Picture this: The ball bounces awkwardly in midfield; a young tousle-headed Welshman playing in midfield for Manchester United immediately zips in ahead of Tottenham Hotspur defenders, touching the ball and leaving them dazed but with some way to run up and nip the ball ahead of Ian Walker, the Spurs goalie.
A searing turn of pace ensures he gets to the ball first but in the process he takes the ball wide and creates an acute angle. Does he control and look to pass or cross for an onrushing teammate? Neither. The young man simply shoots from the seemingly impossible angle and the ball is bang in the back of the net.
Ladies and gentleman welcome to the world of the legend known as Ryan Joseph Giggs. Born exactly 40 years ago yesterday, the story of Ryan Giggs is as fascinating and as compelling as the trajectory of his career. No single player has had as long and yet successful career to match that of Giggsy.
Probably only AC Milan great Paolo Maldini may present a considerable case, yet Giggsy’ longevity as a forward defies all manner of logic. The Welshman has consistently defied time and age to perform to distinction. Only a couple of days ago in the UEFA Champions League, his nonchalantly lofted pass set up Nani for the final goal in a 5 nil rout of German club Bayer Leverkusen.
Yet that goal against Spurs in the 1992/93 season (which is the first in a compilation of 50 of the greatest ever Premiership goals) is ever so vivid in my eyes. The balance and speed with which he outstrips the Spurs defenders Jason Cundy and Dean Austin defined the sort of spectacular goals he was and still is capable of.
Though the pace has slowed noticeably the incisiveness of his quick footballing brain has not diminished as the assist for Nani on Wednesday night showed. Whilst plenty of mention has been made of United’s rout of Leverkusen, only a few remember United’s last truly comprehensive away win in the competition.
That came against Juventus in the group stages of the UCL when United triumphed 3-0 in the Stadio Delle Alpi. United and Giggsy’ second was once again an epitome of his speed, balance and trickery on the ball. He cut in from the left flank, leaving a trail of defenders in his wake and placed the ball in the left corner to leave the Italians shell-shocked in their backyard.
Yet the goals are just but a constant of a truly amazing career that is the stuff of legends. As a schoolboy who was developing a keen interest in a club called Manchester United, I was informed by a friend that there was a young man creating waves in the Red Devils youth set-up and destined for the very top.
By then, television coverage of the English league was restricted to one weekly review program, so we relied on the local newspapers’ coverage of the English League. Upon asking him what the name of this young player was, he simply replied, “Giggs, I don’t know his first name but he is called Giggs.” The legend was now known.
This was in 1991 and I knew the history of the club by despite still being a teenager; the Busby Babes; the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Best, Law and Charlton and the Norman Whiteside inspired side of 1985 that lifted the FA Cup. Even the growing title drought. By the time that Giggs launched his career with that spectacular strike against Spurs, the advent of satellite television in Africa had arrived and soon after, came the title in 1993.
One thing that is so poignant about the Welshman was his ability to get on with Sir Alex Ferguson during his entire 26-year tenure. Many a star player came and left, often leaving in acrimonious circumstances but Giggsy has gone on and on.
Legend has it that Fergie actually knocked on the door of Giggs’ mother to make known his intentions of luring the (then) 14 year old and if this true, surely a father and son relationship must have been cultivated.
Whilst he was known to have done some hair-raising misdemeanours alongside David Beckham during the Spice Girls era, Ryan seemed able to make up and remain on Fergie’s good side right up to the Scot’s departure.
Small wonder then that Ryan has publicly acknowledged Sir Alex’s influence on his career and theirs has been a mutual respect. It is also no coincidence then that he has been the one player to have won virtually every single trophy that Fergie picked up, apart from the 1990 FA Cup and the old Cup Winners Cup the following season.
When allegations against his private life appeared in the British press, Fergie was ever-protective and his footballing son’s consummate professionalism has shown through it all. As the trophies continue to accumulate, so have the spectacular goals.
Giggsy’s collection has them all; the headed goal against Barcelona in the 1998-99 Champions league thriller; the delicate sideways volley against Chelsea in the League Cup; the free kicks; and what of the Juventus sizzler from a sharp angle in another fine UCL performance in 1997, a stage where he has often reserved his best for the occasion.
United won 3-2 on the night, a game many feel gave United the belief of being able to beat Europe’s finest. And what of his splendid display during the Treble season against Inter Milan where Italian full back Morreno Torricelli chased shadows during that Old Trafford first leg?
He never seems to dwell on the past glories but is, as ever, focused on the next assignment. After being asked once of his trophy haul, he simply mentioned that he would have enough time after his career to admire and polish all the medals he has accumulated.
For now he could only focus on the next possible silverware. Italian magnate and owner of Inter Milan Massimo Moratti chased and chased after Giggsy’ signature for several seasons, but to no avail. For Moratti, the failure to lure Giggs to Europe’s fashion capital must have been akin to owning an expensive suit but never getting the chance to wear it at all.
His 35 major honours are a player’s dream. His longevity is unsurpassed. Maldini retired aged 41 having picked 26 major trophies which include an incredible five Champions League titles and seven Scudetti.
Yet Giggs’ 13 Premiership titles may never be equaled in Europe’s top tier and despite a return of only two UCL titles, his overall trophy haul whilst playing in an advanced position defies belief from even the modern sports scientists.
To perhaps (reluctantly) conclude this piece it is worth posing the question; Which three key moments define United’s 1998-99 Treble season. I will state them in their order of timing, exhilaration and sheer brilliance:
i) Peter Schmeichel’s penalty save from Dennis Bergkamp (FA Cup semi-final replay)
ii) Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s injury time winner in the UCL final, and;
iii) Ryan Giggs’ stunning solo goal against Arsenal to win the FA Cup semi-final replay.
THAT GOAL will forever remain etched in the memory. It is when everything comes together for a footballer and consequently, the team and its fans. It simply is the greatest goal ever scored in British football history.
And if the arguments state otherwise, then Ryan Joseph Giggs is undisputably the greatest British footballer ever and certainly the most successful European player – bar none.
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