Ryan Giggs – gentleman, player, talent, Manchester United icon. On the twentieth anniversary on the Welshman’s United bow there are few platitudes left to describe the 37-year-old who has lasted longer and won more than almost anybody. Two decades on from the skinny winger’s substitute appearance against Everton in March 1991 and Giggs has 863 United appearances to his name – 606 of them in the League – a club record he shares with Bobby Charlton and will break against Liverpool on Sunday.
From the frail kid who floated like a butterfly over The Cliff’s training pitches, to granddaddy of the United squad, Giggs’ value persists amid the multi-million pound signings and global megacorp that the club has become. Arguably, his tour of duty at Old Trafford has lasted longer than anybody expected and his medal haul is larger than any player in the 133-year history of the institution – 48, including those earned as a runner-up.
This is no end though. Indeed, the Welshman has signed another 12 month contract, taking Giggs to June 2012 as a minimum. With desire still intact and fitness permitting 37-year-old Giggs could play to 40 and a 1,000 games for the club. There are few words not already integrated into football cliché that do his achievement justice.
Perhaps more important though is the way Giggs has made supporters feel over the years. “Giggs will tear you apart,” sing the fans to this day. He always did. And amid the fallow years, when both player and manager questioned the Welshman’s role, and supporters pondered his exit, the winger’s strength of character and Ferguson’s trust saw him through.
Even on the worst of occasions, Giggs has offered supporters great value, to coin a popular phrase. So much so that Giggs provides legitimacy to fandom amid gratuitous prices rises, ‘brand value’ and supporter exploitation.
His skill and personality have extended beyond Old Trafford too. Today Giggs is as close to a global icon with universal appeal as it gets. The jealousy and bitterness so often directed at the club are rightly halted at the winger’s door. Even rival supporters across town, embittered by years of their neighbours’ success and a young Ryan Wilson’s rejection, respect the winger’s contribution.
Argument follows about Giggs’ place in the pantheon of United and global greats. As a player he had it all, even if throughout his career frustration has sometimes come with the package. The winger has rightly earned his place as one of the greatest to have ever worn a United shirt. In global terms he is among the élite to have graced the game. That is enough.
Giggs has scored great goals, entertained, educated and enriched United. While great players always move on, Giggs can look back on his career without regret. And he achieved it all without regressing to the lowest common denominator – the trap into which so many modern players fall. The parties and celebrity girlfriends of the early years gave way to a genuine and lasting professionalism.
Best, Law, Charlton and Busby look down on United fans making the pilgrimage to Old Trafford. Giggs will surely, and rightfully, join them.
Giggs’ career in numbers
- Eleven Premier League titles: 1992–93, 1993–94, 1995–96, 1996–97, 1998–99, 1999–2000, 2000–01, 2002–03, 2006–07, 2007–08, 2008–09
- Eight FA Community Shields: 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2010
- Four FA Cups: 1993–94, 1995–96, 1998–99, 2003–04
- Four League Cups: 1991–92, 2005–06, 2008–09, 2009–10
- Two UEFA Champions Leagues: 1998–99, 2007–08
- One UEFA Super Cup: 1991
- One Intercontinental Cup : 1999
- One FIFA Club World Cup: 2008
- One FA Youth Cup: 1992
- Nine times in the PFA Team of the Year : 1992–93, 1993–94, 1994–95, 1995–96, 1997–98, 2000–01, 2001–02, 2006–07, 2008–09
- Twice PFA Young Player of the Year: 1991–92, 1992–93
- Once PFA Player of the Year: 2008–09
- Once in the PFA Team of the Century: 1997–2007
- Once BBC Sports Personality of the Year: 2009
- Once Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year: 1997–98
- Twice Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year: 1990–91, 1991–92
- English Football Hall of Fame Inductee in 2005, OBE for services to football in 2007, Honorary Masters degree from Salford University in 2008, Freedom of the City of Salford in 2010.
- One Knighthood on retirement?