Manchester: Ryan Giggs is a modern footballing phenomenon. He’s in his 40th year but still we see him playing almost every week at the top level. Earlier this month, he reached the incredible achievement of 1,000 competitive games by playing against Real Madrid, and he did so in a match of the highest quality.
His durability and skill are unquestioned. The number of trophies he has won is unlikely to be surpassed in this country.
We have been friends for years and when we met recently, it was just two days after that 1,000th match. He was still absorbing the deep disappointment of Manchester United’s exit from the Champions League following the 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford.
He had just endured an ice bath as he tried to recover from an extraordinary game. In a week which meant so much to Ryan Giggs and United, we had to start with the events of the Champions League match.
Following is the excerpts of the interview with Giggs.
How are you feeling after Real Madrid? Are you still feeling the effects of the game?
Yeah, both mentally and physically. You get yourself prepared for a big game, you get yourself up for it. Then afterwards you don’t sleep or eat properly. So I’m still feeling the effects, really. That’s probably what’s changed a lot after turning 30, the actual recovery from games takes longer.
How long after a game now would you say it takes before you’re back to feeling normal again? When you were 17, that would take two days. What would it be now?
I think after a big European game you’re looking at four or five days. For two days afterwards I don’t really do anything. I do a recovery the next day, which is bike work, a light stretch, some yoga and an ice bath after that. Then the second day I would just do the bike again for 20 minutes and then do some strides, which is box to box, just eight of them, just to get the legs going and the blood going again.
When did you start to manage yourself differently — recovering properly, sleeping in the afternoons, that kind of thing?
I think turning 30 really. European games or evening games seem to take a lot more out of you because you don’t sleep that night. And as you get older, it gets worse.
Before the Real Madrid game, being around Manchester you could feel it’s a huge game, so how is your mind compared to 10 years ago? Are you more relaxed before the game? Or do you have moments of doubts — I know I did — where you think: ‘What’s going to happen? Will it go well?’
In my career, there’ve been three stages really. There’s been the stage when you come into a team, you don’t feel the nerves, you just go out and play. Then through your 20s you start thinking a lot more about the games and what’s at stake. And then, as you get more experienced towards the end of your career, you enjoy it a lot more and you’re a lot more relaxed.
So my mind was excited but quite relaxed. You have that feeling, especially at 1-1 [following the first leg] when you think: ‘What’s going to happen?’ That anticipation and nerves really, which I think you need. It’s not nerves for the game, it’s just nerves as to what’s going to happen.
When did you start to get the feeling that you would be playing against Madrid? Does the manager give you early nods, knowing that he can trust you?
A couple of days before the Norwich game [last Saturday], when the manager said he’s going to leave me out altogether, you start thinking: ‘Right, I’m going to be involved against Madrid.’ I don’t know if he’d made up his mind or not, whether it was a definite or toying with ideas. But as soon as I heard those words, ‘You’re not involved with Norwich’, my mind set was straight: ‘I’m playing against Real Madrid and get prepared for that.’
Post match, after the defeat by Real, the atmosphere was deflated in the ground and would have been in the dressing room as well. What’s your role? Have you done anything different, speaking to people, trying to lift things?
As an experienced player, you’ve got something to fall back on. You’ve known this before. A lot of the younger players may not have, but in five days you’ve got to quickly turn it around to another massive game, a cup game [against Chelsea today] when anything could happen. It’s our job to pick the lads up as well as, obviously, the manager’s and the coaching staff’s. I didn’t say anything on the first training session back. I think you need to give them that couple of days. I didn’t say much to anyone individually, just to a couple of lads who did well: ‘You were brilliant the other night.’
Would that be the younger players? I imagine that would have a huge impact on them, helping them switch their mind-set from thinking negative things?
Yeah, and that’s why I try to do it really. Because as an older player, the hurt is still there but you get over it quicker. You’re looking at the bigger picture, you’re looking at Chelsea on Sunday. For young players, there might be that little doubt in their mind that we’ve gone out of the Champions League: ‘Did I play well or not?’ But there wasn’t one lad really that didn’t play well. It was a good performance. Everything was spot-on, up until the sending-off of Nani, obviously. So there’s a lot to be proud of.
United have been knocked out of the European Cup in every year bar four in your 20 years at the club. Did this one feel different? Because in the past here have been some real bad ones where you come off and the carry-over can be for weeks. It had a different feel because it was a good performance.
Yeah, it’s weird. Because I probably haven’t felt that disappointed for a long, long time. But somewhere in your head there are so many positives as well. Because I think that we performed so well, we made Real Madrid look ordinary at times. And it was a proper European performance. And you’ve been there, where everything seems right. You’re in control of the match.
The manager always says about games in Europe: “Be careful because the roof can fall in.” And it did, but not in a way in which you can really blame the players, tactically or some of the performances. So it was weird. It was silent and everyone was gutted. It was shock really. But there were a lot of positives to take out of it.
When the referee put the red card up...
I’d initially gone over to tell him Nani was looking at the ball. I’ve gone back to my position on the edge of the box, because they’ve got a free-kick. I was actually looking at the referee when he did it (showed the red card). I’ve never, ever experienced a shock like it on a football pitch because I just didn’t expect it. And I’ve never seen a stadium in shock like that.