By Greg Stobart
Manchester United’s clash with Wigan at Old Trafford today will be marked by three centurions reaching club landmarks.
Paul Scholes plays his 700th game for United, Rio Ferdinand his 400th while Ryan Giggs will make his 600th appearance in the Premier League alone.
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Man Utd debut: 2002
Man Utd apps: 399
Man Utd goals: 7
International caps: 81
International goals: 3
Man Utd debut: 1991
Man Utd apps: 910
Man Utd goals: 163
International caps: 64
International goals: 12
Man Utd debut: 1994
Man Utd apps: 699
Man Utd goals: 154
International caps: 66
International goals: 14
Sir Alex Ferguson may know better than anyone how to move a squad forward, but he also recognises the value of a core group of players who know the club, know how to win and can impart their experience to younger players.
"It’s a landmark for three key players which is an example for younger players of what can be achieved if you make sacrifices in the game of football," said Ferguson.
"These players have had to do that — otherwise they would not have got to that stage.
"It’s a great moment for them and hopefully they will be rewarded by a good victory."
Let’s get it right, too. Ferguson is not sentimental, many players have come and gone while these three remain because they still have something to offer as United seek to regain the Premier League title this season.
That was evident in the last fixture at Southampton, which Scholes dominated as a late second-half substitute as United secured a 3-2 victory thanks to Robin van Persie’s hat-trick.
Despite scoring three goals, the Dutchman claimed that Scholes was the man-of-the-match because of the influence he had in central midfield, with the 37-year-old dictating the tempo of the game and demonstrating his full passing range.
Equally, Giggs is no longer a swashbuckling blur of speed on the wing, but remains one of the most intelligent players around with his positional sense and eye for a pass in the final third.
Most of all, these players know how to win. Scholes has to his name 10 Premier League titles, two Champions Leagues, three FA Cups and two League Cups.
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Ferdinand, unlike the other two, joined United as an already established defender, costing £30 million when he signed from rivals Leeds in 2002.
The 33-year-old is himself now a United great in his own right and still has much to offer, highlighted by his performances in the second half of last season, whatever England manager Roy Hodgson might have had to say about it.
He has formed several formidable partnerships in central defence, whether alongside Nemanja Vidic or Jonny Evans, to provide a fitting response to criticism from Ferguson last year when the Scot said Ferdinand had lost his pace and would have to change his game.
All three have had to overcome difficulty. Scholes had a serious eye problem and retired in 2011 before reversing his decision in January; Giggs spent a couple of seasons completely re-adjusting his game in his mid-30s while Ferdinand has had his own injury problems and, of course, a drugs ban in 2004.
They continue to play at the highest level, proven by the fact they are all likely to feature on Saturday as United take on Wigan.
Ferguson is the ultimate squad builder and they will, eventually, make way for younger players who are being bedded into the squad.
But for the next eight months, at least, they form a crucial part of the United squad as Ferguson finds the right alchemy. Ferdinand can guide the likes of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones; Scholes is the perfect master from which Tom Cleverley can learn; new signings like Shinji Kagawa can observe the professionalism and talent of Giggs.
If they watch and learn, those youngsters could one day become centurions themselves.
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