Ryan Giggs is a Vintage Red
It was a straightforward substitution, but the reaction to the player being brought into the action said it all.
Ryan Giggs came on and a packed Bernabeu — the home of Real Madrid — rose to applaud him as one.
To get that sort of reaction at Old Trafford is special. But to be afforded it as he was a fortnight ago at another of the great cathedrals of football in another country was something else.
It brought home just how highly-regarded Giggs is for his amazing exploits in the game.
It is one thing managing for 1,000 games where age is not a barrier, as Alex Ferguson proves.
But on Saturday, against Norwich, Giggs, 39, is set to PLAY in his 1,000th match as a professional.
That will include 932 for Manchester United and games for Wales and Great Britain’s Olympic team.
Gary Pallister was on the pitch for United on March 2, 1991 when the incredible journey began as the unknown 17-year-old was introduced to Old Trafford as a second-half sub in a 2-0 defeat to Everton.
But Pallister had already been given a taster of what was to come from a slip of a lad then known as Ryan Wilson before a parental split led him to switch to Giggs, his mother’s maiden surname.
Pallister explained: “Paul Ince and I had not long been at the club. We were staying in a hotel and one night we went down to watch the youth team play.
“The gaffer was there and he said: ‘There’s a young lad playing tonight called Ryan Wilson. Just watch him — he’s going to be something special.’
“We looked and saw this skinny young lad with his shirt hanging off him.
“Suddenly he starts beating people and tearing down the wing.
“You could see straight away that he was going to be something special.
“He came on for his debut against Everton, a game we lost, but you could hardly judge him on that.
“It was not long before he took to the top flight, taking on big experienced defenders. He was just someone who was made to play football.”
There is every chance this will be Giggs’ final season and Pallister believes that when people look back he will be spoken about in the same breath as the all-time legends.
He said: “At his very best, he was every bit as good as George Best flying down that wing.
“In years to come he will be spoken about in the same breath as the likes of Best, Bobby Charlton and Eric Cantona.
“On his day there has been nothing to compare to him in the Premier League for his balance and pace with the ball.
“It was not a comfortable experience for any defender facing him — and I know, having done it many times in training.”
Giggs is no longer a rampaging winger but every bit as effective as a central midfielder now with his incredible range of passing.
Witness his incredible through ball for Robin van Persie’s equaliser against West Ham in last month’s FA Cup third-round tie.
Pallister said: “He has had to change his game recently, but I think he was still the best player for United in back-to-back games not so long ago.
“To reach 1,000 professional games and still to be doing it at this level is testament to the way he has looked after himself.
“To do it at the age of 39 and with one club is very special in this day and age.”
It tells you how long Giggs has been going when you realise he had his testimonial at Old Trafford 12 years ago!
An OBE, he has 33 medals to his name.
Newcastle and England legend Alan Shearer, who battled through 796 games for his clubs and country, marvels at Giggs.
Shearer said: “His hunger, desire, attitude and sheer will to win down the years have been unbelievable. You can’t play as many games as he has without that.
“He has had to change his game over the years but he is still effective, which is why Sir Alex continues to play him.
“I don’t think anyone else in the Premier League will ever match him for his achievements.”
Not surprisingly Giggs’ boss has been fulsome in his praise over two decades with a thousand quotes about the Welsh wizard.
Perhaps this one from Sir Alex sums up Giggs best.
Ferguson said: “He is one of the greatest individuals to wear the famous red shirt of Manchester United, but that has never stopped him from being totally unselfish and committed in pursuance of the team’s ambitions and priorities.”
Giggs still talks as if he is in the middle of his career, not nearing the end.
His desire for a 13th title is the same as for his first. but the truth is he is on the farewell leg of his tour.
It won’t seem the same without a man whose thrilling play has come to sum up all that is good not just about Manchester United but the Premier League.
As that warm Bernabeu welcome proved, his qualities are recognised far beyond these shores.
100 game milestones
1ST GAME (March 2, 1991 Man Utd 0 Everton 2 — First Division)
MADE his Manchester United debut as a 36th-minute substitute coming on for the injured Denis Irwin.
Everton bagged both goals in a five-minute first-half spell — Mike Newell (34 mins) and Dave Watson (39).
100TH GAME (August 7, 1993 Man Utd 1 Arsenal 1 (Utd won 5-4 on pens) — Charity Shield)
GIGGS sent Denis Irwin on an overlap and his cross was met by Eric Cantona, who found Mark Hughes and he volleyed home. Ian Wright levelled. United won 5-4 on penalties, David Seaman missed the key spot-kick.
200TH GAME (August 26, 1995 Man Utd 3 Wimbledon 1 — Prem)
THE Welsh ace went on as a 72nd-minute sub for Andy Cole and set up a second for Roy Keane — United’s third — to end Wimbledon’s hopes of a comeback.
Cole (United) and Robbie Earle (Wimbledon) also netted.
