Giggs discovers fountain of youth

Publish date:

The evergreen Giggs is an EPL legend, with records that are unlikely to be matched for years. Eleven league titles, four FA Cup wins, three League Cups and two Champions League titles make the Welshman the most decorated player in English football history. He's the only player to have scored in every single season since the EPL's inception in 1992, and last season his peers voted him PFA Player of the Season, an accolade he describes as "the big one."

That award was a testament to his transformation from the once lightning-quick winger, famous for his mazy runs, to the central midfield maestro who now relies more on creativity, accuracy and speed of thought to produce the magic his legs once afforded him.

Despite his ever-advancing years Giggs, 36 next month, has continued where he left off last season. His sublime pass put Michael Owen through to score the injury-time winner in the Manchester derby two weeks ago. He also came on as a substitute against Stoke and within six minutes transformed a game in which United was struggling by setting up both goals in the Red Devils' 2-0 victory.

In Wednesday's Champions League game against Wolfsburg, Giggs scored the equalizer (his 150th goal for the club) that set United on the road to a 2-1 win. His recent form has softened the blow of Cristiano Ronaldo's departure to Real Madrid. "It is not a matter of him defying his age," Sir Alex Ferguson told Man. United's Web site this week. "It is more a case that there is no discernible deterioration in his game at all. It is remarkable."

Previous Man. United sides also have been influenced and driven on by an elder statesman. At 35, Peter Schmeichel was barking orders at his defenders when United won the treble of the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup in 1999. Also on that team was Teddy Sherringham who, as a 35-year-old in the '00-01 season, led the club with 21 goals, and was voted the Football Writers' and PFA footballer of the year.

A 36-year-old Steve Bruce and Éric Cantona were the older heads on the 1996 team that was famously written off by former Liverpool defender turned TV pundit AlanHansen when he declared, "You'll never win anything with kids." As United threw egg in the direction of Hansen's face, Bruce and Cantona led a team of spotty upstarts to the EPL title, with David Beckham, Paul Scholes, the Neville brothers, Nicky Butt and a certain young Welsh wing wizard confounding their critics and establishing themselves as top EPL players that season.

That older players have much to offer is just one of soccer history's many lessons. Another is that poor off-field management spells disaster for a club's league position. Many clubs have learned this lesson, notably Newcastle United (whose relegation last season had much to do with the ineptitude of owner Mike Ashley) and Leeds United, which bear testament to the dangers of spending beyond your means. Financial troubles left the Yorkshire club playing in the third tier of English football only six years after appearing in a Champions League semifinal.

Portsmouth currently sits in last place in the EPL, having lost all seven of its games. On Wednesday, the club was forced to announce that, due to a delay in a refinancing deal, the players' pay was delayed. "All the money from all the player transfers and the Sky TV money, all of the [$56 million] from January, has gone straight to the Standard Bank," Portsmouth chief executive PeterStorrie told ESPN Soccernet. "There is no money left."

So serious is the situation that London daily The Independent reports the Premier League has drawn up plans to seize control of the club to prevent it falling into administration. Much of the blame for this situation lies with former owner Alexandre Gaydamak, whose attitude at the end of his reign, as Storrie told The Sunday Mirror, was that "he just couldn't care less anymore." Gaydamak overspent on players and wages, then, with the club reliant on his funding, he withdrew it, leaving Portsmouth on the brink of bankruptcy. Is new owner Sulaiman Al-Fahim a likely savior? We're unsure.

Portsmouth has been imploding steadily since its FA Cup win in '08. Former boss Harry Redknapp departed last fall, and under the cerebrally bland TonyAdams, Pompey's league position declined. The team's third manager of the season, Peter Hart, saved it from relegation, but by then players such as Sulley Muntari, Pedro Mendes, Jermain Defoe and Lassana Diarra had been sold.

In May, it was announced that Al-Fahim was buying Portsmouth. Given the dire financial situation at Portsmouth and Gaydamak's corresponding and continuing fire sale of players, a speedy takeover was clearly beneficial. Yet because of Al-Fahim's reluctance to meet debt-payment deadlines, negotiations stumbled, and it wasn't until late August that a deal was signed. By then, GlenJohnson, Peter Crouch and Sylvain Distin also had departed and Portsmouth's squad was threadbare.

