When you think of Manchester United legends, no doubt Ryan Giggs ranks highly in the pantheon. Someone who came from the youth set up and who completed 23 years as a professional at Manchester United, it reads like the fairytale of football. Not to mention that Giggs is the most decorated player in football history. A player of Giggs stature can never have too many epithets about how fantastic he was and his legacy as undisputed best left winger that the Premier League has ever seen endures.
Perhaps his most poignant moment was his goal against Arsenal in the final FA Cup replay of all time, which was quite simply incredible. The speed and agility bewildered the legendary Arsenal defence of the late 90s, the ball seemingly surgically attached to Ryan Giggs’ left wand. The thunderbolt shot sent ripples through my spine that still reverberate today as Seaman desperately tried to parry the strike that had already left him for dead. It is a goal for the ages, to delight Manchester United fans for generations to come.
“Obviously we know the goal he scored in the semi-final against Arsenal, an unbelievable thing to do [ . . . ] the best goal ever scored in the FA Cup. From 16 years of age to (his retirement in 2014), to be able to perform at that level, and to give the team so much, Ryan Giggs has got to be the greatest Premier League player ever. [ . . . ] What he’s given the Premier League is unbelievable, and what he’s given Manchester United is fantastic.” — Peter Schmeichel
Surely, it is Giggs’ ability to reinvent himself constantly to stay in the Manchester United team throughout our glory years and the outstanding longevity he had that sets him apart from others. When Giggs burst onto the scene at the age of 17 he was the first of the class of ’92 and in taking the lead paved the way for the others to make a smoother transition. Indeed, he claimed the first of his major trophies that year, producing the assist in a one nil victory in the League Cup Final. A testament to the precocious talent and the vision, pace and trickery he imbued was his PFA Young Player of the Year award at the end of the season. The arrival of “The King” Eric Cantona provided Giggs with the platform next season to win the Premier League, in its inaugural year. However, Johan Cruyff himself had no doubt who the real master was of these two:
“Eric Cantona is a great player, but he’s not as good as Ryan Giggs.”
Another fascinating statistic is that Ryan Giggs was never sent off for Manchester United, quite remarkable when you consider how long that spanned. When we consider how often players are targeted if they possess the flair and skill necessary to damage you in the modern era, it speaks volumes that Giggs retained his composure and showed a remarkable team spirit in ensuring he never left them short staffed.
During the Treble winning season, Giggs was a key part in the unprecedented achievement. It was his equalising goal in the semi final home leg injury time against Juventus that gave us a vital lifeline before that unforgettable Roy Keane inspired night in Turin. Additionally, it was Ryan Giggs’ assist off his unfavoured right foot that equalised in the Champions League final grandstand finish against Bayern Munich. Giggs offered the artistry within the famous midfield four, contributing goals and assists but also striking fear into defenders who tracked his movements, which allowed the other attacking players to utilise their own respective talents more expressively.
Over the following few years, Giggs cemented himself as one of our standout performers during a period of United dominance. During the season of 2002-03 many people started to write him off, there was an incredible open goal miss against David Seaman in February of that year, off his right foot during a 2-0 defeat which I remember vividly but Giggs was to prove once again that rumours of his demise were premature and ill conceived. In a 3-0 victory over Juventus, he scored twice. One of the goals was a typical mazy dribble that showcased the dexterity and genius for which Giggs was revered. It was an incredibly timely goal which helped to defuse a potential rumoured switch to Inter Milan and ensured that he extended his stay at United.
In 2004, Giggs won another FA Cup against Millwall, his final FA Cup triumph and had begun to look after his health far more seriously. It was to be this healthy lifestyle which included yoga which helped him elongate his career for so long, the hamstring issues which had dogged him for his career were eradicated. The final part of 2005 was marred by United’s loss in the FA Cup Final to Arsenal but United were going through one of our periods of mini transition during the Sir Alex Ferguson era. In the 2006-07 season, Giggs was to chip in with a few vital goals and also scored a controversial free kick against Lille which demonstrated his quick thinking and inventiveness in one snapshot. With United’s Premier League crown, Giggs celebrated his ninth league title which saw him become the new record holder of most titles achieved by a single player. His record of 13 league titles as it stands is a mark which will stand for many years, one that we may well not see outstripped in our lifetimes, dear reader.
In the summer of 2007, Giggs called a halt to his international career as he wished to concentrate more on his United career. There were many times where Giggs would make himself unavailable for selection for friendly fixtures or other non competitive fixtures during his Manchester United career. Like Scholes, his nation’s loss was very much the club’s gain as it helped to ensure he didn’t pick up as many of the niggling knocks and fatigue injuries from playing more games than necessary. He represented Great Britain in the London 2012 Olympics and at the age of 38 years and 243 days scored a goal which beat an 88 year old record to become the oldest scorer in the football competition.
