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Idols: Ryan Giggs; The Welsh Wing Wizard

I don’t remember the first time I saw him play, I don’t even remember when I decided he was one of my favourite ever players; it seems my subconscious decided long before I realised it myself.

“Who’s your favourite player?” It was an answer that often changed with my mood. If I was feeling boisterous and arrogant, it was Eric Cantona (I idolised his kung-fu kick); if I was feeling quiet and reflective it was Paul Scholes; sometimes on the odd occasion, it was David Beckham but then…then another name started jumping into my head whenever the question was asked.

Ryan. Joseph. Giggs. This was the guy I wanted to be, and it all started with a left foot. Ryan Giggs was left footed, so was I. Ryan Giggs played on the left, which is where I invariably ended up due to my one-footedness. He didn’t score all the time but he was always instrumental in build ups, getting the assists or assisting the assist, he went about his work diligently and, even though Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole or whoever else might get the spotlight he was always working. I was below average at best but, if I couldn’t score spectacular goals I could run down the wing and help set them up!

And then came that goal. In that season. Against that team. In my eyes, no one had done what Ryan Giggs did on the 14th April 1999. Looking back, it was so simple. There weren’t any silky tricks or flicks, not nutmegs or Cruyff turns; just a drive forward and some nimble feet and a forceful finish but, at the time, it was better than anything Eric Cantona, Pele or Diego Maradona had ever produced and his place on the pedestal was cemented.

There were other occasions, other goals. Juventus in 2003 was a replica of his Arsenal goal (of sorts), the joint free kick with David Beckham against Aston Villa (so very nearly scored!), but then it became about his longevity. Ryan Giggs scored in every Premier League season he played in bar one. When I became aware of that stat, every season just became a fresh chance to worry about whether he would continue to do it. In the 2008/09 season, he didn’t score until February (vs West Ham United), that was a worrisome one. The final season’s goalless tally was assuaged only by the fact that no other player would again score consecutively in the first 20 seasons of the Premier League (or for 20 seasons consecutively for that matter).

But the longevity wasn’t only about the goals, it was about the reinvention. The left winger became a left-sided midfielder and then a central midfielder and he continued to make 30 to 40 appearances a season despite being at an age where most footballers would wind down. The man’s dedication to his craft was impressive and only added to his legendary status.

It’s maybe a bit of a shame that he didn’t call time on his Manchester United career at the same time as Sir Alex Ferguson, instead calling time after the shambles that was United’s season under David Moyes, but it was just a tiny blip on the huge landscape that was Ryan Giggs’ career, and what a career it was.

Written by Marvyn Wilson

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