So, the day has finally come. Not quite the climax to the never-ending story, but certainly the end of an utterly riveting chapter.
Ryan Giggs’ retirement ends a professional playing career of 963 appearances, 168 goals and 34 honours for Manchester United. In the 8,840 days since his debut, Giggs has outlived Ceefax, survived the Millennium Bug and played through seven Bond movies.
He has achieved freakish levels of longevity and success in isolation, but the blend of the two simply will not be equalled. Behind United and Liverpool in the all-time haul of English league titles, Giggs is tied third with Arsenal. After claiming Sir Bobby Charlton’s all-time club appearances record in Moscow, he embellished it by another 215 outings, and records have tumbled with every renewal of a one-year contract first set rolling in 2007.
Giggs’ place in club history was established by the time of his testimonial 13 years ago, and the ensuing time has been a monument to the rewards of incessant self-betterment. There have been more naturally gifted players, but talent was only one of the winger’s invaluable attributes. After a poor performance against CFR Cluj midway through the 2012/13 campaign, he eschewed butter from his toast and began going to bed an hour earlier. His next Champions League start brought the Man of the Match award against Real Madrid, on his 1,000th career outing.
Such sacrifice and savvy have characterised the second section of a career bisected by a 2001 training session before a tie at Bayern Munich. On-song and relishing the game ahead, Giggs suffered a recurrence of the regular hamstring injuries which punctuated his career from its very start. That night in Munich sparked within the winger a change in approach not only to football, but to life.
New car, new bed, new diet, new fitness regime. He adopted an entirely open mind to anything that might improve his game, be it acupuncture, trampolining or, most famously, yoga. No stone has been left unturned in the last 13 years in the search for that extra fraction of a per cent.