Come on, be fair, it is ages since I did a blog on football. There is only so much I can say about David Cameron’s muddled foreign policy, his failure to explain the Big Society, or the ideological drive behind the cuts, which takes George Osborne into The Guardian today, rather defensively peddling a variation on his thinning ‘all Labour’s fault’ line of attack.
But in the same paper, the most interesting article of the day is about football and I feel moved to blog about it. It is a list. I love lists. They weed out the opinion of the journalist and allow you to give free rein to your own.
The list is of all the Manchester United players Ryan Giggs has played alongside in his 20 remarkable years with the club. And the first surprise is how short it is.
Just 131 players. In 862 matches. There are many ways of recognising Alex Ferguson’s abilities as a manager. But Giggs’ longevity and, in these days of enormous squads, that relatively small number of team-mates, are two of them.
Some of the 131 can be named immediately by football fans and non-fans alike, names that have entered the language, like Ronaldo, Beckham , Cantona, Neville(s), Scholes, Keane, Schmeichel. One or two – Gerard Pique at Barcelona being the most obvious, and maybe also Diego Forlan – have found greater success away from Old Trafford. One or two – Jaap Stam the most obvious here – have been allowed to go and after a while the manager has wished they hadn’t.
Some are still around, and active in management, like Steve Bruce, Mark Hughes, Laurent Blanc, Ole Gunnar Solskaer, Mark Robins, Paul Ince and Alex’s son Darren.
Some – Chris Eagles, Richard Eckersley, Phil Bardsley, Luke Chadwick, Eric Djemba-Djemba, Lee Roche, Andy Cole (hat-trick v QPR) and David May – went on to greater things, namely spells with Burnley. En route May managed to get into my diaries, in the photo behind Fergie on the night of his first Champions League triumph in Barcelona. He may not have played but he sure knew how to get in on the act! Giggs is in the diaries too, when he came out for Labour’s plans for devolution – another reason to like him.
Interesting that no fewer than eight of Giggs’ team-mates ended up at Burnley. Must remember to sing ‘you are our feeder club’ the next time we play them. One came the other way, and he is a reminder of just how long Giggs has been around – Mike Phelan, now Fergie’s Number 2.
Some in the list are largely forgotten amid the star names, like goalkeepers Massimo Taibi, Kevin Pilkington and Mark Bosnich, or players like Michael Clegg, Gary Walsh, Michael Stewart, Phil Mulryne, Ian Wilkinson, Mark Wilson, Nick Culkin, John Curtis, William Prunier. But they will always be able to say they played for Manchester United alonsgside Ryan Giggs.
Having seen one great match on Saturday – Burnley’s 2-1 win at Preston – I am hoping for another tonight when I go along to Stamford Bridge with those of my children (alas the majority) who have opted to support United ahead of Burnley.
But at least as they look at Ryan Giggs they will be able to look at a genuine role model in a sport where so many are anything but. Let’s hope he nutmegs Ashley Cole (am looking forward to the United fans shouting ‘shooooot’ whenever Chelsea’s left-back gets the ball); let’s hope someone whispers ‘loyalty’ to Fernando Torres; and let’s hope someone gets near enough to Roman Abramovich to sing ‘I don’t care too much for money … money can’t buy me all the titles I thought it would.’
Fergie is the master. Giggs is one of his true greats. The list is a great read.