In early 2011, Ryan Giggs was vilified in the British press for cheating on his wife with socialite Imogen Thomas and, it later emerged, his brother’s wife, Natasha Giggs. Most damning of all, at least in the tabloids’ mind, were the footballer’s increasingly desperate attempts to cover the affairs up through temporarily succesful super injunctions and a much-derided attempt to take legal action against Twitter after users of the network publicly exposed his misdeeds. Three years on, with the dust settled, The Diceman asks, has the world now forgiven Ryan Giggs?
The problem with paying such unadulterated professional tribute to Giggs (of which he is fully deserving) is that you risk ignoring the elephant in the room; namely his very public misdeeds of few years ago. Using him as a stick by which to measure future Gold Club inductees becomes problematic if you then refuse to consider all important aspects and sides of the Welshman’s career. Make no mistake, this blog can be unashamedly subjective at times, but deliberately ignoring the player’s negatives would only serve to undermine his many positives.
First thing’s first; whether or not it is morally right to judge a player by their personal life is irrelevant at this stage. The harsh truth is that once his affairs were exposed Giggs was instantly and unequivocally judged and some of the luster and magic associated with the Welsh maestro inevitably faded as a result therefrom. Ironically, his greatest folly it seemed, was not the affairs themselves but his futile and ignominious efforts to cover them up. Giggs’ undoubtedly foolhardy attempt to silence Twitter saw the Streisand effect (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect) executed in full force as the net seized on an opportunity to bring this Premier League footballer (therefore by definition an overpaid prima donna) down a peg or two.
This blog doesn’t want to focus too heavily upon the nature of the affairs themselves. That path is much traveled and this blogger’s personal opinion is that Giggs’ personal life should be completely independent of his professional. If he makes a mistake on the pitch he should rightly be criticised; he is a highly paid professional playing at the apex of the game and should be liable to this sort of criticism. The player’s personal life is another matter and while outspoken opinions or on-field acts should be subject to criticism as they have a public and professional impact, Giggs’ infidelity bares no relation to his Manchester United career. If anything it shows the separation of Giggs’ personal and professional life as the loyalty the winger has shown to United and his long-term manager Ferguson contrasts vividly with his off-field antics.
The argument many make in opposition to this is that Giggs is a role model and capable of influencing a swathe of the nation’s children. It is a fair enough point but not a position Giggs volunteered for, nor one always easy to fulfill; certainly not when you’ve been an ever-present in the public eye as long as he has. Certainly he made every effort to ‘protect’ the delicate sensibilities of the nation’s youth by blocking the public broadcast of his wrongdoings (although we’ll admit it was probably for less noble intent).
Perhaps because of the aura of invulnerability he exudes there was widespread disbelief when it became ever clearer that Giggs was the unidentified Premier League footballer hiding behind a super injunction (even Sir Alex was reputedly dumbstruck upon learning of Giggs’ actions), as if this proof of his fallibility suddenly cast into doubt everything you thought you knew about the winger. Yet Giggs’ true crime was to panic and desperately try to safeguard a reputation he should have realised was already damaged but no irreversibly so at this point. Whether his resulting desperate attempts to silence Twitter did lasting damage is another matter.
Considering his career has been cloaked in a milky twilight for the last ten years or so, it is prescient to ask how much this shaming episode will effect his longstanding reputation when he retires. Three years on, the affair has not been airbrushed out of history like the (unsubstantiated) allegations made against David Beckham (Rebecca Loos anyone?), nor has it clung to him like muck to a shoe as past episodes have with John Terry or Ashley Cole. No doubt some of the reasoning for this is Ferguson’s steely resolve to protect his head-boy as much as possible during the manager’s final two years at United. Part too, can be ascribed to Giggs being one of the Class of ’92; a generation retrospectively touched with a sentimental glow. Then there’s the picture always painted of Giggs as a footballer who is easy to like, one of the rare good guys of the game. A UNICEF ambassador with a long history of charity work. He’s cheeky whilst not overstepping his boundaries. He’s fiercely loyal to his club both on the pitch and in various capacities off it (commercially, coaching, inspiring youth teams). And yet the window into his personal life serves to undermine this portrayal. He is no longer squeaky clean.
Over the years, Giggs has shown that he is nothing if not adaptable. Season after season the Welshman has proven himself an expert in rebuilding and retooling his skillset to meet the occasion, assuring he is always an asset and never a passenger. The irony in his response to 2011’s allegations is rather than adapt he shirked responsibility, trying to hide behind a court order rather than confront the situation. This reaction meant the scandal occupied far more prominence in the public eye than it otherwise warranted and left a rather ugly online footprint. Search ‘Ryan Giggs’ into Google today and one of the first options it gives is ‘Brother’ (after the far more intriguing ‘restaurant’ and ‘yoga’. My next port of call is to further investigate these tangents). Arguably, if Giggs had rolled over and accepted his fate (however morally unjust the protrusion into his personal life may have felt) the story may not be so readily available today.
The scandal now hangs there inconspicuously, a footnote on an undoubtedly glorious career, a blemish at the periphery of his story. It’s not acknowledged or addressed, it’s not considered relevant to the bigger picture or integral to the central narrative, but it’s there. Time will tell whether the blemish is ever truly eradicated.