The Greatest XI: The Welsh Wizard

Football began over 150 years ago. For myself, personally, it began in 1990. At the age of ten, I fell in love with the sport and of course Manchester United. Watching the FA Cup Final with my father and his mates, followed by Italia ’90, it really did capture my imagination. This got me thinking, what or rather who would be my dream Manchester United eleven? Over the coming weeks, I shall be selecting my one to eleven.

9. Ryan Giggs – Left Winger

Giggs, Giggs will tear you apart again ( To the tune of Joy Division’s Love will tear you apart ) , rung out from the Stretford End for the best part of 25 years. Ryan Giggs had terrorised defences for over two decades, winning a bag full of trophies along the way.

When Sir Alex Ferguson turned up on Ryan Giggs’ front door to convince his mum to remove him from Manchester City’s academy, it was clear that this lad had a talent. A talent which can only be described as special. Giggs would leave the set up at rivals City and head down to the Cliff, Manchester United’s old training ground. Giggs was a United fan, a dream come true for the lad. He would go on to help make dreams come true for fans all over the world.

Giggs made his debut in the old First Divison on March 2nd 1991. A 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford to Everton. Just a few days later and making his first ever start, Giggs would score the only goal in a Manchester Derby. The next twelve months would see Giggs flit between youth team and first team. In 1992, Giggs would captain the ” class of 92 ” to FA Youth cup glory.

“The first time I saw Giggsy, he was playing for Salford Boys against United’s apprentices. He was thin and wiry but he just glided past four of our apprentices as if they weren’t even there, then he put the ball in the back of the net. I just thought ‘This kid’s an absolute natural’.” – Bryan Robson

A season of mixed emotions for the Welshman, as Giggs had broken into the first team and started to cement his place on the left wing. United would finish runners up to rivals Leeds United in the league but Giggs would go on to set up the winning goal in the 1-0 League Cup victory over Nottingham Forest. His first of many pieces of silverware.

The 1992/93 season saw the Premier League begin. Giggs was ending his teen years and was now a crucial part of Sir Alex Ferguson’s plans. His no fear, direct attitude with the ball put the fear of god into opposition defenders. United would go on to lift the title that season, their first in 26 long years. Giggs, as well as Eric Cantona, was a massive part of the success, but Sir Alex would shelter Giggs from the press, not allowing him to do interviews in his early years.

A double of FA Cup and Premier League followed the year after. United were starting to become a dominant force in the league and Giggs was both scoring plenty of goals as well as assisting. On a personal level, Giggs would become the first player to ever win back to back PFA Young Player of the Year Awards.

The next few seasons would see United win another double, this time in 1996 and then another title the following year before Arsenal interrupted the pattern in 1998. Giggs, with his explosive running style, had started to miss several games in a season, with hamstring and calf injuries.

“When Ryan runs at players he gives them twisted blood. They don’t want to be a defender anymore.” – Sir Alex Ferguson

In 1998/99, United would go on to make football history. The first English team to win a treble of League, FA Cup and Champions League. As well as contributing to goals during the domestic season, it was the cup competitions in which Giggs will go down in Manchester United folklore. The semi final replay against Arsenal, United down to ten men after Roy Keane being dismissed in the second half, the game goes to extra time. With United looking leggy and most probably heading towards the lottery of a penalty shoot out, up steps Ryan Giggs. Now Giggs had scored a few solo goals in his time. Spurs away in ’93, QPR away in ’95 and now Arsenal at Villa Park in 1999. A stray pass played out wide from Patrick Viera is picked up by Giggs just inside his own half, near the touchline. Giggs begins to drive at full back Lee Dixon, who at this stage is backing off. Giggs keeps going, and going and going, then Viera rejoins the defensive line, but Giggs dances first past Viera, then Dixon, then Keown and as Tony Adams makes his despairing last ditch tackle, Giggs despatches the ball high into the net, past England keeper, David Seamen. Cue Ryan Giggs tearing back down the touchline, shirt swirling above his head revealing an absolute rug of hair on his chest!

