Despite having just 81 minutes of football under his belt in the past 10 weeks, it was the 40-year old Ryan Giggs that was called up by Manchester United to revive its Champions League fortunes against Olympiakos at Old Trafford.
After the 3-0 win that saw United progress, manager David Moyes was forced to admit that he “prematurely” consigned the 40-year-old to the past.
To be frank, Giggs was not very accurate last night by his standards. He completed just 76 per cent of his passes and is not the most mobile central mid-fielder. Still, after 95 minutes, it could be said that it was Giggs that turned the game the home-side’s way.
With two assists against Olympiakos, Giggs’ performance was a reminder of United’s lack of creativity in midfield. He set up the opener with the long ball to Van Persie that resulted in the penalty and released Wayne Rooney to square for the Dutchman’s second of the night.
So why has the Welsh Wizard been used so sparingly this season despite United’s troubles?
Despite his amazing fitness levels, Giggs perhaps doesn’t have the legs anymore to feature week in and week out. Moreover, the English Premier League, with its physical style of play, may not see the ageing Giggs be used effectively. He might get closed down too soon, and might not have the pace to drive the game forward, match after match.
In Europe, however, with the game played at a slower pace, a rested Giggs can have the space and time to dictate play.
Perhaps the arrival of club record signing Juan Mata also had a role to play, with Moyes deciding that the creativity would come from a player who was twice Chelsea’s player of the season. With the Spaniard being played out of position, however, that scenario hasn’t materialised so far for the reigning English Champions.
Moyes’ brief is to build a side and a 40-year old clearly is not a part of the long term plans, as a player. Still, the fact that Moyes called up Giggs when things got difficult and that the player repaid the faith says something. For the player-coach Giggs, perhaps, another contract extension is on the cards. He has earned it.
(Shamik is a principal correspondent based in Kolkata.)