By Yolkie from 7Cantonas
The teenage Ryan Giggs in full flight was one of the most mesmerising sights in football; that’s a sentence that many United, and indeed football, supporters will have read or heard in some form or another.
Most of us will have seen the footage of a young Ryan Wilson playing schoolboy football at Anfield, all legs and terror for opposing defenders.
Bobby Charlton once remarked that he knew he was watching somebody special when he saw Giggs play as a youngster, but even he could not have predicted at that time such a meteoric rise. No footballer in my 30 years has thrilled me quite as much as Ryan Giggs. And, even now, playing in the centre of the park, Giggs still has the ability to get you off your seat in anticipation more than anyone else.
Goals in the early 90s such as those against Norwich, Sheffield Wednesday and Tottenham Hotspur, where he raced at the speed of light to round the keeper and score from an angle into an empty goal, matured into defence ripping goals against QPR, Barnsley, Juventus and Arsenal.
In time, Giggs’ elegance told, with sublime goals like the one he scored against Everton in the 2005/6 season. As the Manchester United team matured and moved on, arguably until the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo, Giggs was by far the most exciting individual at United and in British football.
His longevity is used as something of a backwards compliment by people who don’t consider him to be in the higher echelon of football’s most glorious players. Ryan Giggs shouldn’t get plaudits because of how long he’s played the game; he should because in every season he has been the most naturally gifted, magnificent player.
A player can’t survive in a team like Manchester United as a passenger (contrary to what you might have been told) but Giggs continues to defy that anyway; his selection in the Champions League Final at Wembley was not out of sentiment, but because he had been the person who was the difference in class in the quarter and semi finals.
I could write forever about Ryan Giggs; he is my favourite player for so much more than the thrilling solo goals. It was the one man terror show against Juventus that made me believe in glorious defeat as we were defeated at Old Trafford 1-0 in 1996, the pirouette against West Ham, the tricks and flicks as he ran riot against a Real Madrid team that survived by the Casillas forcefield in 2000, the volley at the Valley, the numerous runs that were denied by fouls that could have resulted in some of the best goals ever but still won penalties, and that absolute touch of class against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
But most of all, being just about the only constant from my journey from hero worshipping adolescent to a hero worshipping not-so-adolescent; celebrating my birthday in 2008 with Ryan coming from the bench to equal the club record for appearances and scoring the goal to win us the title. For breaking the record in Moscow days later, and sending me to tears when he scored the penalty. I still remember my thoughts on that kick; I didn’t want him to miss for the obvious reasons, of course, but more for him and the romance of everything that it meant. The relief when it was converted was tangible.
It’s not just me though; every Manchester United supporter of my age has been on the same journey with him and shared the same memories.
I’m old enough to appreciate the emotion of the game and everything that it means in the culture of our club; so much of it has been provided to me by Ryan Giggs. The debate may rage on elsewhere about which of two diminutive Argentines will be the game’s best ever player, but for me, right now, (with a large dollop of bias, admittedly), for the stunning goals, the medals, the re-invention, the dribbling, and for doing it at the same level for more than 20 years? Our number 11 stands alone.
Check out Yolkie’s excellent Manchester United site, 7Cantonas, and follow him Twitter here.