With United trailing to Bayern Munich in the dying moments of the Champions League Final, a half cleared corner by Bayern, had fallen to Giggs who snatched at a volley towards goal, which was turned in by Teddy Sheringham, and we all know what happened 90 seconds later!

“Maybe one day people will say I was another Ryan Giggs.” – George Best

United would go on to dominate the next decade. The turn of the millennium was the same as the end. United just kept on winning. Giggs was an integral part of that. As the Welshman begun to age, around 2009, Sir Alex had decided that Ryan could no longer get up the line like he used to, so moved him into the centre of midfield. Giggs did not look out of place one bit. Another double of Premier League and Champions League followed in 2008. The Champions League Final in ’08 saw Giggs break Sir Bobby Charlton’s appearance record.

The old saying of a fine wine gets better with age could not be more perfect for Giggs. Every season he ticked on closer to 40, he kept on going, his talent never on the wain. Against Everton in 2013, who Giggs had made his first ever appearance against, he scored to make it 23 seasons in a row in which he had notched.

“His talent is God-given. He will have wonderful skill even when he’s got his bus pass, because that sort of ability never deserts you.” – Bryan Kidd

But nothing lasts forever, not even Ryan Giggs. May 2014 saw Giggs retire and wave goodbye to the Old Trafford faithful for the final time… or so they thought!

With Giggs already part of the coaching staff, as part of David Moyes set up, it seemed to be the natural fit for United that when the ” Chosen One ” David Moyes, was given the boot in the April of 2014, he was to be given the job as player coach. The United fans absolutely loved this. A 4-0 win over Norwich during his first match in the dug out. The last three games saw a win, draw and defeat, although it wasn’t enough for Giggs to keep the job as Louis Van Gaal was given the post. Giggs would again be on the coaching staff.

Ryan Giggs made 963 appearances for United, scoring 168 times, in all competitions.

His honours include: Premier League (13): 1992–93, 1993–94, 1995–96, 1996–97, 1998–99, 1999–2000, 2000–01, 2002–03, 2006–07, 2007–08, 2008–09, 2010–11, 2012–13
FA Cup (4): 1993–94, 1995–96, 1998–99, 2003–04
Football League Cup (3): 1991–92, 2005–06, 2008–09
FA Community Shield (9): 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2013
UEFA Champions League (2): 1998–99, 2007–08
UEFA Super Cup (1): 1991
Intercontinental Cup (1): 1999
FIFA Club World Cup (1): 2008

Personal honours include: PFA Young Player of the Year (2): 1991–92, 1992–93
PFA Premier League Team of the Year (6): 1992–93, 1997–98, 2000–01, 2001–02, 2006–07, 2008–09
PFA Team of the Century: 1997–2007
PFA Players’ Player of the Year (1): 2008–09
PFA Merit Award: 2016
FWA Tribute Award: 2007
Bravo Award : 1993
BBC Sports Personality of the Year (1): 2009
BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year (2): 1996, 2009
GQ Sportsman of the Year (1): 2010
Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year (1): 1997–98
Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year (2): 1990–91, 1991–92
Premier League 10 Seasons Awards (1992–93 to 2001–02): Overall Team of the Decade
Premier League 20 Seasons Awards (1992–93 to 2011–12): Best Player
Premier League 20 Seasons Awards (1992–93 to 2011–12): Fantasy Teams of the 20 Seasons public and panel choice
Premier League 20 Seasons Awards (1992–93 to 2011–12): Most Player Appearances (596)
UEFA Champions League 10 Seasons Dream Team (1992 to 2002): 2002
Wales Player of the Year Award (2): 1996, 2006
Premier League Player of the Month (3): September 1993, August 2006, February 2007
BBC Goal of the Season (1): 1998–99
Intercontinental Cup Most Valuable Player of the Match Award: 1999
English Football Hall of Fame Inductee: 2005

Ryan Giggs, Ryan Giggs, running down the wing! In this team Ryan, you shall be up and down that wing. An absolute quality footballer who resembled the closest thing ever to ex legend George Best. Giggsy, your in.

About the Author

John McNicoll
Southern Red and Football enthusiast.