London - I was 38 when I finally hung up my boots, so I marvel at the longevity of Manchester United’s Ryan Giggs, the Peter Pan of football.
Sir Stanley Matthew played till he was 50, and Giggs is the modern-day equivalent.
As you get towards the end of your career, you need sheer bloody-mindedness to carry on. There is an element of not wanting to let go, and there is always a new generation of players coming along. You don’t want to miss out.
With Giggs, now 40, we’re talking about two different players - the flying winger who became a central schemer.
He burst on to the scene at the perfect time. It was the start of the Premier League era and Sir Alex Ferguson was just hitting his stride. When Giggs started off, he used to run at breakneck speed, and it was that sheer pace - allied to superb close control - that meant you needed to stop him in the first few strides.
Giggs was then intelligent enough to overcome the loss of a yard of pace, as without a great brain he wouldn’t have been able to extend his career.
He showed a real calmness in the second half of his career and was very effective at keeping things simple.
Players can always get better and operating more centrally allowed him to use his vision to the full. He became king of the assists.
During the mayhem of those Arsenal versus Manchester United games, I always found him a perfect gent. There was never a raised voice or tackle in anger, he just got on with his job.
He has always conducted himself with dignity, although he must have that steeliness to have survived at the top for so long.
In terms of the pantheon, it’s hard to put anyone in the Premier League era above him. And in terms of trophies, he’s certainly No 1.
I certainly thought he’d have retired long before Sir Alex, that’s for sure!
PS. People always ask me about THAT goal Giggs scored against Arsenal in the 1999 FA Cup semi-final replay at Villa Park. What people never notice is the great decoy run made by Andy Cole, which I had to follow. That run gave Giggs the room to weave his magic. It was a great goal, but I probably should still have stopped it!