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Ryan Giggs celebrates 40th birthday, how much longer can he play on?

Nov 29, 2013, 8:58 AM EDT

UEFA Champions League - Bayer Leverkusen v Manchester United Getty Images

Many happy returns to Ryan Giggs as the Manchester United legend turned 40 years of age on Friday.

Just a few days after his sensational display for United as they demolished Bayer Leverkusen 5-0 in the UEFA Champions League, Giggs is still turning on the style for the Red Devils.

To put it into context, the Welsh winger made his debut for United in 1991 and 22 years later he has no immediate plans to retire.

But in one of several interviews he’s given to UK media to celebrate his landmark achievement, Giggs believes something innocuous will tell him when it’s time to hang up the boots.

“There will be some incident and I will feel different,” Giggs said. “I’m wary of that because as soon as you’ve felt that or let on that you felt that other can see it. But it’s not so much that as it is the way you feel within yourself. I’m still wanting to do well in every game and wanting to win trophies. My focus needs to be on that. Until I decide and until it’s the end of the season. “

Giggs, 40, has played over 950 games for United and scored in every Premier League season since the league was founded in 1992-93. Earlier in the week my colleague Mike Prindiville (use link below to read his thoughts) used a vast number of superlatives to sum up Giggs’ career so far, so I thought I’d try and break it down and see how much longer he will actually play.

(MORE: The legend turns 40 this Friday, how long can Ryan Giggs go?)

He is the fourth oldest outfield player in the history of the PL as Teddy Sheringham, Kevin Phillips and Gordon Strachan have all played into their 40s. This season he has played 12 times for United and has only been on the losing side once as his invincibility and legendary status across the global game continues to grow.

If that’s even possible.

But none of that aforementioned over 40s have enjoyed anywhere near the success that Giggs has in his glittering career at United. After making his debut as a 17-year-old and being described by Sir Alex Ferguson as looking like a “crisp packet floating in the wind” when he used to effortlessly glide past full backs as a winger, Giggs has now re-invented himself as a central midfield player that can spray the ball about and use his vast experiences to unlock opposition defenses from deep-lying positions. He has won 13 PL titles, four FA Cups and two Champions League titles amongst many other personal accolades.

To give you an example of his influence on a game, take a look at Giggs’ passing chart (courtesy of Squawka) from the impressive win against Leverkusen in midweek when he played the full 90 minutes and orchestrated United’s resounding win from central midfield.

He’s still got it.

But with his coaching badges in place and helping David Moyes coach United whilst still playing, when should Giggsy hang up his boots and call it quits?

As he mentioned he will assess things on a yearly basis, as he has done at the end of every season in recent memory, and will sit down at the end of this campaign to see if he’ll play on. At this rate, Giggs is still contributing a making a big difference for United, so why couldn’t he carry on for a few more seasons?

Remarkably many thought Giggs’ career would be winding down over six years ago when he retired as captain of the Welsh national team. But unloading that burden of representing his national team has helped Giggs prolong his club career, plus he’s a big lover of Yoga… so that has something to do with it too.

Many believe Giggs should call it quits after this season as he begins to take a more prominent role behind the scenes at United as a coach and he should retire before he becomes too old and isn’t as influential on the pitch as he once was.

But if he can keep playing the way he is now and juggle coaching and playing for one of the world’s biggest clubs, Giggs should be allowed to decide when he steps down. Moyes said earlier this week that Giggs will tell him when he’s finished, not the other way round. Playing in central midfield, picking up the pieces and using delicate passing and vision that’s been refined over two decades means his physical fitness can decline and Giggs can still contribute meaningfully over the next few seasons. At least…

His wand of a left foot is still mesmerizing opposition defenses, long may that continue. In the past greats such as Sir Stanley Matthews played in the top flight until they were half a century old. Today’s game is perhaps much more physically demanding than the past, so that’s a big ask.

Happy Birthday Giggsy… can you make it to 50?

  1. talgrath - Nov 29, 2013 at 6:06 PM

    The older you get, the more exhausted you feel after physical activity. I think his time is soon over, it’s amazing that he has played this long though. I would guess he maybe has another year left.

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