Manchester United: Should United retire the number 11 shirt when Giggs hangs up his boots?
To begin with, I'd like to congratulate Antonio Valencia on not only receiving the number 7, but for going after it and showing he's ready to take on the responsibility that comes with such a famous number. A few weeks ago I was reminded of a debate I've had several times, with several different people; and I promise this is the last time I mention shirt numbers!
So let's turn our attention to the other flank where the number 11 has appeared on the back of the same player for a very, very long time. Since his debut in 1991, Ryan Giggs has gone on to make 909 appearances and score 163 goals for Manchester United, with more to come since extending his contract. The man is a living legend and will go down forever in the history of the sport and the club, to which, he has been incredibly loyal.
But the question I raise is, should the Manchester United number 11 shirt be retired?
First let’s look at some other examples around the footballing world, starting with Italy and the famous city of Milan. After being rejected by Inter, Franco Baresi went on to play with rivals AC Milan for 20 years. The attacking defender led Milan to six Scudettis and three European Cups. He won many more trophies and will forever be remembered by football fans around the world. Baresi’s number 6 however, will never be worn again by a player in the AC Milan squad since his retirement in 1997.
Perhaps this custom is more welcomed in Italy as Baresi’s apprentice, Paolo Maldini, also has a shirt number retired in his honour. Maldini became a legend on his own right and the left-back, who had been targeted by Sir Alex Ferguson for a possible transfer, played 902 games for Milan. The number 3 jersey will only ever be worn by a Maldini. Paolo’s son Christian is currently rising up through the Milan Primavera ranks.
Next we go Dutch and look at the beautiful exponent of Total Football, Johan Cruyff. Unlike the players mentioned before, Cruyff plied his trade around the football world. Also, his skills will be remembered more for his time on international duty when he, and other Dutch legends, played in a way that amazed the opposition and crowds alike. The former Ajax and Barcelona star picked up the Ballon d’Or three times and was a player of amazing ability, and creativity. Despite joining rivals Feyenoord at the end of his playing career in 1984, the number 14 shirt was retired by Ajax on April 18, 2007, to commemorate the birthday of Johan Cruyff.
All of these players are legends and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to put Ryan Giggs into this category. Despite not featuring in competitive international football and failing to win the Ballon d’Or, Giggs has won the Premier League 12 times, FA Cup four times and the UEFA Champions League twice. He has also won PFA awards, received an OBE and played a record number of times for Manchester United. There is no doubt that Giggs deserves to have his shirt retired. But is it the Manchester United way? The answer would be no. Mainly because of the number that traditionally is worn on the opposite wing, the number 7.
Numerous United legends have worn the number 7 and many more will do in the future. Are they all inferior to Ryan Giggs? If you were to retire the number 7 now, who, in particular, would it honour?
Manchester United has and will always stand by the phrase ‘no one is bigger than the club’. I’d be happy to see a stand, or even the stadium, named after him. Statues, churches, shrines, temples and mosques dedicated to the United legend are all acceptable. But never seeing the number 11 grace the Theatre of Dreams, after Giggs’ retirement, doesn’t seem right.
It will be up to future generations to live up to the number and try to replicate, if not build on, the legendary number. As was the case with the number 7, which is now a number players have to live up to and can be used by the manager to instill confidence. The exact same thing can happen with the number 11. Manchester United will have two legendary numbers at their disposal. I have nothing against teams retiring shirts, but it doesn’t seem to be the Manchester United way.
Calling all Manchester United fans: How do you feel? Should numbers have any importance at all? Should the number 11 be retired at Manchester United? How would you like the club to honour the legend, Ryan Giggs? Whatever your view we'd love to hear from you.
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