By Iain Spragg
Long-serving winger Ryan Giggs is in his best form of the campaign as the Premiership title race reaches its climax, but his 12th senior season with Manchester United FC has been far from plain sailing.
Highs and lows
The Welshman, who turns 30 in November, has been praised and criticised as United's fortunes have fluctuated. A high-profile miss against Arsenal FC in the FA Cup in February earned him widespread ridicule, while his two-goal salvo against Juventus FC in the UEFA Champions League in Turin ten days later drew lavish praise.
Zero to hero
I felt I started the season in good form but I know I fell below my usual standards in the middle part of the year," he told uefa.com. "I got a lot of stick after the Arsenal game and then suddenly I was the flavour of the month again after we beat Juve. It went from one extreme to the other in an incredibly short space of time."
Giggs even found himself the target for a minority of the Old Trafford crowd as Sir Alex Ferguson's team struggled to keep pace with Arsenal in the Premiership. The experience shook the midfield player but also marked the start of his renaissance on the pitch.
"There were a couple of games I played poorly in and a few of the fans got on my back," he said. "I've always said the fans pay their money and have every right to make their feelings known but of course it did hurt. I've been in much better form since then, perhaps partly because of the reaction I got, and I'd like to think I've given the supporters more reason to cheer than jeer."
Giggs scored in three successive Premiership clashes with rivals Liverpool FC, Newcastle United FC and Arsenal in April to take his tally for the season to 15 but was unable to add to that in the club's Champions League quarter-final, second-leg win against Real Madrid on Wednesday.
"To beat Real Madrid 4-3 is a great result but the fact remains: they are through to the semi-finals on aggregate and we are not," Giggs said. "
I think we restored a lot of pride with the way we played on Wednesday night but when you play for a club like United the expectations are so high and failing to reach the semis is not good enough. We had our sights set on the final."
So what now for Sir Alex Ferguson's longest-serving player? There have been persistent rumours that Internazionale FC will move for him in the summer, while he still has a major part to play in Wales' bid to reach a first major finals since the 1958 FIFA World Cup.
"The future is very exciting, even for an old man like me!" he said. "There's never been a better time to be involved in the Wales set-up and we've given ourselves a great chance of making the [UEFA] EURO 2004™ finals and, as always, it is an honour and thrill to be playing for a club like United.
"I know there have been rumours about Inter but I have got three years left on my contract and I don't want to leave Old Trafford," he added. "I've been at United all my career and I love the club, the city and the fans. My whole life is here, so why would I want to go anywhere else?"
Ryan Giggs' personal website is at www.icons.com
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