On the day that Ryan Giggs hits 40 the world of sport has rightly been paying homage to one of the greatest footballers the world has ever seen. The Manchester United superstar’s remarkable longevity is not unique. He is the fourth outfield player – and the seventh in total – to grace the Premier League at 40. But none can match the extraordinary level of sustained success achieved by the Welsh wizard.
Just two days before reaching his incredible milestone, the most decorated footballer in English soccer turned in yet another remarkable 90 minute display in United’s outstanding 5-0 Champions League demolition of Bayer Leverkusen. It was a midfield masterclass from arguably the greatest ever player in the history of the club to demonstrate that he is still hungry for more success.
The magnificent seven who have graced the Premier League into their fabulous 40s are Kevin Phillips, Teddy Sheringham, Gordon Strachan, Brad Friedel, Mark Schwarzer, Mike Pollitt and Giggs, whose appearance in Germany was his 953rd for United. Even more remarkable is that Giggs has done it for one club, scoring 168 goals along the way.
Almost 23 years after he first pulled on a United shirt as a raw 17-year-old, he still plays with the verve, vigour and guile of a man at least 10 years younger.
It has been an historic month for famous forty year old sporting legends, with arguably the greatest cricketer in history Sachin Tendulkar crowning his majestic career with a spectacular flourish in his final Test Match for India against the West Indies in Mumbai.
An estimated television audience of over a billion people watched Tendulkar crown his 200th Test Match with a dazzling 74 that fell short of yet another century by the only man to score 100 international 100s, the feat he achieved when he scored his final ton against Bangladesh in March 2012.
Like Giggs, Tendulkar can proudly declare that he was still hitting extraordinary levels of achievement at the end of his fourth decade in his chosen sport. And there is at least one other parallel between these giants of the sporting world. Both are true legends because they are admired by fans of their rivals as much as the supporters of the teams they have graced for so long.
Such is the universal love for Tendulkar that in New Delhi the Pakistan Taliban commander, in a video message widely circulated on social networking site Facebook, has warned the Pakistan media to stop paying tribute to the Indian cricket legend.
“We have been monitoring Pakistani media, including news channels and newspapers, for the past three weeks and got to know how was Pakistani media praising Indian cricketer during his farewell. It was unfortunate to see Pakistani media went to great extent to pay tribute to Indian cricketer by running video clips on TV channels and writing huge articles in his praise. On the other hand, it was sad to know same Pakistani media badly criticised Pakistani cricket team as well as its captain Misbah-ul-Haq. We condemn this move of Pakistani media and expect it will not repeat the same in future,” said the commander in the video.
“Shame for Pakistani media that spoke highly of Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar. No doubt, he has been a great cricketer, but, he`s Indian after all, so stop promoting him,” warned the Taliban leader.
To my knowledge there has been no equivalent plea from the big chiefs at United’s rivals Manchester City or from any other quarter tired of the adoration for Giggs. Watching the old master turn back the years with his latest contribution for Manchester United in Germany on Wednesday night, it was music to my ears to hear a life-long Arsenal fan pay tribute to the memory of Giggs’ wonder goal in the 1999 FA Cup semi-final replay that shot down the Gunners. And that underlines my point.
True sports fans appreciate greatness, whoever they perform their magic for. It is that respect and appreciation that unites us all. In Giggs and Tendulkar we have been privileged to witness two of the greatest sportsmen of them all. And that is something beautiful that no tribal jealousy can deprive us of.
The difference is that Giggs is a freak of nature who still has more to give and where it will end is almost impossible to predict.
The Greatest of them all? The legendary Sachin Tendulkar was hailed as ‘The God of Cricket’ by Time Magazine, who also included the Indian superstar in their list of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2010.