Giggs and Cole sum up Man United and Chelsea
One is celebrating 20 years in the first team, the other is in trouble for shooting an intern
The media spotlight ahead of Chelsea's clash with Manchester United tonight has fallen squarely on two players who neatly sum up the perceived differences between the clubs.
In the red corner there is Ryan Giggs, who will celebrate the 20th anniversary of his debut for United by equalling Bobby Charlton's record of 606 league appearances - provided his 37-year-old legs, worn out from two decades of charging up and down the wing, are up to it.
In the blue corner there is Ashley Cole, the cheating former husband of national treasure Cheryl Cole, a player universally known as 'Cashley' thanks to his decision to walk out on Arsenal because they were only offering him £55,000-a-week, and who is currently gracing the front pages of the tabloids because he accidentally shot a work-placement student in the side at the club's training ground with an air rifle.
The pair appear to be cut from very different cloth, but in reality their careers could have followed similar paths had it not been for the age difference and the fact that Giggs chose to play for Wales rather than England.
Crucially, Cole is seven years Giggs's junior - and they took their first steps in very different environments.
When Giggs made his debut as a skinny 17-year-old against Everton in March 1991, the Premier League was just a twinkle in a moneyman's eye. That season Arsenal won the Division 1 title, Liverpool were second, Crystal Palace came third and Leeds were fourth. United finished below Manchester City in sixth place and it was 24 years since they had won the title.
By the time the Premier League kicked off in 1992 Giggs was a star and one of the first proper celebrity footballers, along with contemporaries like Lee Sharpe. Yet he was shielded by the club and Alex Ferguson. He was not allowed to talk to the media until he turned 20. He gave the papers plenty to write about thanks to the sort of social life any privileged young man would enjoy, but he decided he didn't like "the hype, celebrity girlfriends and photographers following you home".
He says: "I just made a conscious decision that I didn’t really like it and just wanted to keep a low profile."
Giggs is also someone who loves his club and loves the game rather than the money. "You see footballers with the flash cars and lots of money, but the players who win things, it doesn't come into the reckoning," he says. "There are also teams where avoiding relegation is success and there a lot of players who care, but then again, there are probably players who go the other way."
It all seems rather different for Cole, who is one player who appears to have gone the other way - even though he has won plenty of medals.
Cole made his debut in 1999, once the razzmatazz of the Premier League was in full swing and when he established himself in the first team the following season the media glare was massive.
Agents were becoming ever more important and it was Cole's representative Jonathan Barnett who broke the news to the player in 2005 that Arsenal were only offering him £55,000 a week. Apparently that is a pittance for an England player whose life was played out in the upper echelons of the Premier League. In his autobography Cole famously wrote: "I nearly swerved off the road. 'He is taking the piss Jonathan!' I yelled down the phone. I was so incensed. I was trembling with anger."
That prompted the move away from the club that had nurtured him to cash rich Chelsea and earned him the nickname Cashley. There was also the glamorous girlfriend in Cheryl Tweedy that further alienated him from the man in the stands.
Although Cole has rarely sought the spotlight, it has a habit of finding him - as his latest escapade involving the airgun proves.
But importantly there was the fact Cole plays for England, which is a double-edged sword for any player these days as it usually gives the fans another stick with which to beat you.
Giggs undoubtedly benefited from the fact that he was never burdened with the pressure of representing England - and inevitably letting them down - in international football.
If Giggs is a wonderful example of a one-club stalwart whose dedication harks back to a bygone era then Cole can be seen as something of a casualty of the pitfalls of the modern game. ·