Giggs: The story continues
So, the day has finally come. Not quite the climax to the never-ending story, but certainly the end of an utterly riveting chapter.
Ryan Giggs’ retirement ends a professional playing career of 963 appearances, 168 goals and 34 honours for Manchester United. In the 8,840 days since his debut, Giggs has outlived Ceefax, survived the Millennium Bug and played through seven Bond movies.
He has achieved freakish levels of longevity and success in isolation, but the blend of the two simply will not be equalled. Behind United and Liverpool in the all-time haul of English league titles, Giggs is tied third with Arsenal. After claiming Sir Bobby Charlton’s all-time club appearances record in Moscow, he embellished it by another 215 outings, and records have tumbled with every renewal of a one-year contract first set rolling in 2007.
Giggs’ place in club history was established by the time of his testimonial 13 years ago, and the ensuing time has been a monument to the rewards of incessant self-betterment. There have been more naturally gifted players, but talent was only one of the winger’s invaluable attributes. After a poor performance against CFR Cluj midway through the 2012/13 campaign, he eschewed butter from his toast and began going to bed an hour earlier. His next Champions League start brought the Man of the Match award against Real Madrid, on his 1,000th career outing.
Such sacrifice and savvy have characterised the second section of a career bisected by a 2001 training session before a tie at Bayern Munich. On-song and relishing the game ahead, Giggs suffered a recurrence of the regular hamstring injuries which punctuated his career from its very start. That night in Munich sparked within the winger a change in approach not only to football, but to life.
New car, new bed, new diet, new fitness regime. He adopted an entirely open mind to anything that might improve his game, be it acupuncture, trampolining or, most famously, yoga. No stone has been left unturned in the last 13 years in the search for that extra fraction of a per cent.
The shrewd modern midfielder was one of his many iterations. Most recently the suited player-manager, he was previously the street-wise winger who would rely on his balance to manufacture space away from an opponent, giving hours of crossing practice a chance to shine. But while the functionality of this millennium’s Giggs succeeded for the greater good, his lasting legacy for many people will come from his early years, of the blood-twisting winger who evolved into the rug-chested hero among heroes in 1999’s Treble.
While it was apparent from glimpses of Giggs in his early teens that his was a special talent, none could have soothsaid then just how distinct it would become. Armed with sprinter’s pace, scrum-half’s balance and a boxer’s capacity for pain, the spindly 17-year-old who trotted into the fray against Everton back in 1991 was armed with pure football joy. Cocksure and able, he played unfettered and unfazed against every opponent. Had the internet and YouTube pervaded society at the time of his emergence, he’d have been football’s One Direction.
"Cocksure and able, he played unfettered and unfazed against every opponent. Had the internet and YouTube pervaded society at the time of his emergence, he’d have been football’s One Direction."
- Steve Bartram, ManUtd.com
On the night Giggs won his first senior trophy, the 1991 UEFA Super Cup, visiting reserve Marino Pusic watched from the bench. “We were watching the game when this kid came down from the United dugout and got ready to come on,” he recalled. “We were all laughing at his skinny legs, then he went on the pitch and got the ball. We stopped laughing.”
Few opponents found Giggs funny in those early years. The minority that could match him for pace needed nerves of steel to handle his speedy skulduggery. There is not a football fan alive, regardless of allegiance, who could deny the brilliance of his 1992 goal at Tottenham Hotspur. Pouncing on Dean Austin’s untimely slip, 35 yards from goal, the 18-year-old required just four touches and five seconds to evade three opponents and thrash home a goal of utter genius. From an unforgiving angle. At full pelt.
The memories with which Giggs the player leaves us are bountiful. Spectacular goals, occasionally questionable celebrations and an endless montage of trophy-lifts. But his United career has long since transcended such incidentals. Schooled the United way for his entire working life, he has become an emblem of the club, which is why it is a shrewd move from incoming manager Louis van Gaal to retain the Welshman’s services as his assistant. At the Dutchman’s right hand is his new club made flesh, and the no.11 turned no.2 will be an invaluable sounding board as van Gaal settles into life at Old Trafford.
It is, of course, a mutually beneficial arrangement. Given a season as player-coach and a four-match taster of life as interim manager, the 40-year-old’s career on the other side of the touchline is already well underway. Now, he will spend the duration of van Gaal’s term in office soaking up information from a manager saturated with knowhow and charisma. While it is a sad day in Manchester United’s history to turn the page on Ryan Giggs’ playing days, this is not a shock plot twist, and the tale is far from finished.