300TH GAME (October 22, 1997 Man Utd 2 Feyenoord 1 — CL)
GIGGS inspired United, putting a perfect ball through to Teddy Sheringham who was brought down by Patricio Graff. Denis Irwin converted the penalty to double the lead after Paul Scholes’ opener. Henk Vos netted a late consolation.
400TH GAME (May 14, 2000 Aston Villa 0 Man Utd 1 — Prem)
UNITED bagged their 11th successive victory in the league.
Teddy Sheringham scored the crucial goal arriving unnoticed into the box and side-footing a shot that kissed the inside of the left-hand post after Jordi Cruyff’s 65th-minute centre.
500TH GAME (October 19, 2002 Fulham 1 Man Utd 1 — Prem)
STEVE MARLET fired Fulham into a deserved first-half lead.
But United stepped up a gear after the break and, with Giggs pushed further forward, levelled when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer blasted the ball past Edwin van der Sar.
600TH GAME (September 20, 2004 Man Utd 2 Liverpool 1 — Prem)
MIKAEL SILVESTRE headed two goals — both set up by Giggs — as United put one over their rivals.
Silvestre ghosted in at the far post to nod home Giggs’ free-kick and his second header powered past Jerzy Dudek from the Welshman’s corner.
700TH GAME (March 3, 2007 Liverpool 0 Man Utd 1 — Prem)
UNITED rode their luck with John O’Shea’s injury-time winner after Paul Scholes was sent off for a clash with Xabi Alonso.
O’Shea pounced after Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina fumbled Cristiano Ronaldo’s free-kick.
800TH GAME (April 29, 2009 Man Utd 1 Arsenal 0 — CL, semi-final, 1st leg)
THE Welshman came on as a sub for Anderson after 66 minutes and had a goal ruled out for offside.
Defender John O’Shea’s early strike gave United victory in an absorbing encounter.
900TH GAME (February 26, 2012 Norwich 1 Man Utd 2 — Prem)
GIGGSY marked his 900th appearance with a dramatic late winner.
United took an early lead through Paul Scholes before Grant Holt levelled. But there was still time for Giggs to steal the points when he converted Ashley Young’s cross at the far post.
10 career highlights
SIZZLING START (May 4, 1991 Man Utd 1-0 Man City — First Division)
THE Welsh wizard marked his first ever start at senior level aged 17 with the only goal of the game — though some felt it appeared to be a Colin Hendry own goal — to help United put one over their city rivals.
CAP THAT (Oct 16, 1991 West Germany 4-1 Wales — Euro Championship qualifier)
WALES were thumped by the reigning World Cup holders.
But an otherwise forgettable defeat was marked by Giggs coming on as a sub — becoming the youngest at 17 years, 321 days to play for Wales.
PEER RECOGNITION (May, 1992— Named PFA Young Player of the Year)
HANDED the PFA Young Player of the Year gong — voted for by his fellow pros — following his breakthrough season.
And Giggs claimed another milestone as the next campaign saw him become the first player to retain the award.
WONDER GOAL (September 9, 1992 Tottenham 1 Man Utd 1 — Prem)
SERVED notice of his emerging talent by beating Spurs duo Dean Austin Jason Cundy, then rounding keeper Ian Walker at speed before slamming a shot home from an acute angle for a goal-of-the-season contender.
WELSH WIZARD (March 31, 1993 Wales 2 Belgium 0 — World Cup qualifier)
IN just his sixth appearance for his country, he hit a first international goal in an impressive victory.
Giggs’ left-foot free-kick curled over the Belgian wall and left keeper Michel Preud’homme stranded.
CUP CLASSIC (April 14, 1999 Man Utd 2 Arsenal 1 — FA Cup semi-final replay)
WITH 10 minutes of extra-time left and the score at 1-1, Giggs kept 10-man United’s treble dreams alive by beating Lee Dixon, Patrick Vieira, Martin Keown and Tony Adams before firing the winner past David Seaman.
EURO CHAMP (May 26, 1999 Man Utd 2 Bayern Munich 1 — CL final)
TEDDY SHERINGHAM turned in Giggs’ low shot in injury-time to haul United level — and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s dramatic late strike ensured the club claimed their first European Cup for 31 years.
TON-UP (December 8, 2007 Man Utd 4 Derby 1 — Prem)
GIGGS became only the 11th player to score 100 league goals for United after he followed up when Cristiano Ronaldo’s 40th-minute shot was parried.
It took him 519 appearances for the Red Devils to reach the milestone.
STARTER FOR 10 (May 11, 2008 Wigan 0 Man Utd 2 — Prem)
NETTED the crucial second goal on 80 minutes to effectively seal a vital victory at Wigan on the final day of the season.
The win ensured United finished two points clear of Chelsea and gave Giggs his 10th Prem winners’ medal.
BOBBY DAZZLER (May 21, 2008 Man Utd 1 Chelsea 1 (Utd won 6-5 on pens) — CL Final)
NOT only won a second Champions League winners’ medal at the age of 34 — scoring the vital sixth penalty in the shoot-out — but also made his 759th United appearance to break Bobby Charlton’s long-standing record.