A fortnight ago, Ryan Giggs reached a milestone achieved by few others in the game. The Welsh wide-man clocked up his 900th professional appearance for Manchester United in their 2-1 win over Norwich City, aptly scoring an injury-time winner.
The feat left him in illustrious company, joined by FIFA World Cup™-winners and international legends alike. FIFA.com glances back across Giggs’ phenomenal career and at four other legends of the game who have surpassed the same landmark.
United’s gold standard
Having made his debut a few months before the final Division One season concluded, Giggs is the only player to have ever competed, and scored, in every Premier League campaign to date. In doing so he has also become English football’s most decorated player. During his 20 years with United, he has accrued 12 Premier League titles, four FA and League Cups, two UEFA Champions League medals and a FIFA Club World Cup, amongst others, and a stack of personal honours.
Since making his debut against Everton on 2 March 1991 he has been seen as the consummate professional. His consistency at the highest level has been reflected by United’s dominance during the last two decades. The Red Devils have finished outside the Premier League top two just three times since his first full season, and have made it to four Champions League finals, notably winning the treble in 1999.
On reaching his landmark tally with a goal, manager Sir Alex Ferguson provided a glowing appraisal: “For a player to play for one club for 900 games is exceptional. He deserved that goal for his service to the club. He's had an amazing career and he's an amazing man.”
Sao Paulo's saviour
Only one player still yet to hang up his boots has a more impressive appearance record than Ryan Giggs – Sao Paulo’s goalkeeper of almost 20 years, Rogerio Ceni. While his name may be best known for being the highest goal-scoring goalkeeper in history, with over 100 to his name, he has also appeared more than 1000 times for the Tricolor.
Ceni has seen many momentous events during his lengthy career, but his finest are built around the Copa Libertadores, which he has won twice. For the first victory he was just a substitute, but in 2005 it was his championship. Scoring five times en-route to the final, he was named player of the tournament, before repeating the feat by being awarded the Golden Ball and lifting the title at the FIFA Club World Cup.
On being presented with the latter, the magnanimous shot-stopper expressed his deep-rooted connection to Sao Paulo. “In the last eight months we’ve won the two greatest trophies in our history. When I look in these awards I see the faces of my team-mates, the coach and everyone involved at the club.”
Milan’s master general
Maintaining the performance level to reach 900 appearances at one of the world’s top clubs, like Giggs has done, always deserves huge respect – and if there’s one thing Paolo Maldini always commanded, it was respect. He is a man who has seen and done it all multiple times with AC Milan. In Europe he was dominant, winning the Champions League a staggering five times, appearing in a record eight finals and sits joint second with Giggs for overall appearances on 139.
Both a tenacious and elegant defender, during his 24 years at the club the Italian holds the Serie A appearance record and his seven titles for Milan are only matched by former team-mate Alessandro Costacurta. A legendary captain for both club and country, Maldini’s reading of the game was second to none and the presence he emitted was pivotal in steering Milan to their most successful period in history. It was no surprise that his No3 shirt was retired when he did.
On hanging up his boots in 2009, aged 40, former Rossoneri legend Gianni Rivera paid a fitting tribute to the steel and stability he has provided over two decades. “Maldini is the symbol of Milan. He brings continuity and he has represented the antique and the modern.”
Nurnburg’s loyal star
Those examples may imply that this sort of longevity is a modern phenomenon, but almost a decade before Giggs was born a German legend with over 900 appearances to his name was ending his career. When Max Morlock called time on his 24-year FC Nurnburg career in 1964, the fans saw the last of an icon whose legacy has never been challenged at the club. Scoring almost 700 goals in his time with Nurnberg, he took them to two national championships, six regional titles and a DFB-Pokal in the pre-Bundesliga years.
He received numerous offers from bigger clubs abroad, but he stayed faithful, and his final season as a professional coincided with the first national league, leading Nurnberg to a respectable midtable finish. However he did get to show his talents on a bigger stage, helping them to the quarter-finals of the 1961/62 European Cup before losing to the Eusebio-inspired eventual champions Benfica.
His greatest moment, however, came in one of the nation's highest-points, scoring their first goal in ‘The Miracle of Bern’, the 1954 FIFA World Cup final win against Hungary. But it's the fans at home hold his memory the dearest, recently calling for their stadium to be named after him, where his statue already sits proudly outside.
Santos’ legendary son
But while all those players’ achievements are at the very pinnacle of the sport, they still sit in the shadow of Pele’s. While internationally renowned for his exploits with A Seleção, the Brazilian legend tore up the record books at home as well. Scoring over 1000 goals in over 1000 games for Santos, the striker has set the bar impossibly high for future generations, such that his records for a single club will almost certainly never be matched.
Known as ‘The King of Football’ - O Rei do Futebul - by the home faithful, he collected a whopping 25 titles while at the club, and defined a generation of fans as he spent 18 years at the Estadio Urbano Caldeira. For a run of five seasons between 1961 and 1965 he did the double four times, and the other year Santos did the treble. His influence can be put into stark reality when you realise that across 82 years without Pele, Santos have only won 17 cups.
On winning his first Intercontinental Cup, where he scored five goals across both legs against Benfica, opposition defender Costa Pereira was frank in defeat. “I arrived hoping to stop a great man,” he explained. “But I went away convinced I had been undone by someone who was not born on the same planet as the rest of us.”