The Elder Statesman

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“No other player has ever done that – or likely to”. The words of Sir Alex Ferguson on 37 – year- old Manchester United  veteran Ryan Giggs, as he prepared to make his 600th league appearance (856 in total) for the club. Remarkable and respectable is this achievement, especially considering the success that Giggs has encountered as a one club man. However, it is difficult to entirely concur with Ferguson’s comments, particularly when looking to the shores of Italy, and Serie A for comparisons.

The players who would primarily come to my mind are AC Milan legends Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini, who both exclusively played for Milan, making 719 and 902 appearances respectively for the Rossoneri. Although the two are legends within the club and the game, it is the iconic defender Maldini (who played until the age of 40) who rivals Giggs achievements strongest – both in appearances and silverware – surpassing Giggs in European Cups, five to two,  though coming up short to the United winger’s 11 league titles by four. Giggs however, could out do Maldini in appearances, particularly if he is awarded a 12 month contract extension by United for the 2011/2012 Premier League season.

Another who could rival Ryan Giggs, has plied his trade in Milan since 1995, having made no less than 722 ( 519 league) appearances for Internazionale. This man, of course, is Javier Zanetti. Although strictly speaking not a one club man – having played a season for Talleres RE and two for Banfield in homeland Argentina – the versatile midfielder has shown unflappable commitment to the Nerazzurri for the last 16 years. This extraordinary devotion to a foreign club – which is not seen all too often – has rewarded Zanetti with five Scudetti, as well as Inter’s first European Cup since 1965.

The 37-year-old Argentinian may not brag as much silverware as Welshman  Giggs (due mainly to an extensive barren period for Inter, until Roberto Mancini’s revival of the club in 2004),  however  Zanetti has gained a commended reputation for his tireless work ethic, devotion and versatility on the pitch. Able to play a variety of positions, including anywhere across the defence and midfield, Zanetti continues to play week in week out for 90 minutes, rarely being substituted or starting as a sub. The same can not be said for Giggs, who tends to make more substitute appearances than starts, and misses periods of the season for rest, which is understandable for a footballer of that age. Zanetti however, continues to defy logic; he played in every one of Inter’s Champions League games last season, as well as appearing in every game of the league season, save one. A remarkable feat in modern football, which even some of the fittest younger players do not manage.

These men and others, are the remarkable few who strive not only to retain their football career, but to further it and continue it at the level they have done for so many years. They demonstrate how work can make a player stronger, achievement can make them respected and how devotion can make them legends. Ferguson was wrong; Maldini did it, Giggs is doing it and Zanetti will.

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