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18 July 2024

End of the road for Reds' wing wizard?

The United No11 is mulling over his options after 18 years at Old Trafford. (GETTY IMAGES)

By John McAuley

Ryan Giggs, at 35 years old, spoke this week about bringing an end to the most decorated career in British football history.

If he had to clear his Old Trafford desk, so to speak, he'd probably need a large chunk of the Manchester United first team to help him to his Mercedes Benz stationed outside in the car park.

Twenty-eight winners medals, including a record 10 Premier League championships, four FA Cups and an impressive two Champions League victories show just how celebrated a career his has been.

It's almost two decades since he made his debut for United, coming on as a substitute for Denis Irwin against Everton in March 1991. He was 17.

Yet in an era when players postpone the effects of creaking bones and worn out muscles, Giggs' ability to stay at the very top of the game shouldn't come as much of a surprise.

The battery life of the modern-day footballer seems to have been extended.

Tony Cottee, the former West Ham, Everton and Leicester player who retired a year older than Giggs, believes the foreign influx of players and coaches has led to the prolonging of careers.

"Arsene Wenger was the main instigator in that," says Cottee. "When he first came to England in 1996 you heard all these stories about Arsenal testing their players' blood levels and making them eat pasta all the time.

"I was at Leicester then and we all thought, 'Is he sure? What difference is that going to make?' But as you get older you see the effect of what Wenger's done. You look at the players he has there now and they're all like thoroughbred horses.

"Training is different to what it used to be. Players do a lot of stretches, sprint work, conditioning and focus on the ball more.

"When I played, pre-season was to go to the nearest forest and run 15 miles. However, at Premier league clubs nowadays players don't run more than 400m."

With an increased emphasis on diet and fitness, the Premier League is now bristling with elder statesmen. Dean Windass, the Hull City striker who played in the 5-1 defeat to Manchester City on Boxing Day, leads the way at 39.

David James, Tugay Kerimoglu and Edwin Van der Sar, at Portsmouth, Blackburn and Manchester United respectively, are all a year younger.

And now Giggs is on the wrong side of 35. The man with more appearances than any other at United (781) declared on Tuesday that he's considered hanging up his boots when his contract expires in May.

He cited three reasons that might force his decision: Sir Alex Ferguson not being able to find a role for him in the side; a lack of fitness; and the thrill of representing United evaporating.

Cottee agrees with the Welsh wing wizard, saying enjoyment is probably the biggest factor in determining whether or not to bring the curtain down on your career. He admits it was one of the reasons that forced him into retirement, after he had played more than 600 club games.

"I think the only question when you get to 35 or 36 is, 'Is the desire still there?' If you still want to win things and be successful, then you continue. If you don't, it's time to think of other things.

"But then you have to think about the money aspect too. A lot of players in this generation are financially secure so that when they get to 34 they won't need to run about anymore because they've millions in the bank. You have to take that into account these days."

It is difficult to gauge if Giggs is motivated by money. However, you can be sure the thought of adding to his already huge haul of trinkets, as United continue to fight on four fronts, would influence his decision.