Even though he plays for that lot down the road, only the most petty-minded of football fans would deny Ryan Giggs the honour of being this year’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
At a time when professional football sometimes suffers from a cynical edge – the theatrical dives of so many strikers, for instance, or the infamous Thierry Henry handball – Giggs is a great example of the true spirit of sport, and a great example to so many youngsters as well.
Giggs is a one club man, making his debut for Man Utd in 1991. It’s not impossible that he’ll still be playing at the top level on the 20th anniversary of that occasion.
Had he been English he would no doubt have played at several World Cups, and would have been in the running for a place in the squad in 2010. Not that he is short of achievements – 11 Premier League titles, European cups, FA Cups, League Cups. He was the footballers’ choice for Young Player of the Year twice. And he is probably the greatest ever player to turn out for Wales.
There were some who said he didn’t deserve to win the BBC award, that compared to the likes of Jensen Button and Jessica Ennis, he hadn’t done enough in a single year to rival their achievements.
Certainly the achievements of Button and Ennis were worthy of high praise (particularly, in my mind, the heptathlon world champion Ennis), but the award to Giggs, in a year when he won his 11th Premier League winner’s medal and continued to perform outstandingly at the top level, was well merited both for this year and all his years at the top.
After all, to have played for a team like United for nigh on 20 years is a quite remarkable achievement.
But his triumph on Sunday was also victory for the sheer love of sport.
Asked for the secret of his success, he said simply “Desire, looking after myself”.
He appears to love the game as much as he did when he was kicking a ball around as a youngster.
And there is something wonderfully exuberant about Giggs’ play which sums up the essence of sport – free-flowing, inventive, energetic and at times breathtakingly brilliant. That in celebration and in private he is often poker-faced almost adds to the allure of seeing him in full flow on the pitch.
Winning the award was also a great achievement in itself. Giggs is the first non-English footballer to pick up the trophy, it having previously been won by Paul Gascoigne, David Beckham, Michael Owen and Bobby Moore (all in the wake, incidentally, of World Cup heroics).
He’s also, let’s face it, a Manchester United player. They have, of course, a big following.
There are also many who are less than charitable about them (me, on some days!).
Yet Giggs won enough support from non-United supporters who recognise his ability and enormous contribution to the game.
In terms of an electoral triumph, that’s pretty impressive!