Ryan Giggs was barely out of nappies when these sides last met: a comprehensive victory for Manchester United in March 1975 en route to the Reds’ promotion from the old Division Two. It is a measure both of Giggs’ durability that the Welshman is playing some 38 years later, and a reflection of Cardiff City’s long absence from English football’s top level. Indeed, that meeting came during United’s lone season in the second tier following the trauma of relegation the previous campaign.
Cardiff has not featured in the top division for some fifty years; the club’s modern rebirth almost as remarkable as Giggs’ tenure at United. It is perhaps fitting that the Reds should travel to the place of Giggs’ birth in the week that the Welshman turns 40.
Yet, the Welsh club’s assent has not come without pain or controversy. Half a century in the lower reaches of the football league came to an end under Malaysian Vincent Tan’s ownership – investment solidifying the Welsh side’s rise from the fourth tier at the turn of the millennium to the Premier League after promotion from the Championship last season.
Tan, alongside Datuk Chan Tien Ghee, took control of the Bluebirds in May 2010, shortly after completion of the 27,000 capacity Cardiff City Stadium. But Tan’s reign is also a lesson in whimsical nature of modern football ownership, with the 61-year-old causing anger by first rebranding the club – from blue to red – and then repeatedly undermining manager Malky MacKay.
Then Tan sacked long-time head of recruitment Iain Moody, replacing the veteran with 20-something friend-of-the-family Alisher Apsalyamov, while rumours of Tan’s unwelcome influence in the dressing room continue to circulate.
Cardiff’s recent journey has brought mockery from the outside, but mixed feelings for supporters at one enjoying the fruits of Tan’s significant financial injection and reeling from an owner so completely out-of-touch with fan culture.
Meanwhile, Giggs is likely to take some part in United’s weekend fixture – a game that comes just five days shy of the winger’s 40th birthday. Just 49 games short of 1,000 for his club, Giggs has shown little appetite to quit playing just yet, although he has taken a coaching role under new manager David Moyes this season. The Welshman has appeared 10 times for the club this season and continues to play a key role in United’s squad.
“The best thing is to say he doesn’t play like he’s 40 and he doesn’t look like he’s 40,” said Moyes.
“He’s an outstanding player and it’s a privilege to be working with him on my staff but also to have him as a player.
“I’ve seen something different since I’ve come here – just how good he is, close up – and it’s incredible. It will be great for him to go back to Cardiff and I’m sure the supporters will give him a big cheer.”
Giggs is unlikely to start in Cardiff, but Moyes has a selection poser in central midfield, where Michael Carrick is still absent with an achilles problem. With Anderson out-of-favour, Marouanne Fellaini is likely to partner Tom Cleverley in the centre of the park.
Phil Jones is definitely out having picked up a groin problem on international duty, meaning that Jonny Evans is likely to be paired with Rio Ferdinand in central defence.
Meanwhile, the Scot will choose two from a full complement of attacking players, although is likely to rotate heavily over the next week, with games against Bayer Leverkusen in midweek and Tottenham Hotspur next weekend to come. Antonio Valenica and Shijnji Kagawa should start in Wales, while Wayne Rooney will continue his partnership with Robin van Persie up front if the Dutchman is fit.
The home side welcome United in mixed form, having beaten local rivals Swansea City before the international break, but lying just two points off the relegation zone. Victory over Manchester City earlier this season was counter-balanced by recent heavy defeat to Chelsea.
Striker Peter Odemwingie has recovered from a muscle injury, while Icelandic player Aron Gunnarsson is fit despite suffering injury on international duty. Gunnarsson should start in midfield along with Gary Medel, the Chilean who impressed against England last week. Andreas Cornelius also returns for a home side, which is hoping to achieve back-to-back home wins in the top flight for the first time since April 1962.
History, however, points to a United victory in the Welsh capital – the Reds have won the last four meetings between these sides, with Cardiff last picking up three points with a 3-0 First Division win at Ninian Park in November 1960. Moreover, Moyes’ side is unbeaten in nine league and cup games, having won the last three Premier League fixtures on the spin.
Yet, it is with Giggs that the focus lies this weekend – a returning Welsh icon, appearing in his first ever match against his ‘home town’ club. The 39-year-old is surely to receive an outstanding reception.
“Every day of the week, every week of the year for the last 15 years he has been a top player,” said Cardiff boss Mackay.
“He is a top bloke and he is probably my favourite player of the last 15 years. You look at how he has conducted himself professionally through his whole career and he just looks a model pro. Even the way he started to adapt his body through using yoga to allow him to play into his 40s, he has been an absolute star
“He is obviously an iconic figure here for what he has done for Wales and I have no doubt at one point he will end up in management. He has learned from the best and it will be good to see him on Sunday.”
Cardiff City v Manchester United, Premier League, Cardiff City Stadium, 4pm, 24 November 2013
Cardiff (4-5-1): Marshall; Théophile-Catherine, Caulker, Turner, Taylor; Whittingham, Mutch, Medel, Gunnarson, Bellamy; Campbell. Subs from: Lewis, Cowie, Odemwingie, Kim, Maynard, Hudson, Mason, Noone, Connolly, Brayford, Smith, Cornelius, Amondarain, Gestede, John
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Rafael, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra; Valencia, Cleverley, Fellaini, Kagawa; Rooney; van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fabio, Buttner, Vidić, Smalling, Nani, Januzaj, Anderson, Young, Giggs, Hernández
Cardiff 7 Draw 7 United 13
Referee: Neil Swarbrick
Assistants: S Bennett, S Child
Fourth Official: J Moss