By 21 Ryan Giggs was driving a Ferrari, dating glamorous women and being compared to football's original playboy, George Best. It should have been a recipe for disaster. Instead, rapidly approaching his 37th birthday, the most decorated player in English football remains a key figure at Manchester United and needed only 14 minutes of the new season to extend his proud record of being the only man to score in every year of the Premier League. His majestic display in last Saturday's 3-0 win against West Ham suggested he could continue playing at the highest level beyond his current contract, which expires next summer. Giggs is a phenomenon of the modern game if not only because of his age-defying physical powers, then because of his ability to remain relatively unaffected by his remarkable success. Some 11 Premier League titles, two Champions League winners medals, millions in the bank and last year the recognition of the British public at large with his Sports Personality of the Year award it would be easy for Giggs to be something of a prima donna. Instead, he insists he is largely unchanged from the stringy teenager Sir Alex Ferguson once described as being like a dog chasing a piece of silver paper in the wind. In that sense he is odds with the general impression of the modern-day footballer - ones who spend as much time on the front pages as the back, who appear to put more value in their latest baseball caps than international ones. Giggs is too diplomatic to name names, but he has seen how fame and fortune can ruin careers. A lot of players now, before they've established themselves as players, get a lot of money, which I never got, he said. I was on good money, don't get me wrong, but I was playing in the first team and I was on £30. I was on an apprenticeship wage. Then my next contract was like £200 with expenses and gradually contracts would get better the older you got. That was how I grew up. Money Now before you're proven, you've got the money a four or five year contract which is the way football's gone. Some players can handle it, some players don't. Ferguson famously tells of the time he gate-crashed a party being thrown by Giggs and Lee Sharpe when they were supposed to be resting before a game. But Giggs insists he was never in danger of letting his talent go to waste. "I just wanted to enjoy my football, train, go home and let myself develop not only as a player but as a person," he said. "I've also been lucky that I grew up in the same area, I've still got the same mates, I've got a good family around me, I'm not that sort of person who gets carried away with myself. I think a lot is to do with who you are surrounding yourself with. Have you got a good family around you who are going to tell you that you're getting too big for your boots? Is your agent? Probably not because they don't want to upset you and don't want to lose you. I think a big part is your mates and family and that's what I had. They never let me get too big for my boots and I'm sure they would've told me if I had. But basically it is down to the character. It's down to the individual. I've seen at United now and again players getting too big for their boots and the manager will come down on them or older players will do something and bring them down a peg or two. It doesn't happen that often at United, but you've got to think, does it happen enough? Probably not.
Character I was never the sort of character to get carried away - even though I was driving a Ferrari at 21-22, which nowadays if a footballer's doing that at that age, you're like what's he doing?' I did it, but I wasn't that sort of character. It doesn't really matter what you've got or what you've bought, it's the character behind the man. Giggs has the proof to back up his words. While David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo revelled in their celebrity profiles though to no discernable detriment to their careers his dalliances with the front pages proved to be short-lived. Linked with high-profile women like Dani Behr and Davinia Taylor when a teen icon, he since followed the routes of fellow Old Trafford stalwarts, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville, by keeping out of the headlines and going on to become United's all-time record appearance maker, usurping Sir Bobby Charlton. In all he has won 23 major honours at United and is aiming to make it a 12thleague title and third Champions League this season, insisting he is hungrier than ever for more success. When you are younger you think it's going to come around again, he said. That you are going to get another chance at that trophy or you're going to get another chance at winning the league. The older you get the chances are getting less and less so you appreciate it more in that respect. And does he believe his incredible roll of honour will ever be surpassed? "Probably, but I don't know when, he said. People make a lot of the fact I've been at the same club for 19-20 years. If a young player comes into a team a big club, Liverpool, Chelsea, United, Arsenal and stays in the team then maybe. I've been at the club during its most successful era and been here a long time. It's going to be hard to beat. I'm not going to say it will never ever be done, but it will be tough. Will anyone ever eclipse Giggs' achievements at United? Have your say.