When you think about all the great players to have pulled on the red shirt of Manchester United throughout the years there are several names which every football fan will always mention; Charlton, Best, Law, Cantona, Beckham, Ronaldo, Scholes and Giggs. Ryan Giggs is a rare breed of footballer in that he has been with the same club throughout his footballing career being initially signed up as a youngster in 1987. Having impressed in an Under 15 game ironically against United (scoring a hat trick) with Alex Ferguson watching on Giggs was offered a 2-year youth contract with the option of turning professional in is third year if he met the grade. Needless to say he met the grade!
In the November of 1990 Giggs signed his first professional contract with United and so his extraordinary story began, little could anyone have known the records and honors this 17-year-old would accomplish over the next 23 seasons. When Giggs started his professional career it was during the years when Liverpool were the dominant force in English football something which he would have a strong hand in over turning. Giggs made his Manchester United debut in 1991 coming on for the injured Dennis Irwin in a 2-0 defeat against Everton. It wasn’t until 2 months later when Giggs would make his full debut for United and it was a somewhat baptism of fire being against neighbors Manchester City. It was in this game where he bagged his first United goal, although replays suggest it may have been a Collin Hendry own goal, in a 1-0 United win.
Giggs fully broke into the United first team during the 1991-1992 season where he was competing with Lee Sharpe for the coveted Left Wing position which he would eventually make his own. He managed to win his first piece of silverware in the April of 1992 when United overcame Nottingham Forest in the League Cup final thanks to a Brian McLair goal and Giggs assist.
However it wasn’t until the following season and the inauguration of the Premier League that Giggs was a fully established first team regular, he had ousted Sharpe for the position and was, even at such a young age, an integral part of the team. This season saw United win their first top division title in 26 years something, which had been craved for so long and would become a common event over the next 20 years. United went from strength to strength with Giggs often been seen as the spearhead of their dominance in the league. Teaming up with the likes of Cantona, Ince and Hughes, United would go on to win the league and cup double the following season. The awards continued to flow as he was awarded, for the second year running, the PFA Young Player of the Year award something which would only be equaled by Robbie Fowler and Wayne Rooney.
As the league titles kept coming in and the goals kept on flowing a Champions League Winners Medal was the one thing which was missing from his repertoire. Having grabbed his first goals in European competition during the 1994 campaign against IFK Gothenburg it wouldn’t be until 2 years later that United began to find their feet in the competition. During the 1996-1997 season this team became the first United side in 28 years to reach the Champions League semi finals being eventually knocked out by Borussia Dortmund 2-0 on aggregate. The following season however is one that will forever go down in United history.
The 1998-1999 season was one which has many outstanding memories for Manchester United fans however there were for me, 2 moments in that season which without Ryan Giggs could have seen united walk away with only the Premier league title to their names. The first was the FA Cup Semi-Final Replay at Villa Park in April 1999. United and Arsenal locked horns for the second time in 3 days with the scores being 1-1 and penalties looming large. Peter Schmeichel had pulled of a last minute penalty save against Dennis Bergkamp and United are down to 10 men after seeing captain Roy Keane dismissed for a second bookable offence. The advantage is Arsenals, or so it would seem. Having intercepted the ball inside his own half after a misplaced pass from Patrick Vieira, Giggs sets off. He effortlessly glides past Vieira and then Lee Dixon. As he approaches the penalty area two Arsenal defenders have seemingly cut off his path to goal. With one quick shimmy Giggs is passed Keown and Adams and rifles the ball high into the roof of the net over the flailing David Seaman to secure victory for United and a ticket to Wembley.
The second comes in the dying seconds of the Champions League Final against Bayern Munich. United win a corner as the clock all too quickly ticks into stoppage time and Clive Tyldesley utters the immortal words “Can Manchester United score? They always score”. Beckham swings in the corner which is scrambled clear to Giggs on the edge of the Bayern penalty area who swings his not so famous right boot at it and sends it towards the ever reliable Teddy Sheringham who (I’d like to say slots here but we all know that would be completely wrong to do!) scuffs the ball perfectly into the corner for 1-1; “Name on the Trophy”. United were back in the game and the rest as they say is history.
Since that night in Barcelona, Giggs has continued to shine for United picking up another seven Premier League winners medals making him the most decorated footballer in English history along with another Champions League medal nearly 10 years on from his first. Coming on as an 87th minute substitute in Moscow, Giggs broke Bobby Charlton’s appearance record and would go on to have another big part to play in helping United become Kings of Europe once again. With the penalty shoot-out being delicately poised at 5-5, the master of calm took the stage and coolly slotted home his penalty to make it 6-5. Edwin van der Sar saved Anelka’s next spot kick and glory again was ours.
A true legend of the English game Ryan Giggs holds the records for the most Premier League Appearances (611), Most Appearances for One Club (611), Most Premier League Medals (12), Most Premier League Seasons scored in (21) and Most Premier League assists (127). In a time where loyalty to one club is so rare it seems unlikely that we will ever see a player again play with the same club for the same amount of time as Ryan Giggs has. There are so many highlights of this illustrious career that I could write about and this article is just the tip of the iceberg however the stats speak for themselves. Held in the highest regard by all United fans, Ryan Giggs really is at the heart of this great club and long may he continue to be.
By Dave Garghan