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Red Icons: Ryan Giggs – Manchester United’s Welsh winger

Ryan Giggs to many Manchester United fans is football royalty, and is undoubtedly, a legend of the game. The Welshman is the most decorated British footballer of all-time, winning 34 honours in his glittering career. The statistic I find most remarkable is his 13 Premier League titles. To me, that just signals the longevity and consistency Giggs had throughout his career.

After playing for Manchester United 672 times, his career started back in 1991, when he made his league debut for United, coming on as a substitute against Everton. Giggs fluctuated between first-team appearances and youth team appearances around the early 90’s. However, Giggs is associated more with the ‘Class of ’92’ and captained the youth side which included the Neville brothers, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes, to the 1992 FA Youth Cup.

Modern-day George Best?

Throughout his career, Giggs was often compared to United legend George Best, mainly due to his play style and due to his looks. Like Best, Giggs is considered to have transformed what it meant to be a footballer off the pitch and has been credited as defining the era where the boundaries between footballers and pop stars started to blur. George Best himself admired Giggs as a footballer, stating in 1992, that “One day they might even say that I was another Ryan Giggs”.

I believe many United fans would hold Ryan Giggs in the same folklore as George Best, which is one of the highest compliments I could pay the Welshman. Many of the Old Trafford faithful know what a talented player Best was, and he is considered one of the all-time greats.

Party like it’s 1999

As previously mentioned, Giggs captained the 1992 FA Youth Cup winning side and nowadays he is associated with that ‘Class of ’92’ brand. Their finest hour, was, of course, the treble-winning season in 1999, and as a Manchester United fan, the story of the Class of ’92 in particular sums up what the club is all about; young players who grew up together breaking into the first team and winning trophies. Part of that tradition is still present today amongst the United squad with the likes of Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard playing for the first-team, and even Paul Pogba who technically qualifies as a home-grown player, but sadly with the way football is nowadays, I believe a story similar to the Class of ’92 would be very difficult to achieve. Football is too dependent on instant success and the short-term demand to win, rather than nurture young players into the first-team as part of a long-term project.

Nevertheless, that 1999 treble winning season was where the Class of ’92 really established themselves as top-class players. Giggs, along with Gary Neville and Paul Scholes, was also apart of Sir Alex Ferguson’s second European triumph in 2008.

History in the making

During the 1998-99 season, Giggs scored one of the greatest goals in not just FA Cup history but in Manchester United’s history, and personally one of my favourite United goals.

United were deadlocked in an FA Cup semi-final replay with Arsenal at Villa Park, desperate to keep the dream of a treble alive. David Beckham had given United the lead before Dennis Bergkamp equalised in the 69th minute. The match wasn’t short of drama; Peter Schmeichel saved a penalty and Roy Keane got himself sent off. United were down to 10 men and the match went to extra-time. Enter Ryan Giggs.

Giggs picked up a misplaced pass from Patrick Viera on the halfway line and started to glide past the Arsenal defence which included Martin Keown and Lee Dixon. Gliding and weaving along the turf, the Arsenal players couldn’t get near him, and before he knew it Giggs had beat 4 players before rifling the ball into the roof of the net past David Seaman, one of the best goalkeepers in the country at the time. Seaman remembers the goal, even now;

“Every time somebody mentions Ryan Giggs, I always remember his hairy chest, even though he was running away from me! I just remember the pace that he hit the ball at. He hit it that hard that by the time I was able to get my hands up above my head, the ball was already in. I hardly had time to move before it was beyond me.

“It’s weird because when we were in that game, I couldn’t recall the build-up with Patrick giving the ball away and him beating all those players. At the time all I could remember was him getting nearer the goal then smashing it over my head with really frightening pace.”

As soon as the ball went in, the United fans erupted, some even spilled onto the pitch to celebrate with a shirtless Giggs to create a truly iconic moment in Manchester United and FA Cup history.

Longevity is key

A key component of Giggs’ successful career was that he was never injured, or it hardly seemed like he was. During the latter stages of his Manchester United career, Giggs adapted, and reinvented  himself as a player. He found decent success playing as a central midfielder as he got older because he had the footballing brain required to do so at the top level. There’s a reason he retired at Manchester United and didn’t slip down the leagues. Giggs eventually retired on 19th May 2014 after joining the club at 14. Giggs would become Louis van Gaal’s assistant manager for two seasons and would eventually leave the club entirely in July 2016 after being at the club for 29 years. A United without Giggs seemed implausible at the time, and even now it still seems surreal.

Post-playing career and future plans

Since hanging up his boots, the Welshman has always stated his desire to be a manager. He was United’s interim manager for a short while after David Moyes’ sacking in 2014. I would love to see Giggs as United’s gaffer permanently one day, but he needs to prove himself somewhere first.

Giggs along with the rest of the of Class of 92 (minus David Beckham), have gone into ownership, and in 2014 purchased non-league club Salford City with the ambition to take the club into the football league. I think it will prove to be a sound investment and is a testament to Giggs and co. as you rarely see footballer reinvest back into the game these days. Plus the BBC documentaries were brilliant!

Currently, the former United man does some punditry now and again, and was most recently was in the ITV studio for England’s World Cup qualifiers, ironically sat opposite Lee Dixon.

Ryan Giggs was one of my favourite players growing up, and to see him in United’s dugout once again would be fantastic. I believe he is one of the true modern legends of football. I’m sure many would agree with me. As the Stretford End love to sing…

Giggs, Giggs will tear you apart again!

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