The Giggs Story: 2003-2007
Manchester United had plenty to prove following the emergence of Arsenal's 'Invincibles' and Jose Mourinho's Chelsea in the early years of the new millennium but Ryan Giggs and his team-mates kept competing for more honours and, ultimately, rose to the challenge.
The 2003/04 season started with a bang for Giggs, who netted twice in a 4-0 opening-day thumping of Bolton Wanderers. Another brace, at Liverpool in November, was even sweeter but a campaign that began so brightly ended with the Reds having to settle for third place behind unbeaten champions Arsenal and runners-up Chelsea. The last of the winger's seven league strikes came in February but there was a successful end to the term with an FA Cup final victory over Millwall in Cardiff - to date, the last time the Reds lifted the trophy. Giggs played the full 90 minutes at his hometown's Millennium Stadium as a comfortable 3-0 victory ensured a fourth winners' medal in the competition for the Welshman. Giggs 2003/04: 43(4) games, 8 goals.
A rare trophyless term followed in 2004/05 despite near misses in both domestic cups. Giggs got off the mark in November with the opening goal against Charlton Athletic and enjoyed a run of scoring in three consecutive fixtures over a fruitful festive period. Another effort helped United win 4-2 at Arsenal in a genuine Premier League classic at Highbury but Sir Alex Ferguson's men again had to settle for third spot behind Chelsea, who took the title, and the Gunners. A fine Giggs goal proved insufficient against Chelsea in the semi-finals of the League Cup as injury problems continued to dog the winger. The hamstring worries became so bad for the Reds legend that he was even forced to don black tights for certain games! Although he was fit for the FA Cup final against Arsenal, he was left on the bench for tactical reasons by the manager, with Wayne Rooney preferred out wide. Despite coming on for extra time in the 0-0 stalemate, he did not take a penalty as the Londoners won the shoot-out. Giggs 2004/05: 36(8) games, 9 goals.
The seeds of recovery were sown with a League Cup triumph in 2005/06 as Wigan Athletic were crushed 4-0 in the final. This time, Giggs played the full 90 minutes in more of a central midfield role and the disappointment of failing to qualify for Europe's knockout stages was largely forgotten. Ryan hit the opening goal in United's Champions League group but it proved to be one of only three netted in the six games as the Reds finished bottom below Villarreal, Benfica and Lille. In the Premier League, Jose Mourinho's Chelsea were convincing champions by an eight-point margin but United's second place was at least a sign of more progress domestically. The Old Trafford legend was inducted into English football's Hall of Fame but was regaining a taste for even more silverware on a team level. Giggs 2005/06: 30(7) games, 4 goals.
History was made in 2006/07 when Giggs won a record ninth title medal as United returned to the Premier League summit in style. A semi-final place in the Champions League signalled a much-improved performance in Europe as well as Sir Alex's team started to gel with Cristiano Ronaldo taking centre stage. Goals in consecutive games against Watford and Tottenham early in the campaign continued to prove the veteran's importance to the cause and he was evolving into a classy midfield creator by now, rather than the marauding winger of old.
There was controversy when his quickly-taken free-kick provided a late winner at Lille, with the French side even threatening to leave the field in protest! Although AC Milan ended the European dreams, topping the table by six points was a grand achievement and proved Mourinho's big-spending Chelsea could be overhauled. United were back on top and yet more glory was to follow. Giggs 2006/07: 39(5) games, 6 goals.
Source: By Tim Oscroft, ManUtd.com