In the 2007-08 season, Giggs was rotated within the team by Sir Alex, seemingly saved for important games where his nous and experience would be most valuable for the team. It was Giggs who scored the second decisive goal against Wigan on the final day of the season to win United their 10th Premier League trophy and he celebrated breaking Bobby Charlton’s appearance record for United in the Champions League Final against Chelsea. In the sudden death penalty shootout at the end of the game, it was especially fitting that the new longest reigning bastion of the club scored the winning penalty, retaining his conviction beautifully on the most nerve wracking of all club stages.
In the 2008-9 season, Giggs shifted to a play in the deeper lying central midfield role which he was to make his own during the latter stages of his career. Despite not playing in many games, Giggs’ quality and exceptional displays merited him being awarded the PFA Player of the Year that season. Furthermore, he also won the 2009 Sports Personality of the Year award which showed that whilst even in his mid thirties, Giggs was winning individual awards normally reserved for players a decade or so younger than him. This is a glowing acknowledgment of his supreme reserves of talent. The club itself felt his contribution had been the most telling of the decade by awarding him Manchester United Player of the Decade. Over the next couple of seasons, Giggs was to break more records, continuing his streak of scoring in every Premier League season since its inception and also becoming the oldest Champions League goal scorer in a 4-1 victory over Schalke 04 in the semi final of the 2010-11 season at the time. The following season he extended this record and broke Raul’s record by scoring in 16 Champions League seasons, another quite astonishing feat. In February of that year, Giggs scored the winning goal in the 90th minute in his 900th appearance for Manchester United prompting Sir Alex Ferguson to deliver this superb speech: “For a player to play for one club for 900 games is exceptional, and it won’t be done again. He deserved that goal for his service to the club. He’s had an amazing career and is an amazing man.”
Only a couple of years later at the end of the 2014 season and the summer following his 40th birthday, Giggs retired and received an incredible amount of fitting tributes from players, pundits and journalists alike for a quite remarkable career of success and accomplishment. During the last few matches of David Moyes’ reign Giggs became interim player-manager, a time which caused the Welshman an incredible amount of stress given his novice status as a manager. The fact that he broke out in tears after the final match spoke volumes of the degree to which he cared and wanted to do well in the position as he had done for his entire United playing career. Ever the perfectionist as a player he wanted to translate these traits into his fledgling managerial career.
Giggs finished on a total of 168 goals for Manchester United which places him 7th equal in the all time list of Manchester United’s top goal scorers, the sheer variety of these goals makes them well worth watching. He had an unerring knack of being able to score off both feet and knew how to find pockets of space quite wonderfully. In those moments, the finishes were often composed and swept home with utmost aplomb. Some of them were simply mesmerizingly beautiful in their impudence as he reduced opposing defenders and keepers to jabbering wrecks. Not only that but Giggs was an exceptional provider of goals evidenced by the fact that he has the most assists of all time in the Premier League with 162. He was able to find team mates with his pinpoint passing and could also cross excellently at the end of one of his flying runs hugging the touchline. To be so high on both these end products which attacking wingers are often measured by whilst always adhering to his defensive duties in aiding his left back showed the stamina and overall peak efficiency at which Giggs operated.
If we take into account the sheer amount of medals Giggs won in his career, he has had the greatest club career of any player who has played the professional game. However, what this and other such staggering statistics of this magnitude fail to encompass all that Giggs accomplished during his professional career. This was not a man who allowed the vicissitudes of time which should have wearied him during his thirties. Instead, like a true legend, he adapted his game so that he could survive whilst other lesser mortals moved to more lowly leagues or retired. Of Giggs’ many attributes which set him firmly amongst the greatest players to have played the game, it was his reliability and flexibility which enabled him to remain an essential part of Manchester United’s team for over two decades. Whether he was dancing around opposing defenders as — Sir Alex Ferguson opined: (“When Ryan runs at players he gives them twisted blood. They don’t want to be a defender anymore.”), scoring with a vicious rifled shot or patrolling the midfield magisterially, Giggs was a truly glorious player whose unbelievable talent and skill shall never be forgotten by all Manchester United fans and all those who were fortunate enough to share the same pitch:
“He was the one that set the benchmark for us. He was the one we looked up to and yet he was only a year or two older than us. We never reached his heights because he is one of the best players of all time. We were just lucky enough to become team-mates of his.” — David Beckham