Created on 25/6/2008
When Manchester United beat Chelsea in the final of the European Champions League a few weeks ago the managing director of Chelsea and the President of Manchester United were awarded winners medals to commemorate the event. It was noticeable that Manchester United’s President hurriedly put his medal hurriedly, and with some embarrassment straight into his pocket, whereas the MD of Chelsea put his proudly around his neck. The President of Manchester United is a man called Bobby Charlton, who used to play for the club, and in fact had he not been so modest; there was a time when Bobby Charlton could have claimed, with some justification, that he was the most famous living Englishman.
He never did, of course, but others, such as TV soccer pundit Jimmy Hill, said it for him. It was the late 1960s. England had won the World Cup and Manchester United the European Cup. All over the world there were children who could speak only two words of English. One was "Bobby", the other was "Charlton", such was the esteem in which he was held.
It was more than just his tremendous achievements that sparked instant recognition, though he won everything the game has to offer. Championships, Cup winner's medals, a record number of international caps and goals. Nor was it solely his exquisite skills - grace, speed, athleticism and a thunderbolt of a shot that made him extremely dangerous more than 30 yards from goal.
No, Charlton stood for something that the world admired much more than these fine sporting attributes. He was an old fashioned gentleman, the ultimate in sporting heroes. He never got into trouble, didn’t dispute decisions with referees, demonstrated honesty and respected his opponents. He was, and remains the perfect role model with his status as the greatest ambassador in the modern history of British sport unchallenged, based on a rock solid foundation of his undoubted sense of fair play. There was another player in his team called George Best. He was a better player than Charlton, and both knew it. In fact many pundits on football say that Best was the best player the world has ever seen. But he wasn’t the greatest. He could do stuff with a ball that was almost magical, but as a man he was far the lesser of the two. He was a great player, but he was never a great man.
The other chap that went up the steps at the end of the European Champions League Final in Moscow last month was Peter Kenyon. He used to help run the business side for Manchester United before he left for Chelsea because he was going to get paid even more money than his generous salary at United. Good for Peter, who, by the way, never played for any club, but who had been, he said, a lifelong Manchester United fan. Which one of these men qualifies as great? It isn’t the one who has the biggest bank balance; it’s the one who everyone respects and loves, Charlton.
There is a golden threat of greatness running through Manchester United and great people. Cristiano Ronaldo looks like he might be leaving for the lure of even more money at Real Madrid after signing a multi year contract last year. It appears that the approximately $250,000 per week plus bonuses he gets at United was found to be a little insulting. Sources say Ronaldo would like some further financial recognition for his excellent season. Oh dear. At the same club at the same time is another player, who, in his prime had rivaled anyone for sublime talent, his name is Ryan Giggs. This man, Ryan Giggs is the club’s most decorated player with 18 major honors. His trophy haul contains 10 Premier League titles, a European Cup, European Super Cup and Inter-Continental Cup. Giggs was the first player in history to win the PFA Young Player of the Year award consecutively and as of today has played and scored in every single season of the FA Premier League since its inception, also holding the league's records for most all time goal assists with 289 assists in 535 appearances. Giggs has had a stellar domestic and continental career and is the first player in UEFA Champions League history to have scored in 12 successive seasons, on top of being elected into the PFA Team of the Century in 2007, the English Premiership Team of the Decade, in 2003, as well as the FA Cup Team of the Century. Giggs is also the only United player to have played in all 10 League winning teams and the only Manchester United player to have played in both League Cup winning teams. As fate would dictate , Giggs passed Sir Bobby Charlton's record of 758 appearances for Manchester United to become the club's all-time leader in appearances at the 2008 UEFA Champions League Final, held on 21 May 2008.
The golden thread is not the sheer fabulous ability of Best and Ronaldo, but the admittedly, slightly less blinding talents of their team mates, Giggs and Charlton, when those attributes are married to their innate modesty, loyalty and courtesy.