A celebration of Ryan Giggs
This week we celebrate the birthday of the greatest player in Manchester United's history - Ryan Giggs.
Giggs turns 38 on November 29 and there is no question that the Welshman will be remembered as a player who stands second to no one at Old Trafford when he finally decides to hang up his boots. If you've followed United from the time that Giggs made his first team debut in March 1991 then you will agree with the previous statement; if you started supporting United from the mid-90s you'll have a very strong idea of how good Giggs was; and if you've only watched him over the last 10 years then here's your chance to understand why you too should regard him as United's best ever player.
Forget about what you may have read in the tabloids about his personal life - we're here to talk about football and the sport has been fortunate to have been graced by Giggs.
A Football God
Former Manchester United manager Ron Atkinson once proclaimed that the existence of Ryan Giggs made you believe there was indeed a football god. High praise indeed but Giggs is a player who does not need others to vouch for his abilities. His achievements stand alone. Ryan Giggs has made more appearances and won more honours than any other United player in the club's illustrious history.
However, it might never have been.
United's most decorated player could've end up being a Manchester City legend instead. The Cardiff-born Giggs spent two years at City's School of Excellence in his early teens and the club mistakenly assumed the player would sign a professional contract with them when he was ready.
"I was a United fan," Giggs recalled in the documentary ‘It's a wonderful run from Giggs'.
"I remember turning up [to training at Manchester City] one day in a red top and I was told to take it off".
Eventually, Man United did hear about the boy Giggs and by November 1990 he had signed his professional papers with the Reds. He made his league debut in the old Division One against Everton at Old Trafford on 2 March 1991 as a substitute for Denis Irwin. In his first league start in the 1991/92 season, he was credited with his first ever United goal - despite a huge deflection off Colin Hendry - in a 1-0 win over Manchester City.
Giggs' first senior trophy would arrive soon after. In November 1991, United beat Red Star Belgrade in the European Super Cup final with Giggs coming on as a 71st minute substitute for Lee Martin. This marked the start of a trophy-laden career which hasn't wrapped up yet, although it's fairly obvious we won't be seeing Giggs flying past opponents like he did in the 90s.
His contribution to United's treble winning 1998/99 season won him plaudits from all over Europe. It was also in that season where he scored a wonder goal against Arsenal in an FA Cup semi-final replay at Villa Park. It remains one of the greatest goals ever scored in England.
The sight of Giggs in his prime doing what he did to perhaps the strongest backline - albeit an older version of it - the Premiership era has ever seen is something which makes grown men tear up even today.
With United down to 10 men in extra-time after Roy Keane's red card, Giggs took it on himself to win the game. From the halfway line he picked up a tired looking pass from Arsenal's Patrick Vieira and headed straight towards goal. Giggs slalomed past Lee Dixon and Martin Keown before smashing an unstoppable shot over David Seaman into the roof of the net.
"That's Giggsy, he does it in training all the time," former team-mate Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said.
A leader without the armband
Ryan Giggs is an all-around player. He scores goals; he creates chances. Whether your name is Hughes or Cantona, Cole or Yorke, Van Nistelrooy or Rooney; Giggs has laid on a pass for you to look good in the newspapers the next day. Different generations of great strikers all knew the same thing: If they made a good run, Giggs would find them with a pass.
"Giggs is a great player. I still vividly remember the games I played against him. My shock after watching Giggs play for the first time was very similar to the shock after seeing Luiz Ronaldo. If he was French, Pires or myself would have been on the bench. Man with the most trophies in Europe would have been him," Zinedine Zidane on Giggs.
It is his football brain which has made him so good. When he burst onto the scene as a 17-year-old he was fast and fearless. He went at seasoned full-backs and made them look ordinary, reputations meant nothing to him. However, pace goes with age and he had to reinvent himself to stay relevant in a United team which could've easily lined up the finances to buy his replacement.
His game used to be based on the first five yards - when you can leave a defender for dead through sheer speed - but now he's deployed in a more central position which is the perfect position to unlock an opponent's defence with quality passes. He's enjoyed success in this position too - most notably his starring role in knocking Chelsea out of the UEFA Champions League at the quarter-finals stage last season.
It was Giggs who also laid the perfect pass for Michael Owen to score that dramatic Manchester derby winner in injury-time some seasons ago as well.
Over his career, Giggs has been captained by some heavy-weights in the game, including Bryan Robson and Roy Keane. While Giggs may not quite exude the same dressing room influence as those two United icons, he is more than capable of leading by example on the pitch.
When he surpassed Sir Bobby Charlton's previous record of 758 matches, it was by helping the Red Devils secure a third European Cup triumph - the second of his career - in Moscow on 21 May, 2008. His contribution was vital - he struck what turned out to be the decisive penalty against Chelsea in the final.
"I felt sure we were going to win and I couldn't have hand-picked a more fitting player than Giggsy to score the decisive penalty on the night he made his 759th appearance for the club and surpassed Bobby Charlton's record," Gary Neville revealed in his auto-biography in 2011.
"Like the 1999 final taking place on Sir Matt Busby's birthday, the wonderful thing about United is that you are always surrounded by the incredible history. Later that night we presented Giggsy a watch to mark his appearance record.
"Part of me wondered whether he should walk away from football there and then. How could you beat the perfection of an occasion like that? He'd become United's most decorated player, the club's greatest s servant, and taken the winning kick in a European Cup final. How could you possibly top that?
"But the reason why he is a legend is that he never thinks of quitting. He was still in love with the game.
"It's been an incredible career, a one-off in English football. Everyone the world over rightly hails Paolo Maldini for his class and his incredible longevity. Well, Giggsy, is our Maldini."
Recognising the legend
Manchester United's Ryan Giggs was recently announced as the sixth best player in Champions League history, according to the tournament's official magazine.
The Welshman is the top Brit in the list of 50 that sees Liverpool's Steven Gerrard in tenth, with former United players Paul Scholes and David Beckham also featuring in the top 20.
Topping the pile is Zinedine Zidane, whose volley for Real Madrid in the 2002 final will be remembered as one of the competition's greatest ever goals.
Lionel Messi, two-time winner with Barcelona, follows in second place with Paolo Maldini, Xavi and Raul, the Champions League's record goal scorer with 71, rounding up the top five.
Further down the order, Wayne Rooney (27) and Roy Keane (39) also appear for United with Chelsea's Frank Lampard featuring at 48.
There are currently two statues outside the Theatre of Dreams.
One is to legendary manager Sir Matt Busby and the other pays homage to three of United's greatest stars - Charlton, George Best and Denis Law.
The next one should be Giggs.
Other facts about Giggs
- At the age of 37 he scored his first penalty in the Premier League during a pivotal title run-in at White Hart Lane against Tottenham in April 2010. He would score another penalty later in the game as United won 3-1 at Spurs.
- Giggs capped the 2007/08 season, his 18th in United's first team, by scoring the Reds' second goal in the final day league win at Wigan and slotting home what proved to be the decisive penalty.
- Giggs is the UEFA Champions League's oldest goal scorer and has scored in more seasons than any other player.