Sir Alex Ferguson has hailed the "incredible" Ryan Giggs, who will make a 1,000th career appearance if he plays against Norwich City on Saturday, 24 hours after the Welshman signed a new contract that secures him a 23rd season at Manchester United.
Ferguson is hopeful that Rio Ferdinand will soon follow Giggs by agreeing his own one-year deal, as the central defender is out of contract at the end of the season.
Giggs's debut against Everton was 22 years ago on Saturday and Ferguson said: "Twenty-three years in the first team, it is unbelievable. I said to him on [Friday] morning: 'I expect a bill from your mother, all these sandwiches and teas she used to make for us,' [for] when I went to his house every week trying to get him to sign a schoolboy form. It seems a long time ago but what an incredible career. Absolutely fantastic."
Giggs has scored 168 goals in 931 United appearances. Among his honours are 12 Premier League titles and four FA Cups as well as three League Cups and two Champions League titles. The Welshman also won 64 caps for his country before quitting international football in 2007, and captained Team GB at last summer's London Olympics making four appearances, to take him to 999 in all.
Ferguson hopes Giggs remains at United when he does eventually stop playing. "That will happen, that is the plan," he said. "We have done the same with Nicky Butt who is with the reserves. It is important we install players who have experience of playing here."
Regarding the prospect of Ferdinand continuing at United next term, Ferguson said: "That is a strong possibility. It would have to happen before the end of the season [or he could leave as a free agent]. I think he has had a great season. He has managed himself the right way and we have contributed to that in the preparation we give him. He doesn't play every game in the same way that Ryan doesn't play every game."
Ferguson is keen that Ferdinand should be available to face Real Madrid in next week's Champions League last-16 second leg at Old Trafford. The central defender impressed during the 1-1 draw in Spain. "Two weeks ago, against Real Madrid, he was excellent. We need to get him ready for the big one on Tuesday," the manager said.
Of his own future, Ferguson added it would be "a long time away I hope" until he stops managing the club and becomes a director, as he stated this week.
United hope to beat Norwich to extend their advantage over Manchester City to 15 points as City do not play until Monday at Aston Villa. Ferguson was dismissive of Roberto Mancini's claim that they have been "lucky" this season with their number of late goals. "He is lucky they are only 12 points behind," Ferguson said. "That's not lucky, we have only been doing it for 25 years. It is a terrible habit. Late goals are no accident. We did it in 1999 [when winning the treble]. Every step of the way we got late goals. It is not an accident because this team wants to win all the time."
Ferguson warned City that there is a firm determination not to surrender the 12-point lead. "The league games are even more important because we don't want to give our immediate opponents an advantage," he said. "That accentuates it more for me and that is why I place so much importance on Norwich because it is a game we must win.
"I don't think the difficult games will be a problem. We are looking forward to them, knowing we have to be at our best as we were in 1999. The big difference is we have a stronger squad now than we did back then."
Ferguson may not have Phil Jones available to face Real as he only began running on Friday following his ankle injury. "He has a fight on his hands for Tuesday," the manager said. "Given the type of player he is, we will give him every chance."
Robin van Persie, though, is fit. "He has trained this week this, he is available for [Norwich]," said Ferguson. 'It was a delicate injury. Anyone who gets a knock on the hip for two or three days it is very tender but he is OK now and available."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Paolo Camera