One year on from Wales’ miraculous run to the semi-finals of Euro 2016, we take a comparative look at the careers of Gareth Bale and Ryan Giggs.
Wales might be considered traditionally one of the weaker football nations, especially with rugby seen to be their number one sport but they have produced plenty of memorable footballers throughout the years.
Billy Meredith, John Charles, Ian Rush, Mark Hughes, Gary Speed, John Hartson and Craig Bellamy all come to mind. However, in modern football, the two players that stand head and shoulders above the rest are Ryan Giggs and Gareth Bale.
Manchester United legend Giggs is the most decorated Premier League footballer of all time who won 13 Premier League titles, four FA Cups and two Champions League trophies in a glorious 25 years with the English giants.
Meanwhile, 27-year-old Gareth Bale is still in the prime of his career with European champions Real Madrid whom he joined from Tottenham Hotspur for a then world record fee. Bale has won an impressive three Champions League trophies with Los Blancos as well as this season’s La Liga title and a Copa Del Rey winners medal where he scored arguably his most famous goal in the final against Barcelona to win it.
This goal demonstrates Bale’s greatest strength which makes him such a world class player – his sheer power and pace. He looked like an Olympic sprinter as he left the Barca defence for dead.
While both Giggs and Bale are considered wingers in their prime, they are both different types of players in many ways. While Giggs was not necessarily known for his pace and power, he was no doubt a much superior technical player to Bale.
Giggs’ greatest goal in contrast to Bale’s demonstrates the different styles of the players. That is of course the winning FA Cup Semi Final goal against Arsenal in 1999 which remains one of the many iconic moments of United’s treble winning season.
Giggs picked up the ball in the middle of the pitch, dribbling past four Arsenal players while blasting the ball in the top corner to send ten man United on their way to victory at Villa Park and another step closer to that inevitable treble.
It is that technical ability as well as his incredible desire and fitness levels that allowed Giggs to adapt his game in response to losing his pace and move to a more central role in his later years.
Giggs inspired United from central midfield in the Champions League last 16 comeback win against Olympiakos in the 2013/2014 season while he also even played central midfield against Barcelona in the 2011 Champions League final defeat at Wembley among a number of other big games.
In terms of major honours, technical ability and most likely longevity Giggs comes up trumps. It is difficult to envision Bale playing on until he is 40 as he is not as technically gifted as Giggs was and has more recurring injury problems. Injury issues were a stranger to Giggs in general.
However, Bale does come out on top with his power and pace along with his free-kick taking ability, aerial power, goal scoring ability and performances for the national team.
Giggs’ commitment to Wales was questioned at times as he missed a number of friendlies and retired early from international football in 2007 in a step to prolong his club career with Manchester United. Meanwhile, Bale is the star man of the current Wales side and was one of the stars at Euro 2016 helping them all the way to an historic run to the semi finals before falling to eventual winners Portugal.
In terms of goalscoring, Giggs has scored 168 times throughout his whole club career while Bale still only 27 is likely to surpass that having already scored 127 goals and counting in a shorter space of time.
Both Giggs and Bale have their different areas of strength where they are ahead of each other. It is an interesting debate and perhaps an unfair comparison. Overall, Giggs wins out as the better player than Bale in his prime but Wales would be a force to be reckoned with if they had them both at their peak playing in the same team.