On 2nd March 1991, Manchester United full back Denis Irwin was injured in a game against Everton at Goodison Park. As he left the pitch, he was replaced by an unknown seventeen year-old making his debut for the club. The game didn’t end well for United, as they lost 2-0. Although they were surely unaware of it at the time however, the assembled crowd had just witnessed the first act in the long-running career – twenty-two years to date, and still counting – of the legend that is Ryan Giggs. Fast-forward to 2013, and now in his fortieth year, the Welshman plays a full ninety minutes against Aston Villa in the game that secured this season’s title for United. An effective presence throughout the game, he also adeptly chose to set up Robin van Persie for his hat-trick goal, in a situation when many others would surely have looked for a bit of glory for themselves. Glory, however, is a tag that could be neatly attached to the career of Ryan Giggs.
From that beginning in pre-Premier League days, Giggs progressed to first team regular status in the 1991-92 season, although still with time to captain the Youth Team to Youth Cup success. There were to be many more medals to follow. That season saw United finish as runners-up to Leeds United as the West Yorkshire club pipped the Old Trafford team at the post. The following year however saw the advent of the Premier League, and as Sir Alex Ferguson’s battle plans settled into a monotonous regularity of triumph, Giggs was a consistent component of the team.
The roll of honour for the Welshman reads like some kind of fantasy-fuelled schoolboy’s dream. Thirteen league titles – meaning that only Liverpool and United themselves have more titles than Giggs in the history of football, two Champions’ League successes, four FA Cups triumphs, the same in the League Cup, eight Charity Shield triumphs, plus assorted super cups and world club titles, make up a tidy little pile of silverware. These of course are team successes, won of course with the all-conquering Manchester United team alongside him. It’s when you look at the individual distinctions however, that a real perspective is gained. So, take a breath and let’s have a look at some of them.
Giggs has the most Premier League appearances of any player, turning out over 600 times in the competition for a team that has dominated English football for almost two decades, and remains the only player to have scored in every Premier League campaign since its inception. He has started almost 800 games for United and netted well in excess of a century of goals. With a new contract in his pocket for next season, even though the second half of it will see him in his forty-first year, there won’t be many betting against him extending that run. In Europe, he is not only the sole player to have scored in sixteen different Champions’ League campaigns, and scored more goals in that competition than any other British player, when he was 37 years and 289 days old, he netted against Benfica, to make him the oldest player to score in the competition. Selected for countless teams of the year, decade, etc, he also has numerous player of the year awards. On top of that, he even won BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2009. Oh yes, and he has an OBE.
It’s probably true to say that we may not see the likes of Ryan Giggs again. Of course there’ll be players with better ability – although ‘old snake-hips’ isn’t too shabby at all - but to play so well, for so long, is something that just tends not to happen. Sated with glory and money, the best players in the world, usually burn bright, but burn short, and then with injury or wear and tear, shuffle off to enjoy their gains – and no criticism for that. Giggs however, doubtless with the prompting of Ferguson has managed to maintain not only his fitness, but just as importantly his hunger for the game and success. This is a mightily rare trait amongst the world’s elite for such a period of years. Anybody want to lay brass out that Messi or Ronaldo will still be turning out for Barca or Madrid at forty years old? No, didn’t think so, and that is why Ryan Giggs is United’s man for all seasons.