11. RYAN GIGGS
|Birthdate:||29 Nov 1973|
|Joined United:||29 Nov 1987|
|United Debut:||02 Mar 1991 v Everton (H)|
The Ryan Giggs story goes on – and on and on – and still his powers show no sign of waning. No longer the daring, dashing left-winger who tormented full-backs but a calming influence and one of the sharpest passers around.
Always willing to try the adventurous, although his legs may have lost the explosive acceleration, his brain remains ahead of his younger rivals and his ability to produce telling crosses and assists has never been better. In summary, the Welshman is a phenomenon and a footballer to be treasured and talked about in revered tones long after he eventually decides to hang up his boots. Bryan Robson feels that may not be until he has slipped into his 40s. A man who was not named PFA Players’ Player until 2009 remains a key part of Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad. An ally to the boss and an indvidual who commands total respect in the dressing room. To list Giggs’ honours becomes something of a chore. The most decorated player in the British game, the potential that earned him two PFA Young Player of the Year awards earlier in his career has long since been realised. Ryan is United’s record appearance-maker; he surpassed Sir Bobby Charlton’s 758 on the night he helped the Reds secure a third European Cup triumph – his second – in Moscow on 21 May 2008. It now stands at 909; a tally which is likely to increase in the 2012/13 season. Good luck to anybody trying to better it and who would say with any conviction that he cannot do the unthinkable and breach the 1,000 barrier? It would appear a tall order but normal logic doesn’t apply to the career of the Salford-raised superstar. He’s the only player to have scored in every Premier League season and even managed to mark his 900th appearance with the most dramatic of winners in injury time at Norwich. The wide-eyed celebration that followed proved he is as enthusiastic about the game as he has ever been. Yet United’s most decorated player might never have graced Old Trafford, had it not been for Sir Alex Ferguson’s intervention. Cardiff-born Giggs was attending Manchester City’s School of Excellence in his early teens, but Sir Alex made a personal visit to his house on his 14th birthday and Ryan jumped at the chance to sign for his boyhood favourites. Ryan turned professional at United in November 1990 and made his league debut in the old Division One against Everton at Old Trafford on 2 March 1991 as a substitute for Denis Irwin. His first league start in 1991/92 also proved a memorable occasion, as he also scored his first ever United goal that day (albeit via a huge deflection off Colin Hendry) in a 1-0 win over Manchester City. Giggs’ first senior trophy arrived in November 1991 as United beat Red Star Belgrade in the European Super Cup final. He picked up his second winners’ medal five months later as the Reds beat Nottingham Forest in the League Cup final. The following season, 1992/93, saw Giggs and United win the inaugural Premier League title. Ryan was an integral part of two Double-winning sides, in 1993/94 and 1995/96, before going one better in 1998/99 by adding the European Cup to the FA Cup and Premier League trophy. His contributions to the Treble-winning campaign included a superb solo goal to win the FA Cup semi-final replay against Arsenal at Villa Park, commonly regarded as one of United’s greatest ever goals. Ryan celebrated 10 years at Old Trafford with a testimonial match against Celtic in 2001/02. A year later he bagged his 100th career goal in the 2-2 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and became only the second-ever player to play 700 games for United when he helped the Reds to a dramatic 1-0 win over Liverpool at Anfield in March 2007. Two months later, he became a league title winner for the ninth time, beating the record of eight championship medals held by Liverpool legends Phil Neal and Alan Hansen. In the interests of prolonging his club career at the highest level, Ryan retired from international football with Wales in June 2007 after 64 games and 12 goals. In October 2007, he extended his United contract to June 2009. December 2007 brought two landmark feats – Ryan was awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire) for his services to football and he scored his 100th league career goal in the 4-0 home win over Derby County. Ryan crowned the epic 2007/08 season, his 18th in United’s first team, by scoring the Reds’ second goal in the last-day league win at Wigan and slotting home what proved to be the decisive penalty in the Champions League final shoot-out. Giggs’ career continued with a flourish during 2008/09, when he adopted a more central position in midfield or just off the main striker as the Reds retained the title. Used primarily in his old wing position during 2009/10, Ryan was one of the Reds’ most consistent performers until February when, in a challenge with Aston Villa’s Steve Sidwell, he fractured his right arm and missed five weeks of football. The injury forced Giggs out of key European ties, as well as the Carling Cup final but he returned in late March to drive United’s relentless (yet ultimately unsuccessful) bid for a fourth consecutive title. Despite not adding to his medals tally, there was still much to celebrate personally in 2009/10. He was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year – on 30 November, the day after his 36th birthday – and a few weeks later he extended his Reds contract by one year. Giggs’ brought up another landmark, as he surpassed Charlton’s United league appearances record by playing his 607th game against Liverpool in March 2011. He’d already penned another one-year deal and this was no sentimental gesture by Sir Alex: his elder statesman continued to produce some instrumental performances both in the middle and out wide. The 2010/11 title triumph was Giggs’ 12th in total: more than most of the clubs in existence. In what is increasingly becoming his forte, Ryan continued his spree of record-breaking into the ultimately disappointing campaign of 2011/12. Even in the final game of the season, as the Reds earned a victory that was so close to earning another title, he was charged with the responsibility of playing just behind Wayne Rooney at Sunderland and pulling the strings – only being denied a goal by Simon Mignolet’s stunning save. There was no time to dwell on the despair that followed in the seconds after the final whistle at the Stadium of Light. Giggs was to get his wish of performing in a major tournament when named captain in Stuart Pearce’s Great Britain Olympic squad. It meant he would miss his first pre-season tour but is a fitting tribute to his talents. Anybody viewing the event as some kind of swansong would be advised to think again. With another rolling year’s contract secured, competition may be as fierce as ever after the arrival of Shinji Kagawa and Nick Powell, who was born a couple of months before the veteran was helping the Reds win a first-ever Double. But expect Giggs to stretch his remarkable appearance record for another year yet and maybe even beyond that.