Ryan Giggs, in his 18th season as a professional, was finally awarded the highest honour possible by his peers, as he was tonight voted the Professional Footballers’ Association’s player of the year.
The Manchester United midfielder described it as the “best” possible accolade, having beaten off competition from his club-mates Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Edwin van der Sar and Cristiano Ronaldo, as well as Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard. “It’s right up there, with personal accolades it’s the best to have as it’s voted by your fellow players,” Giggs said. “I’ve been fortunate to win a lot of trophies, I won the young player award twice but this is the big one.”
Giggs paid tribute to his manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, who signed him on schoolboy terms when the teenage winger was training with the Manchester City Academy. “The manager has been massive in my career from when I first met him when I was 13,” Giggs said. “That’s over 20 years and he knows me better than anyone and our relationship has been brilliant and just gets better. I’ve been so fortunate to have such a great career in so many great teams, it’s not even worth thinking about what it would have been like without the manager.”
Some questioned his nomination, dismissing it as a nostalgic exercise, given that he has made only 12 starts in the Premier League this season, supplemented by the same number again of substitute appearances, and scoring a single goal – the winner against West Ham United at Upton Park in February, shortly before members of the PFA would have submitted their ballots.
Advocates would point to the influence Giggs maintains in the United midfield – developing a more creative game from a central role to compensate for the loss of his once blistering pace. It was from this central berth that he influenced the vital home victories over Chelsea in the league and Internazionale in the Champions League. His manager, when facing top-class opposition in crucial matches, still puts great faith in the 35-year-old.
The midfielder did not feature in Ferguson’s squad for Saturday’s 5-2 victory over Tottenham, so it is likely his 800th appearance will come in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final against Arsenal. Giggs has played more times for the United first team than anyone in history, having surpassed Bobby Charlton’s previous record in Moscow on his way to his second European Cup last May.
Giggs is the first Welshman to win the accolade since his former Manchester United team-mate Mark Hughes claimed his second PFA award, in 1990-91, the season a 17-year-old Giggs made his debut in a 2-0 home defeat by Everton, replacing Denis Irwin. The next season Giggs was a regular on the left wing, the first of Fergie’s Fledglings to break into the United first-team. He collected the PFA young player of the year award in both 1992 and 1993.
An 11th Premier League medal is likely to join the PFA award in Giggs’ trophy cabinet next month, to go alongside winner’s medals from four FA Cups, two Champions Leagues, three League Cups, a Uefa Super Cup, an Intercontinental Cup and one Fifa Club World Cup.
United have six players in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year but there is no place for the England striker Wayne Rooney. Aston Villa’s winger Ashley Young picked up the Young Player of the Year award, saying it is a sign of the progress his club have made under Martin O’Neill. “It’s a massive achievement for the club and my team-mates around me,” Young said. “It’s a great honour and I’m delighted.”