It was the pinnacle of a unique career. So many Manchester United fans, upon seeing even a brief mention of the FA Cup, can roll off the commentary. “Weary pass from Viera. Giggs…gets past Viera, past Dixon, who comes back at him…It’s a wonderful run from GIGGS…SENSATIONAL GOAL FROM RYAN GIGGS…in the second period of extra time…he’s cut Arsenal to ribbons…and the team with 10 men go back in front 2-1!”
I wasn’t there, I wasn’t even alive. But the hairs still stand up, my heart still races. Then, in Giggs’ final Manchester United game, this time as assistant manager, I was there. A puppy-like Louis van Gaal bounded over to Ryan Giggs as the bearded, the wiser Welsh Wizard celebrated Mancunian Red Jesse Lingard rocketing a volley past Wayne Hennessey in the second half of extra time. It was special.
Giggs and United, of course, fit together so perfectly. But Giggs and those special moments, the ones that are particular happy moments during a down period in trophies at United in the past three seasons, are so common. That “sensational goal from Ryan Giggs” is one of the lasting moments in Manchester United history. He, more prevailingly, is one of the greatest Manchester United figures of all time. 29 years as the cliché-provider: from “certain to make it” to “dazzling winger” before the “one-club footballer” and “truly talented” or a “special player”.
29 years made up of over one thousand appearances in all competitions. One thousand. 13 Premier League titles during those years as well as a genuinely stunning collection of two European Cups, four FA Cups, four League Cups, nine Community Shields, one Intercontinental Cup, one FIFA Club World Cup and one UEFA Super Cup. Add to that his individual honours and my word count would be complete without anything additional.
Yet there is so much more to say, so much more to be thankful for.
As humans, we are naturally conservative. As such, constancy is sought after and adored. Giggs was the constancy of my lifetime. Football provides such great constancy, and that is why I think its popularity stretches so far and so wide. Outside of football, of course, so much changed over 29 years while in football, Manchester United have seen players, even managers and coaches, come and go, England have tried and failed. Giggs has been there. I feel an enormous sense of pride, oddly, when I find a photograph of Giggs in a 90s Adidas shirt or in a 90s Reebok advert as well as in our Vodafone-sponsored early-2000s kit and even his final season, in Nike. It’s not quite explainable, but I love it. People love constants in life. Mine is Ryan Giggs and I love him for that.
He isn’t the same as Sir Bobby Charlton, the greatest ever Manchester United player, but he’s the only man to come close to representing what our club is about like Sir Bobby. It is certainly not representative of his management style but I was lucky enough to be at Giggs’ first game as United interim manager, a 4-0 thumping of Norwich City. The noise from the Stretty on that day was incomparable. After reluctantly backing David Moyes during his horrendous nine months, the relief oozing on that day was tremendous. Juan Mata struck the fourth goal in, the man in front of me rose, shouting in delight “it’s steak tonight, lads.”
He had great reason to celebrate with a sirloin or rib-eye. It was brilliant.
Giggs may return to United one day, as a coach or a manager or a director. Since signing from City way back in 1987 as a 14-year-old, he has transformed from a dancing footballer, cutting teams to ribbons as Martin Tyler said, or the teenager who “just floated over the ground like a cocker spaniel chasing a piece of silver paper in the wind” as Sir Alex said, to a steely-eyed calm coach. Perhaps he’ll succeed elsewhere, away from Manchester United. It will be strange, it is sad, but I wish all the best to Ryan Giggs, still running down the wing, tearing you apart, in my mind and many United fans’ minds. Iconic, Ryan Giggs.