Where does Ryan Giggs rank among Champions League greats?

Ryan Giggs 2

The Manchester United veteran continues to set the milestones.

By setting another record, Ryan Giggs - a consensus all-time great in Premier League history - moves ever-closer to cementing his status away from one of Britain's best and closer to the continent's as the 39-year-old's second-half appearance against Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday evening saw him surpass Raul Gonzalez as the player to have featured in the most games in Champions League history (inclusive of it's erstwhile form as the European Cup).

Having made his debut in 1993, against Honved, when a teenage Giggs was brought off when the side were 3-2 up (having completed two direct assists himself and playing a crucial part in the third), the player has, to date, made 145 appearances, one more than Raul, five more than Paolo Maldini and six more than Xavi.

The player's goal-scoring and providing exploits on the European stage have been influential in United's progression in the tournament over the years: a brace over IFK Gothenburg in the 1994-95 season, his scintillating form in 98-98 against both Barcelona and Brondby, his indirect assist in the final against Bayern Munich in 99 and, undoubtedly the underline in Giggs' virtuoso performances, a brace against Juventus in Turin in 2003, all immediately spring to mind.

While history may look back more fondly on the playmaking genius of Zinedine Zidane, or the consistent attacking prowess of players such as Lionel Messi and Raul due to their respective returns of 62 and 71 goals, what should always be factored into appraisals of Europe's greatest players is their longevity at the elite level… which is something rare and perhaps exclusive to only a few, such as Giggs, Maldini and even Edwin van der Sar, Oliver Khan and Javier Zanetti.

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Giggs is already the oldest player to have scored in the competition, when he netted against Benfica in 2011, at 37-years-old, and that is a record he could threaten throughout this season. But he is also the first player to score in 11th successive Champions League seasons and is the only player to score in 16.

Inclusive of European Cup, there are some records that will be hard to break, such as Francisco Gento's return of six titles at Real Madrid between 1956 and 1966, but there are some that stand-out, such as Maldini's eight tournament final appearances between 1989 and 2007 - all with Milan with five of them successful.

Giggs has two Champions League winners medals in his bulging trophy cabinet and has featured in four finals (coming off the bench in United's penalty-death edging of Chelsea in 2008 and starting in 1999, 2009 and 2011). In terms of silver, he remains overshadowed by other modern greats Maldini, Alessandro Costacurta (5), Clarence Seedorf (4), Iniesta, Xavi, Messi and Raul (all 3).

Regardless, his appearance haul is some accomplishment and has been lauded on MUTV by manager David Moyes: 'It was fantastic… what an achievement and what a player.'

Giggs said: 'It means a lot. It's the pinnacle of European football and to play that many games is obviously special.'

Does Giggs firmly belong in the conversation of who the greatest Champions League player is? Or will he always be a rung below players of the calibre of Zidane and Messi? Let us know in the comment section below!

 Player Appearances Goals Clubs
 Ryan Giggs 145 29 Manchester United
 Raul 144 71 Real Madrid, Schalke 04
 Paolo Maldini 140 3 AC Milan
 Xavi 139 11 Barcelona
 Clarence Seedorf 131 12 Ajax, Real Madrid, Inter, Milan
 Iker Casillas 131 0 Real Madrid
 Paul Scholes 130 25 Manchester United
 Roberto Carlos 128 17 Inter, Real Madrid, Fenerbahce
 Carles Puyol 118 2 Barcelona
 Andriy Shevchenko 116 59 Dynamo Kyiv, Milan, Chelsea

image: © apasciuto

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