The timing of the deal thus was poor and reeked of insufficient forward planning. Little money was available for new players in those last days of the transfer window -- the likes of Tommy Smith, Mike Williamson and Kevin-PrinceBoateng are hardly household names -- while even now, a month later, sufficient funding still hasn't been found to sustain the club.

Fears of the self-styled Dr. Sulaiman's capricious behavior weren't allayed when he watched the home defeat to Manchester City in a Portsmouth away shirt. We say "self-styled," as the Ph.D. he claims to have isn't on record at the Kogod School of Business at American University in Washington, D.C.

Furthermore, remember Al-Fahim's short-lived role in the Abu Dhabi United Group's takeover of Manchester City? Probably not. But you may recall the loudmouth braggart who, shortly after fronting the deal, announced that City would bid around $200 million for Cristiano Ronaldo and that Mark Hughes had three years to win the Champions League. That was also Al-Fahim.

Days later, Sheikh Mansour replaced him with the sharp-suited, soft-spoken, professional and modest Khaldoon Al-Mubarak, whose message is steeped in preserving the traditions of the club and an understanding that success requires stability and is earned, not bought. And while Al-Mubarak strategizes in the long-term, outcomes were quick in coming, with Robinho arriving hours after the takeover and weeks before the full completion of the due diligence that so delayed Al-Fahim.

Al-Fahim should have learned a lot from the success of the Man. City takeover, yet we suspect the multimillionaire playboy only really took on board the excitement of owning an EPL club.

On Thursday, Man. City striker Emmanuel Adebayor was handed a $40,000 fine and a two-match suspended sentence following his provocative goal celebration in a 4-2 win over his former club Arsenal. The FA, keen to punish Adebayor but also to show consistency with the $7,500 fine and warning handed to Gary Neville in '06 for celebrating in front of the Liverpool fans, had a limited range of possible responses, and to Team Limey, its actions seem appropriate.

In our last column, in addition to analyzing these events ourselves, we asked for your reactions to the Adebayor incidents. An e-mailer identified as Film Insomniac suggests the inconsistency between Adebayor apologizing to Robin van Persie and then claiming he did nothing wrong indicates that the apology was insincere. The Limey Lawyers retort that it's perfectly normal to apologize if you accidentally hurt someone. Film Insomniac also thinks that, being premeditated, the celebration warranted a further three-match ban.

David Borba defends Adebayor, arguing that the supposed stamp looked unintentional and going as far as to say that he thought the celebration was great. "A player, against a former club who gave up on him, let his true feelings show," he writes. "To blame the crowd reaction and violence on Adebayor is like blaming big soda companies for all the large belt lines here in the States. The Arsenal fans needed to take a page from Ron Burgundy and stay classy. Instead, they proved just what sore losers they really are."

Peter Lam is a man who appreciates cause and effect. He notes that "van Persie is a dirty player who got what he deserved for sliding in on a guy from the blind side like that, but in turn Ade deserved the punishment. Regarding the celebration, he suggests that if Ade is punished, perhaps the Arsenal fans should be banned from the stands for violent behavior, with the Gunners playing three matches behind closed doors.

Louis Fombon of Derby, England, raises an interesting point, suggesting that if Wayne Rooney had celebrated his goal like that and Man. City fans had thrown objects onto the pitch, the fans would have been sanctioned, not Rooney. He contrasts that hypothetical example to the punishment given to Adebayor, an African, playing for a City, a less glamorous team.

On a separate note, John Leonardy ofPhiladelphia thinks Inter Milan's 0-0 draw with Barcelona in the Champions League last month was quite profound, especially given its squad has just been put together. Has José Mourinho put together a CL sleeper, he ponders? We wouldn't rule it out, John, but Inter didn't look so hot in its 1-1 draw at Rubin Kazan on Tuesday.

Can Inter win the Champions League? Is it the likeliest club to outdo the English and Spanish giants? Send your thoughts on that and anything EPL-related to