The BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year is something of anachronism, rewarding these days performance and profile and not ‘personality’. It matters little though. For the first time since 2001 a Manchester United player is not only in with a genuine shot of winning the gong but stands head and shoulders above his peers.
Vote Ryan Giggs – Sports Personality to end all sports personalities.
Giggs’ performances on the pitch defy his advancing age. Now in his 37th year, with 830 United appearances behind him, the Welshman remains as important to the club’s cause as ever. Although deployed less often than in his rampaging youth, Giggs still appeared 41 times for United last season. Such were his outstanding performances that Giggs picked up the PFA Players’ Player of the Season.
If anything Giggs has been even better for United this campaign.
But while the BBC award is very much about the here and now, Giggs’ record compares favorably to the very best sportsmen of all time. Not only has the Welshman won more Premier League titles than any other player with 11 but has two European Cups, four FA Cups, seven Community shields, three League Cups and two Intercontinental/FIFA Club World Cups.
Throw the European Super Cup, eight PFA Team of the Year appearances and one of the most fabulous goals ever scored in 1999 FA Cup Semi final and you have some measure of the man.
There were the fallow years of course as Giggs entered his thirties and Sir Alex Ferguson’s team fell behind first Arsenal and then Chelsea in the Premier League. While injuries had always been a part of Giggs’ early career, it was perhaps transition from flying winger to midfield creator that stymied the Welshman’s career the most.
One of the qualities that marks Giggs out as a great, however, is the winger’s professionalism, which serves as an inspiration not only to millions of supporters but his teammates too. Sycophantic that may be but in an era of millionaire teenage players and billionaire oligarch owners, Giggs has eschewed the excesses of sex, drink and celebrity so often favoured by his peers. It’s a fact recognised by his manager above all.
“I will always remember the presentation the players made to him after the Champions League final in Moscow last year,” said Sir Alex Ferguson this week as Giggs picked up the BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year Award.
“Afterwards they started to sing the Ryan Giggs song. It was absolutely genuine. You could see the warmth he generates. He is an example and leader in the dressing room and an advisor to young players. It is always refreshing they go to him rather than rely on an agent.
“His best years have been the latter ones. Since we have combated the injury problem with his back, his performances have been quite staggering.
“In the last minute of Saturday’s game at West Ham he went on an overlapping run from the left-back position. It was fully sixty yards – and he is thirty six. I couldn’t do that on a bike!”
It is a shame then that the only major blot on Giggs’ record is the lack of a major international tournament with Wales. With 64 appearances Giggs is among the most capped Welshmen of all time but like George Best before him Giggs has never been to the World Cup. As the season approaches its end there will, no doubt, a tinge of regret.
But the man whom Ferguson describes as a “God in the dressing room” has offered two decades of entertainment to United’s supporters instead. For that the BBC should end this year’s voting now and simply hand the Cardiff-born player the trophy.
“I thank my lucky stars that I have been able to experience and enjoy watching his performances for 20 years,” said Ferguson.
“No manager will have that again.”