Giggs: He was so tough, he broke my nose!
Ryan Giggs has named the toughest opponent he faced during his long and storied career.
With a record 963 Manchester United appearances under his belt, the Welshman will have come up against hundreds of individual defenders and, in all likelihood, frightened the life out of most of them.
But one particular player stands out and, after hearing what this right-back did to Ryan during a 1999 Champions League quarter-final tie, you might realise why!
“The hardest player I played against was [Javier] Zanetti from Inter Milan,” Giggs told the latest MUTV Group Chat.
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“He ran all day and he used to be a midfielder so he was comfortable on the ball, he could defend, he was tough and he actually broke my nose in the quarter-finals against them.
“He had everything as a defender.”
Giggs and United famously got the better of the Argentinian and his Inter side in 1999, and both men were still stalwarts of their respective outfits a decade on, when the Reds once again vanquished the Nerazzurri on our way to a European Cup final.
Zanetti, though, got his hands on the trophy a year later at the ripe old age of 36, and, like Giggs, continued playing well into his 40s.
The pair managed to put the broken nose incident – caused by a stray elbow from Zanetti – behind them, getting together for a Twitter Q&A in 2014, the summer both men retired from professional football.
“I remember our own personal duel,” the now Inter vice-president said six years ago, when Ryan reminded him of that last-eight tie.
“You are one of the toughest opponents I have ever played against!”
If you were perhaps surprised that Giggs skirted over greats like Cafu, Alves, Lahm and Ivanovic, the two names he gave as the best he played alongside won’t come as a major shock.
The 46-year-old couldn’t ignore Cristiano Ronaldo’s supreme talent and determination, but it’s a fellow Class of '92 graduate whom Giggs spent most time in awe of, especially on the training pitch.
“The best player is Cristiano [Ronaldo]," said Giggs. "But obviously he was only with us for a short space of time, when he was brilliant, and then went on to do just as well as he did at United elsewhere.
“But Scholesy [Paul Scholes] is the best player I played with at United. You’ve all seen him. In training, he was ridiculous, you couldn’t get near him. His brain was quicker than everyone else, his range of passing and he was nasty!
“If someone had taken the mickey out of him it was logged in the brain. Whether it be that training session or a week later or even six months later, he’d get you back!
“You’d think you’d got him in training and then he’d just pop the ball off and give the little feign, he was just brilliant in training.”