Manchester United when he does hang up his boots.
It is largely believed that Giggs is well-suited to be an assistant to Ferguson once he stops playing the game, as former longtime teammate Paul Scholes did after his retirement last season.
Whether he’s still part of the club or not, though, Giggs will always bleed for the Red Devils.
“It’s been a massive part of my life. I’ll always support Manchester United so it will remain a part of my life,” he said. “It’s been a huge part of my life.”
With all of his accomplishments at the club level, it’s easy to forget that he has not had much success on the international level. Playing for Wales, where he was born, rather than England, where he moved at the young age of six, Giggs has never reached the FIFA World Cup or the UEFA European Championship.
That, he says, is his one regret as a footballer.
“It was a massive disappointment, but I always say that I wouldn’t swap my career with anyone. I’ve been lucky enough to win so much and be a part of so many great teams. No regrets, but it’s probably the only disappointment I’ve had in my career,” he said, smiling while the gray flecks of hair on the sides of his hair emphasize his point.
“I can live with that.”