ALEX FERGUSON feels the knowledge Ryan Giggs is coming to the end of his illustrious career is providing the platform for the Welshman to remain one of Manchester United’s most influential players.
Giggs’ goal at Tottenham a fortnight ago took him to the brink of becoming only the ninth United player to reach 150 goals for the club.
In addition, Giggs now stands on 99 Premier League goals, having scored in each season of the competition since its inception in 1992.
However, it was as a creator of chances that Giggs stood out against Manchester City last Sunday.
The Cardiff-born star was majestic in the second half, having been told to stay close to the touchline by Ferguson.
And the sure touch he displayed to provide Michael Owen with the opportunity to score the winner six minutes into stoppage time confirmed Giggs remains at the very top of his game.
In a career that has gleaned 11 Premier League titles alone, Ferguson has never been short of praise for a player who has been the bedrock of so many brilliant Red Devils teams.
And, as Giggs approaches his 36th birthday, Ferguson feels the player is responding.
“The horrible part of being a footballer is that at some stage you are finished with the game,” observed Ferguson. “It catches us all.
“When someone like Ryan is playing at the level he is at, he realises to stay there, he has to prepare himself in the right way.
“He has to look after himself and do the right things.
“It is not a matter of him defying his age. It is more a case that there is no discernible deterioration in his game at all. It is remarkable.”
Ferguson admitted he could have said much the same two years ago.
If it is possible, Giggs is becoming even more influential.
“I don’t know what else there is to say about him,” said the Scot. “His form is just the same as it was last season. He has never carried any weight. He has always been a slim athlete. That helps too. Physique has a lot to do with it.”
After sitting out Wednesday night’s Carling Cup win over Wolves, Giggs could be called upon to face the robust test Stoke are bound to provide at the Britannia Stadium today.
Ferguson, who confirmed Ben Foster will start in goal today despite a series of high profile errors recently, felt United’s win in the Potteries last term was one of the season’s pivotal moments coming, as it did, just days after the Red Devils returned from their successful journey to Japan for the Club World Cup.
The champions have no such worries this time around as they make the short journey down the M6 but the United boss is still wary.
“Stoke are going to be a force,” he said. “They have a fantastic support. They say it is the noisiest in the country and I wouldn’t disagree with that.
“Last season was about survival. It is not easy for anyone coming out of the Championship.
“But I saw a marked change there. There is good ambition, they have a good managerial structure and a good chairman.
“It is a club on the up.”
For his part Stoke manager Tony Pulis admits a date with Manchester United at the Britannia Stadium is the stuff of dreams.
The Potters have made a decent start to their second season in the top flight and have a home record that is the envy of many.
And the Welsh boss, while respectful of United, expects his side to continue in positive mode against the Barclays Premier League champions today.
Pulis said: “We surprised a lot of teams last year and they will give us a lot more credence now. That has made it much more difficult in many ways.
“We have made improvements but there is no way in a million years we will get carried away.
“You look at United’s history all the way through from 1958. The club is steeped in tradition.
“We will enjoy the game against them as we had been out of the top flight for 30-odd years. To have an opportunity to bring United here is first class.
“We will show them respect but once the whistle goes we will give it a go.’’
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