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Over a decade and a half ago, a young, curly-haired boy with a thin frame first put his feet on the green turf of Old Trafford, coming on as a substitute for one of his boyhood heroes.  He went on to mark his debut for his team with the winning goal in their local derby, paving the way for himself to make a permanent mark on the club as one of its all-time heroes.

There cannot be enough praise for Ryan Giggs.  Ever since making his name as the captain of that batch of Fergie’s Fledglings that won the 1992 FA Youth Cup, he has made the left wing his own.  Sure, his pace was deadly fast, but his dribbling skills were phenomenal – the Welshman did not just run with the ball, he glided.

Giggs is ball technique exemplified.  Even his tackles, while rare, drew the ball magnetically to his feet.  On his day, he was virtually unplayable, his talent best summarized by that 1999 FA Cup solo goal against Arsenal.

But that was then.  This is now.

Giggs should no longer justify a place in the first team of Manchester United.  As with the fate of all tricky, pacy wingers, he has lost his speed and he has struggled to adequately make up for it in other areas.

Giggs left foot is still one of the most potent in the world, yet it was never top-class in terms of putting pace on the ball and his live-ball crosses have always varied from brilliant to in-the-stands awful.  Make no mistake about it – his experience is valuable, but it does not make up for the wayward passing and shooting he has displayed in recent years.

With experience, you’d expect more of his passes to at least reach its target.  Drawn into a more central role, you would expect him to put more influence in breaking down the defence.  Yet players like Fabregas and the re-emergence of Carrick has proved that 35 years of experience is not a requirement for this.

Yes, the cool head he has always had can be relied upon when the team is going through a rough, erratic patch and looks in danger of losing control, or against less-able opponents that would still be susceptible to his mazy dribbling and new eye for smart passes.  But no longer should he have to be the one to be brought on when the situation requires an attacking breakthrough, such as the game against Sunderland on December 6, 2008, or should he be considered the person to lead the attack against other members of the “Big Four”.

And it is this continual need for Giggs to be on the pitch that exposes the current squad’s flaws.  The United 2007-2008 squad is arguably the strongest it has been in terms of ability since 1999, but unless Carrick and Fletcher can keep up their current form (Carrick seems to be rising up to the challenge, but Fletcher seems to be at his peak), Scholes is another fading force and Anderson is the inverse of the current Giggs – killer passing abilities but without the reliable head.  The surprise bid for David Silva during the close season was telling, even though it was eclipsed by the tedious Ronaldo-Real Madrid saga. 

United don’t have a winger who can consistently cross for the team.  While this has served them just fine with Ronaldo winning the Ballon d’Or while playing largely as a second striker in the 2007-2008 season, their lack of a second plan has been exposed by losing points against the stronger teams that know how to defend, as well as the smaller teams that come looking for a draw.

Ryan, you have been a loyal servant, and your contribution has been priceless.  You have always been the ultimate professional, never complaning, always doing what’s asked.  But your day has passed, and while it would be a sad season in 2009 if we could not see you as often, it would be worse if United still couldn’t find a replacement.

Thanks for all the happy memories.  Let’s make your fated goodbye be about them.

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