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Man United great Ryan Giggs ends playing career after club-record 963 appearances

Manchester United's Ryan Giggs celebrates after scoring Jan. 22, 2011 in Manchester, England. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Jon Super

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Manchester United's Ryan Giggs celebrates after scoring Jan. 22, 2011 in Manchester, England. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Jon Super

MANCHESTER, England - After 13 league titles, two Champions Leagues, 963 appearances and many more amazing memories, Ryan Giggs brought an end to his incredible 23-year playing career at Manchester United on Monday to take over as the club's assistant manager.

British football's most decorated player made the announcement in an open letter on United's website, just an hour after he was named as the No. 2 for new manager Louis van Gaal.

"For me, today is new chapter filled with many emotions — immense pride, sadness, but most of all, excitement towards the future," the 40-year-old Giggs said.

Giggs will go down as one of the greatest players in the Premier League's 22-year history. He is certainly its most durable, playing in every season since the league inception in 1992 — first as a flying left winger before refining his game to play deeper in midfield.

His match-clinching solo goal in the FA Cup semifinal replay against Arsenal in 1999, where he set off from inside his own half, ran around three defenders and slammed a shot into the roof of the net, has gone down as one of the greatest goals in English football. His famous shirt-swinging celebration as he sprinted, bare-chested, along the touchline at Villa Park is also part of FA Cup lore.

That will probably be his career highlight on a personal level but he was always more of a team man, one of the most valuable players in United's successful, trophy-laden era under Alex Ferguson, who protected Giggs as a youngster after poaching him from neighbour Manchester City and allowed him to thrive.

In an era where players chase money and loyalty counts for little, Giggs remained a one-club man after making his debut against Everton on March 2, 1991 as a lithe 17-year-old wearing a baggy shirt and hitched-up shorts.

"I am immensely proud, honoured and fortunate to have represented the biggest club in the world 963 times and Wales 64 times," wrote Giggs, who never played in a World Cup but was a member of Britain's squad at the London Olympics.

"My dream was always to play for Manchester United, and although it saddens me to know I won't be pulling on a United jersey again as a player, I have been lucky enough to have fulfilled that dream playing with some of the best players in the world, working under an incredible manager in Sir Alex Ferguson, and most of all, playing for the greatest fans in world football."

Giggs also won four FA Cups, three League Cups, one UEFA Super Cup, an Intercontinental Cup and a Club World Cup. Last season was the only one in his career where he failed to score a Premier League goal, leaving his career haul at 168 in all competitions.

Ferguson, who retired last year, once said that Giggs — as a 13-year-old — seemed to float across the ground "like a cocker spaniel chasing a piece of silver paper in the wind," and that description remained true to his last days.

Toward the end of his career, when his hair became speckled with grey, he relied on speed of thought rather than the speed of his legs, with his games carefully selected in Ferguson's final seasons. Under David Moyes last season, Giggs was used sparingly with more of the Welshman's time taken up by his role as coach.

His last game came at Old Trafford against Hull two weeks ago, when he came on as a late substitute to set up one goal and almost score another with a curling free kick that was tipped over the bar.

After Teddy Sheringham, Kevin Phillips and Gordon Strachan, Giggs was the fourth outfield footballer to have played in the Premier League in their 40s.

"Remarkable career by a loyal, legendary (United) entertainer," FIFA President Sepp Blatter said on Twitter. "963 games. 34 trophies. 1 club."

Giggs is being groomed by United as a future manager and he had a brief glimpse of life in the dugout at the end of last season, when he took interim charge for the final four games.

If his coaching career is even half as successful as his playing career, he will have done extremely well.

"What he has achieved will never be equaled in the English game," United vice chairman Ed Woodward said. "In the way he played, he was the embodiment of a Manchester United player — fast, skilful, entertaining and determined to win by playing exciting football."

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