By George Ankers
All the talk in the build-up to London 2012 had been of a Team GB side, assembled almost for the sole purpose of giving David Beckham a fitting international send-off, but, in truth, these Olympics were tailor-made for Ryan Giggs.
For all the long years during which the Manchester United winger was in his sizzling prime, England-minded pundits lamented his nationality, as if the entire populace of Wales had suffocated any semblance of footballing talent just to deny the great man a shot at spreading his wings on the biggest international stages.
Now, in the latter phases of his career, Giggs’ long-overdue opportunity has been somewhat overlooked, but it is just as significant a moment for the midfielder as an unlikely World Cup qualification would have been in the 2000s - the United hero was always the byword for the big fish in a small national pond.
|THE GIGGS TROPHY CABINET
Club World Cup
England fans, so happy to wish struggles upon their other neighbours, Scotland, would be seen desperately willing Wales on in their succession of difficult qualifying campaigns in the hopes that justice would be done for the consummate professional. That the Three Lions laboured for so long without a true left-footer in midfield felt like an insult to the traditionally bigger football power.
Giggs did not need to be in a side who could challenge to win an international trophy, just one who could reach a finals and give him three games to prove his worth. Now, even accounting for the domestic overhyping, he has a chance to at least go further than that at the Olympics.
Perhaps due to the long absence of a Team GB from the Games for well-documented reasons, Olympic football has never been taken very seriously by the British audience. But it matters to the rest of the world and it will matter a great deal to Giggs.
Twelve Premier Leagues, four FA Cups, four League Cups, eight Community Shields, two Champions Leagues, one Super Cup, one Intercontinental Cup and one Club World Cup will, of course, be seen as a job well done when he looks back at his career after retirement, but adding a gold medal on top of that would be proof enough of success on all possible fronts.
Do not make the mistake of looking at Olympic triumph as a throwaway objective. Lionel Messi treasures his gold medal from Beijing 2008 as highly as anything, which should tell you all that you need to know. Calling yourself an Olympic champion will carry weight with the wider footballing world even if the man on the Manchester street might turn up his nose.
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He is not the only one for whom Team GB is a very big deal. Micah Richards, called up despite pulling out of backup duty for England at Euro 2012, evidently has work to do to convince Roy Hodgson that he is of international class and will be under pressure from the public to excel, having prompted the exclusion of the popular Beckham.
Craig Bellamy has been rewarded for developing a streak of professionalism and will want an immaculate showing to justify his over-23 spot, while his national captain, 21-year-old Aaron Ramsey, endured much abuse for a below-par season at Arsenal and will be looked to as the side’s replacement for absent club team-mate Jack Wilshere.
Then there are all the youngsters who beat out the other members of a very long list of candidates for what is likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime team, but the most eyes will now be trained on Giggs. His old team-mate, Beckham, may be rueing his denial of a send-off, but he has had more than his fair share of the international limelight, and so it is the Welshman's turn now, finally.
At 38, he will not be able to turn in the electrifying performances that many hoped would be seen at a World Cup long ago - indeed, he will become the oldest ever outfielder in the Olympics as well as the second-oldest overall. But Giggs can still be the key influence in a well-earned chance to do his country proud.
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