Twenty years ago, almost to the day, Ryan Giggs was helping Manchester United’s youth side into the quarter-finals of the FA Youth Cup. As the current youth crop beat their Swansea counterparts 5-1 on Thursday night, Giggs, alongside that other doyen of the United squad, Paul Scholes, is almost incredibly preparing to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this weekend. One, if not both, will surely line up alongside Michael Carrick in United’s midfield.
If twenty years at the very top is not enough, the legendary pair is each likely to sign new contracts with the club before the season concludes, taking Scholes and Giggs to the end of the 2013 season. If careers both that long and laden with trophies cannot inspire United’s new breed of youngsters, who are now through to the FA Youth Cup quarter-final after a crushing win at the Liberty Stadium, then surely nothing will.
Paul McGuiness’ new intake, many of who are even younger than 2011’s cup winning outfit, stormed through the fifth round after a convincing win over the Welsh. Goals from Jack Barmby, Gyliano van Velzen, Tyler Blackett and Sam Byrne were enough to send the youth through to a meeting with Tottenham Hotspur or Charlton Athletic in the next round.
It was a generation ago, perhaps, but to those who remember the cup winning 1992 side, with Giggs floating so gracefully on the wing, or the outfit a year later, with Scholes flitting around in attack, two trophy filled decades have flown rapidly by. Tears will flow when the pair leaves Carrington, in a playing capacity at least, for the final time.
Yet, it is a show that shows no signs of an upcoming curtain call. Scholes may have retired once, but judging by his outstanding performances against both Liverpool and Stoke City this week, the flame-haired midfielder is in no mood to do so again. Meanwhile, Giggs will certainly be offered a new deal before the season ends.
“We’ll sit down pretty soon and see what we want to do but, at the moment, I feel good and I want to carry on,” admitted Giggs, who turns 39 this year.
“I feel like I’m still an influence on and off the pitch so I’ll carry on. When that changes, then that’s when I’ll want to stop.”
It is the same argument Scholes made when hanging up his boots last May, only to realise that not only is the veteran still better than most, but he can still have significant influence at the top level. Indeed, Scholes, who could pass 700 games in all competitions for the club before the season is out, managed to out-pass and think his opponents with such ease this week that it barely feels 20 years since the ginger Mancunian burst onto the scene.
“I thought he’d retired too early – a lot of people did,” says Giggs of his long-time team-mate.
“Scholesy probably thought he’d made up his mind and when you’ve done that, you can’t really change it. But he was still the best in training with the reserves, so he obviously felt he could still do it. Nobody was going to disagree with that and it was a massive boost when we found out he was coming back before the Manchester City game.”
Neither man holds on to the mobility of youth, but experience, as the cliché goes, replaces so much of the physical deterioration. On Saturday in Liverpool Scholes rarely wandered far from the safety of the centre-circle, but was able to dictate play and tempo so successfully that Anfield received a palpable boost when Ferguson hauled the 36-year-old off.
Meanwhile, Giggs can no longer “bomb up and down that bloody wing,” as Ferguson once put it, but the Welshman’s ability to play his part in central midfield still ensures that the 22 season veteran has a crucial role in the United squad. The now former winger is likely to come back into the United side for the trip to Chelsea, adding another digit to the 897 appearances the Welshman has achieved for the club to date. Sir Alex is unlikely to allow the winger to retire even if he wanted to.
And with United having achieved such poor results at Stamford Bridge over the past decade – European fixtures aside – the Welshman’s experience could be vital this Sunday.
“We have shown reasonable form and if we can get good results in those kinds of games, confidence will be sky high,” Giggs told Inside United, with United preparing to face Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs in coming weeks.
“We know that it’s a tough run, but those are the games you want to be playing in. We are not quite at the make-or-break part of the season, but it is an important time, and we know that if we win those games, then we’ll be in good shape and good form going into the run-in. We know what’s ahead of us and what we have to do.”
That know-how is exactly why there will be little surprise if Giggs and Scholes both play a major role in the coming weeks, with Ferguson always likely to call on experience as the season runs into its dénouement.
“There has been no discernable deterioration in his play whatsoever and, in that sense, why shouldn’t he stay on another year?” admitted Sir Alex of Giggs’ future. “Obviously, it’s entirely up to Ryan himself but I don’t see any reason why he can’t continue.”
What better role models could there be for the kids storming to victory in Wales on Thursday night.