On 2 March 1991, two seasons before the Premier League began a young 17 year old entered the footballing world at Old Trafford with a substitute appearance against Everton.
His name was Ryan Giggs and it’s scary to think that 20 years later his career has been a highly successful and long-lasting one both domestically at home and in Europe Giggs is widely regarded as a Manchester United legend and one of the finest players to have played in the Premier League.
He is the most decorated footballer in English football history with a trophy cabinet that boasts twelve league titles, four FA Cups, two Champions League and three League cups, which is more than most Premiership teams can say they’ve won!
Giggs is the only player to have played and scored in every season of the Premier League since its inception and one of only two players (the other being Raul) who has scored in a staggering 15 Champions League campaigns.
After his debut against Everton, on his first start for United, he stole the show in the Manchester derby where he was credited with scoring the only goal of the match.
Anyone who saw Giggs play in those early years knew this was a very special young player who had the flair to run with the ball at speed, with precise and exquisite control.
During the 1991-1992 season Giggs continued to impress with 38 appearances, at just 18 years old. His performances had the media making comparison with United’s legendary winger George Best.
For those who had the pleasure of seeing Best playing knows he was up there with the greatest of them having pace and the ability of dribbling and at the same time to run at defenders and pass them like there not there.
At the end of the season Giggs was voted Young Player of the Year also becoming part of the famous 1992 FA Youth Cup winning team that contained the likes of David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and the Neville brothers.
When the Premier League was established in August 1992, Giggs by now was already one of English football’s best talents and by end of the season had become one of the key components of our successful side that won the league for the first time in 26 years.
Over the next couple of years Giggs alongside the likes of Eric Cantona, Roy Keane and Peter Schmeichel helped solidify United at the top of the league with 4 more league titles coming over the next 5 years. Two FA Cups were also won during that time as United secured a league/cup double in 1994 and 1996 to further cement their place in history.
By the following years he’d become one of the more experienced guys in our team who we relied on more and more. Arguably his finest moment for the club came during the 1998/99 Treble-winning season, when during our FA Cup semi-final replay at Villa Park against Arsenal he scored what many consider to be the greatest FA Cup goal.
Picking up the ball well into his own half from a stray Patrick Vieira pass, Giggs proceeded to dribble more than halfway up the pitch and past the entire Arsenal defence single-handedly (I remember it well because I was there) before slamming the ball into the roof of the net.
The goal was unsurprisingly later voted by Manchester United fans as the club’s greatest goal, given the importance and magnitude of the goal and the timing of it during the historic Treble-winning season.
Despite the team having more success over the next couple of seasons, perhaps due to niggling injuries Giggsy’s form declined slightly. Incredibly during the 2001-02 season when we disappointingly ended the season without winning a trophy, some people were even beginning to criticise Giggs and were claiming that he was nearing the end of his United career.
However things started to turn around for Giggs and the team after we won the Carling Cup in 2006 with the momentum – that was apparently lost in the eyes of some critics – coming back to the team.
With Ronaldo and Rooney running the show, the older heads such as Giggs, Scholes and Rio Ferdinand began to shine through with their experience and it was no surprise in 2007 when we reclaimed back the league after four years without winning the title.
Giggs during that time had been transformed into a central midfielder and even though he returned to the wing and played an integral part of our 2007-08 season. That year we won the league again with the welshman scoring our title-clinching goal away at Wigan on the final day of the season.
Fate perhaps decided that he would break Sir Bobby Charlton’s club appearance record of 758 games, in the Champions League final in Moscow against Chelsea.
Giggs played every minute of that epic final and when it went to penalties, there was a sense of destiny involved that he would match the occasion by scoring the winning penalty in the shootout – which is exactly what he did of course.
Since then Giggs has gone on to win 2 more Premiership titles, with his twelfth and the club’s nineteenth title coming this season. Will we ever see another United legend like Giggs ever again? I doubt it.
It’s almost been like having 2 top midfielders rolled into one, as despite him playing in central midfield over the last 3-4 seasons, when he needs to he can still roll back the years and beat players out wide.
People talk about Cantona, Best and Charlton being our greatest players, but perhaps Giggsy’s achievements outshine even theirs which is saying something.
His movement, passing and crossing ability is second to none over the last 20 years and how at 37 he is still putting in top-level performances is simply amazing.
By O’Neil Essen – @oewebdesign