Tears as Giggs bows out for Wales
Jun 4 2007
by Paul Abbandonato, Western Mail
Wales 0-0 Czech Republic
WITH a tear in his eye, Ryan Giggs said his goodbyes deep in the bowels of the Millennium Stadium, got into his car and drove back home to Manchester on his own.
Almost immediately, he then flew out for a well deserved holiday in the sun at the end of a 2006-07 campaign which has been so arduous, Giggs has deemed it necessary to call time on his Wales career.
John Toshack’s team may, or may not, be better off without their captain, as Giggs himself maintains they will.
Personally, I think Ryan has got that wrong – and the manner of his performance against the Czechs, where he was one of the stars of the Welsh show, underlines my belief that I’m right.
But the one thing we do know for certain is that two years down the line, we won’t be seeing banner headlines from Giggs on the morning of a big match declaring that Wales are a “shambles”, scraping the bottom of the barrel and the manager has to quit.
Ryan will retire with dignity, as befits an individual who has given glittering service to his country over a 16-year period.
Wales were unable to bow out with the win Giggs cherished so much on Saturday, thus putting the final nail in the coffin of any outside hope Toshack’s men retained of reaching Euro 2008.
But they came as close to getting those three points as was possible, without actually achieving them.
Considering the quality of the opposition, this was arguably the best performance yet under Toshack’s reign.
Young Wayne Hennessey brought a calm assurance in goal that Wales had previously lacked during this qualifying campaign.
The defence, in which James Collins, Lewin Nyatanga and Joe Ledley excelled, barely gave Czech dangermen Jan Koller and Milan Baros a sniff of a goal.
Carl Robinson and Simon Davies totally snuffed out the Tomas Rosicky threat in midfield.
Jason Koumas hit the post, Giggs almost scored an individual wonder goal and, while Craig Bellamy was somewhat subdued, he will have more support up front from here on in when Freddy Eastwood comes into the team.
The emotion of the occasion clearly caught up with Giggs as he wiped away the tears and said his farewells to team-mates, management, back-up staff and the fans.
The rapturous ovation the Welsh supporters gave Giggs as he was substituted in the 89th minute clearly touched him.
He could be spotted wiping a tear or two away in the Welsh dugout. Such is the camaraderie within Wales, he was red-eyed again as he left the ground an hour or so afterwards to drive back home.
For a moment, it seemed the magnitude of what he was giving up had dawned upon Giggs.
He wouldn’t pull on the red No 11 shirt any more; he would not stand there for the national anthem any more; he would not hear the Welsh fans roaring out his name and willing him on any more.
But there could not be any going back on his decision, Giggs insisted. Although he wouldn’t be human if part of him doesn’t wonder if he could have carried on for another couple of years as he sits on his sunbed by the pool over the next three weeks and reflects upon everything.
The platitudes and good luck messages Giggs has received since announcing his plans to quit Wales on Wednesday have genuinely bowled him over.
He was touched by the “thanks for the memories” tributes from readers in the Western Mail on Saturday morning.
As Toshack said after the game, if Giggs didn’t realise before how much he was loved and valued in Wales, he certainly does from this moment on.
The ovation Giggs received when Toshack replaced him with Rob Earnshaw in the last minute against the Czechs exceeded anything any individual has had at the Millennium Stadium.
Toshack has previously criticised Mark Hughes for taking Gary Speed off 15 minutes from the end of his last match, a World Cup qualifier against Poland, when the score was level at 1-1, with crucial qualifying points at stake.
As such, I suppose, Toshack could be accused of hypocrisy by replacing Giggs with Earnie, because the Czech game still had 60 seconds to go and was there to be won.
But the reality is that Giggs deserved that special moment from the fans and it wouldn’t have been right if Toshack had not given him that send-off.
As for the game itself; almost a sideshow but not exactly an unimportant 90 minutes for Wales. Well even then Giggs was the player who came closest to winning it.
In the second half, he dribbled past four Czech defenders, shimmied at the last moment to create a shooting opportunity and was only denied a stunning solo goal by Petr Cech’s reflexes.
It was vintage Giggs, the sort of mazy run we saw from him during the early and mid-1990s, without quite the finish it deserved.
Giggs kept the best until last because this was without doubt his most potent display of the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign.
He wasn’t the only one, though. Collins was a colossus at the back, handling the Koller threat as well as any centre-back anywhere in the world can have done in recent times.
Nyatanga, after a couple of iffy performances for Wales, was back to his calm, composed, assured old self again.
Old, did I say? Nyatanga is only 18 years of age.
At 20, Cardiff City youngster Ledley is a positive veteran compared to Nyatanga and 17-year-old Gareth Bale!
Ledley produced a sensational performance at left wing-back, one that was so full of class that Toshack might have to reconsider where he plays Bale.
Yes, Ledley was that good. The wing-back role, where he can use his energy and stamina to rampage up and down the pitch, suits him perfectly.
Ledley may actually play in that position regularly from here on in, with Bale’s undoubted class utilised in a more advanced midfield position. Whatever, the thought of that trio – Bale, Ledley and Nyatanga – purveying the ball down Wales’ left flank for more than a decade is a mouthwatering prospect.
It would be better were Giggs there with them, of course, but his loss will enable Toshack to pick Freddy Eastwood up front.
Having a presence inside the penalty area is still a problem area for Wales, as was underlined by the fact that, despite impressive approach work, they were still scoreless on Saturday.
Eastwood is no Giggs, but he will offer things to the team in advanced positions that even Ryan couldn’t.
With him up front, Wales might even choose to utilise corners properly. Against the Czechs, almost every set-piece was taken short, and then squandered – a tactic doubtless arising as a result of Wales’ own lack of physical presence and height up front.
It was an irritating tactic, though. When Wales finally chose to just put the ball in, Collins got on the end of it and almost scored with a header.
Set-piece is still an area for Toshack to address. He also could do with a fit Mark Delaney as right wing back, or Richard Duffy to come good again.
And, well though Robinson played – it was his best game yet for his country – there are still nagging doubts about him in that midfield dynamo role, although not if he continues to play as he did on Saturday.
At least goalkeeper isn’t a problem any more, because debutante Hennessey looked the real deal at No 1.
I’m sure if he is being honest, Toshack will probably regret sticking with Paul Jones for earlier games away to the Czech Republic and at home to Slovakia and wish he had gone with Lewis Price.
But that is what this learning curve we are in the middle of is about. Wales have a very young team, one which Giggs himself insists will get better and better and better.
Toshack must get them to continue to play with the poise, passion and purpose that they displayed on Saturday. They will have to do it without their inspirational captain, but they have no option but to cope with the loss of Giggs.
Ryan has gone, but he certainly won’t be forgotten. We won’t see the likes of him again in the red of Wales.
As such, everyone should be grateful for the memories with which he has left us.