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Football: If Giggs jumps ship, who will follow him out of Old Trafford? THE GIGGS ISSUE: IT'S CRUNCH TIME FOR FERGIE AS LEGEND STANDS FIRM WHY RYAN'S FUTURE IS A TEST CASE FOR ALL UNITED THIRTYSOMETHINGS.

Byline: David MCDONNELL

RYAN Giggs' stand-off with Manchester United is becoming a watershed for Sir Alex Ferguson and his class of '92.

The team that won the FA Youth Cup and then swept all before them at home and abroad is suddenly faced with the harshest of footballing realities. Age.

And the likes of Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville are discovering that money-men have no respect for reputations.

Once considered United's prize asset, Giggs has been stung by the club's refusal to grant his wish for a new two-year deal. The end of his glittering 15-year Old Trafford career could be imminent.

The revelation Inter Milan are ready to take advantage of the wrangle by making a bid for Giggs will serve only to pile further pressure on the United board.

Led by chief executive David Gill - and, in public at least, supported by Ferguson - they have steadfastly refused to shift from their stated policy of offering only one-year extensions to players over 30. Even one as decorated as Giggs.

But with Giggs, 31, in prime form, there will be no shortage of clubs waiting to embrace him.

And given the current uncertainty surrounding his future, coupled with Inter's interest, Giggs could be forgiven for wondering if he has played his last game for United.

He is out for four weeks with a hamstring injury and Inter's declaration of interest in the winger has shown the precarious nature of the Wales international's future at United.

Inter's bid for Giggs's signature is likely to see other high-profile clubs, including Real Madrid, AC Milan and Barcelona, monitor the situation more closely.

Giggs has already seen two of his contemporaries, David Beckham and Nicky Butt, move to other clubs and the longer the contract stand-off goes on, the more likely he is to follow their lead.

And the uncertainty surrounding his future has even caused anger among the United squad, with Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand among those urging the board to relent and hand him a two-year deal.

"I certainly wouldn't let Ryan go anywhere and I know every other player in the squad would echo that," said Ferdinand."He shouldn't have to justify himself after what he's done for this club. He's playing as well now as he ever has and he's probably been our most consistent player this season."

United know they cannot afford to let Giggs enter the final year of his contract next season and risk losing him as a free agent at the end of it.

But with neither side willing to compromise, the likely outcome would seem to be Giggs heading through the Old Trafford exit door.

It seems incredible that a player of Giggs's talent and experience, who is still excelling at the highest level, could be on his way out of the biggest club in the world.

But his predicament is a perfect illustration of the new direction in which football is going and, in particular, the way in which clubs are now having to curb their spending.

Clubs, even those with United's financial clout, are having to tighten their belts by becoming more frugal with their contract offers. United don't want Giggs to leave and he has maintained he does not want to leave Old Trafford after a career which has seen him become the most decorated player in their illustrious history.

But if United cave in to Giggs's demands they will set an unwanted precedent when it comes to dealing with other players in a similar position. Scholes is 30 already and Gary Neville is 30 next month. They have good reason to be concerned about their future.

The Giggs situation is a dramatic test case for the future. His contract stand-off is the ultimate test of player power and United are determined not to back down. But time is running out for any kind of compromise to be reached.

Giggs' agent, Harry Swales, said: "Ryan isn't asking for any more money and he certainly doesn't want to leave United. If he had his way he would stay with them for the rest of his career.

"But what he does want is a two-year contract and I don't think he's asking for the world. He's fit and dedicated and you can't buy the kind of enthusiasm he's got.

"We've got on well with the board at United and long may that continue. But at the moment the ball is in their court."

And that situation could see the flying Welshman finishing his career abroad.

THE MEN WATCHING WHAT GIGGSY DOES

PLAYER AGE CONTRACT

EXPIRES

Ryan Giggs 31 July 2006

Paul Scholes 30 July 2007

Gary Neville 29 July 2008

Roy Keane 33 July 2006

Ruud van Nistelrooy 28 July 2008

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer 31 July 2006

CAPTION(S):

FLYING GIGGS: But could the Welshman be soon parading these skills elsewhere?; WHATEVER HAPPENED TO UNITED'S CLASS OF '92?; BUTT, Beckham and Terry Cooke have long since left Old Trafford, leaving only Giggs, Gary and Phil Neville and Paul Scholes at the club; RED HOT: Giggs' amazing form this season has led to some suggesting he is playing for a new contract at Old Trafford
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 7, 2005
Words:862
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