Should Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs be winning all these awards?

(An article by Hugo Saye.)

Ryan Giggs is indisputably one of the greatest players in the history of the Premier League. His record of 11 League titles, four FA Cups and two European Cups is unrivalled, and he was named in the PFA’s Team of the Century in 2007. Indeed, in the red half of Manchester his name has even become its own adjective whereby, like the player himself, the very best things can be described as “Giggs.” Perhaps most impressive of all is that he is the rarest of all beings: a Manchester United player who receives not abuse but admiration from rival fans. A record breaking player on the pitch and a gentleman off it.

However, this year we seem to have seen achievement bow to sentiment in the handing out of the PFA Player of the Year and now BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards. I don’t think there is anyone who would argue that Giggs’ remarkable career warrants some form of recognition, but these presentations have been the wrong kind. The purpose of both awards is to recognise those who have had an exceptional year, not necessarily an exceptional career. 

Although it was extensively discussed at the time, it’s worth considering the PFA award again. While Manchester United picked up their third consecutive league title this year, Giggs himself started just 12 games in that triumph, with another 16 substitute appearances. The fact that he contributed just two goals over the campaign further suggests that his influence on United’s success, while important, was relatively modest. Of course there is far more to good football than simply good statistics, but it is hard to argue that Giggs was the most significant player even within his own team when confronted with those numbers, let alone the entire league.

His team mate Nemanja Vidic had a terrific season and looked certain to receive the honour until Fernando Torres cast that into doubt by humiliating the Serb throughout that astonishing 4-1 defeat to Liverpool at Old Trafford. Despite that game, few would say that he was less crucial to United’s title win than Giggs, and the same could be said for fellow United players Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Edwin van der Sar.

Elsewhere, Steven Gerrard was superb all season, dragging what now appears a fairly ordinary Liverpool side to the brink of their first league title in nearly two decades. Alongside him at Anfield, the two Spaniards Torres and Xabi Alonso were also tremendous, with one’s finishing as inspirational as the other’s passing. Nicolas Anelka revelled in the support of then-Chelsea manager Luis Scolari and picked up the Golden Boot with 19 league goals, while Ashley Young and Steven Ireland both performed above expectations but were really battling it out for the Young Player award. Certainly then that Giggs was decreed the best player in the Premier League last season was strange, but surely not as strange as his BBC award on Sunday night.

The Sports Personality of the Year award is voted by the public so this is no criticism of the BBC, just as I intended no criticism of the PFA as an organisation, but has Giggs really had a better sporting year than Jenson Button, Jessica Ennis or David Haye? While Giggs played a supporting role in his team’s domestic achievements, those three have all become World Champions in their respective fields, as have Beth Tweddle, Phillips Idowu and Tom Daley, while Andrew Strauss captained Enlgand to the Ashes and Mark Cavendish and Andy Murray have scaled heights previously unknown to British athletes on the world stage.

Giggs himself appeared as surprised as anyone at his winning of the award, a further compliment as to the modesty of his character, because he was most likely aware that it is very difficult to argue that his year really holds comparison with those of his fellow candidates. Of course, this is the year he won a record 11th league title but that is testament to his career and his team mates more than his personal contributions to 2009.

Undoubtedly Giggs deserves recognition, but this would be far more appropriate in the form of a career achievement award when the time comes for him to hang up his boots. The doe-eyed voting for this year’s awards has seen more deserving candidates miss out on the praise they have earned, and perhaps in future we should vote with a little more perspective to ensure that it is the best man who wins, not the most decorated veteran.