LONDON – Exactly 22 years ago on Saturday, a lithe 17-year-old wearing a baggy shirt and hitched-up shorts ran on as a substitute at Old Trafford to make his Manchester United debut.
Having excelled at youth team level, the kid was already being spoken about in glowing terms. English soccer was expecting big things.
He has been worth all the hype.
His hair now thinning on top and specks of grayforming above his ears, Ryan Giggs will pass another milestone in his extraordinary career if he appears for United in Saturday's Premier League match against Norwich, back at Old Trafford.
It will be his 1,000th senior competitive match — and the superlatives for the 39-year-old Welshman have long run out.
"Everyone should take an example of Ryan Giggs because what he has done is really, really wonderful, amazing," FIFA President Sepp Blatter said Friday.
Managers, players and teammates have been effusive in their praise all week. Swansea manager Michael Laudrup labeled him "pure class." United defender Rafael da Silva went as far as saying Giggs "is such a good player it is getting boring."
Perhaps Giggs can be best summed up by his manager Alex Ferguson, who has carefully nurtured the midfielder into arguably the most consistent player in the Premier League's 21-year history.
"He is a marvelous player and an exceptional human being," Ferguson said Friday, moments after United rewarded Giggs for his continued outstanding displays with a new one-year deal. "He seems to reach a new milestone every week. It's unique in the modern game, but I think it's more than that — I don't think it will ever be achieved again by anyone."
Ferguson once said Giggs, as a 13-year-old, seemed to float across the field "like a cocker spaniel chasing a piece of silver paper in the wind," and it is still true to this day — even at the relatively venerable age of 39.
Giggs no longer has the stamina to produce lung-busting performances every week. Instead, his games are carefully selected by Ferguson and the end product remains the same.
Giggs started in central midfield last week against Queens Park Rangers, lasted the whole game and popped up with the second goal in the 80th minute in a 2-0 win.
Manchester City signed the youthful Giggs to its center of excellence but he somehow slipped from the club's grasp after being watched in matches by scouts from United, which offered him a schoolboy deal in 1987. He was 14 at the time.
"I told him this morning I expect a bill from his mother for all the sandwiches and teas she used to make for us when we went to his house every week when we were trying to get him to sign schoolboy forms," Ferguson said Friday. "It seems a long time ago."
Giggs has gone on to become the most decorated player in British soccer history, winning 12 Premier League titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups, two Champions Leagues, one UEFA Super Cup, an Intercontinental Cup and a FIFA Club World Cup.
He has played 931 matches for United — scoring 168 goals, including five this season — 64 times for Wales and made four appearances for Britain at last year's London Olympics, his first major international tournament.
"I am feeling good, enjoying my football more than ever and, most importantly, I feel I am making a contribution to the team," Giggs said.
Starting out as a fast and tricky winger, Giggs has had to refine his game to stay competitive. He now plays more often than not as a playmaker in midfield or as a more conservative wideman, relying on technique and a reading of the game more than pace.
Welsh FA President Trefor Lloyd-Hughes said he wouldn't be surprised if Giggs went into coaching with Wales or United.
"Some years ago, we thought about Ryan coming to help and I'm sure he would come and help if asked because I think Wales is very close to his heart," said Lloyd-Hughes, speaking on the sidelines of the International Football Association Board annual meeting in Edinburgh.
AP Sports Writer Rob Harris in Edinburgh, Scotland, contributed to this report.