When Ryan Giggs played for Manchester United FC in their dramatic 1999 UEFA Champions League final success over FC Bayern München, he was already a competition veteran. Now, aged 40, he is preparing to face them once again.
It was Giggs who touched the ball on for Teddy Sheringham to equalise at Camp Nou 15 years ago and help turn defeat into victory, the third time he had met Bayern that season. United and their Welsh midfielder have encountered the German giants six times since, not winning again until a 3-2 quarter-final second-leg triumph four years ago that eliminated the Red Devils on away goals.
Thinking back to that 1999 final, Giggs muses on the differences: "The players obviously – apart from myself! The players are different, on both sides, but the tradition and the clubs are still the same – two huge clubs, two great histories and two footballing teams that play football the correct way. And when Bayern play Manchester United it is always a great spectacle, whether it be in the Champions League final or, like tomorrow, in the quarter-finals. They are two massive clubs."
United find themselves in the unusual position of being clear underdogs, their spotty form this term comparing starkly with that of Bayern, who have stormed through this competition and already retained the German Bundesliga title. "Obviously Bayern are a fantastic team, they are the holders," Giggs said. "Pep Guardiola has taken over and added a few new players and they are a very strong team and favourites in most people's eyes.
"But we are Manchester United, it's at Old Trafford and we've seen so many great nights there, in Europe especially. As players we don't see ourselves as underdogs, we see ourselves as Man United playing at home in the Champions League. These are the games you want to be involved in as a player and we will go out there and try to win. It is going to be tough – it usually is in the quarter-finals of the Champions League – but we're confident and looking forward to it."
Giggs, who will only make a decision on his future after the season ends, can bring the perspective of more than 1,000 senior matches for club and country over 23 years to the situation. "As a Manchester United player, criticism comes with the territory and it is something you have to come to terms with," the footballer with most appearances in UEFA Champions League history said. "You just have to go out and try to do your best. That's what the lads will be trying to do tomorrow and if we do that, we'll have a great chance."
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