On Monday afternoon the news broke on twitter. Ryan Giggs, Manchester Uniteds record-appearance maker, announced his retirement from playing, instead opting to pick up a position as assistant manager to incoming United boss Louis Van Gaal. After 963 first team appearances, Giggs’ ties with United are stronger than those of any other player in the club’s history, so the fact he will continue in a coaching capacity ensures United are still connected with their past, something that is sure to help Van Gaal in his quest for success.
Everybody knows all about the story of the Welshman by now; born in 1973 in Cardiff before moving with his family to Salford aged six, playing for Salford Boys (a local side) and attending Manchester City’s centre of excellence before signing with Manchester United in 1987. After a rapid rise through the ranks at United, Giggs made his first team debut as a substitute for Denis Irwin on 2nd March 1991 against Everton. Giggs made his full United debut against Manchester City two months later, a game he won for United by scoring the only goal of the game. In 1992, Giggs captained the famous “Class of ’92” to the FA Youth Cup win. By now, Giggs was a regular in the Manchester United first team, and the Welshman never looked back. He played 51 times in that 91-92 season and from that season onwards he was an integral part of several successful United teams. In fact, during Sir Alex Fergusons tenure Giggs never featured less than 32 times (in 09-10 and 12-13) and ended his career under David Moyes (and himself) appearing 22 times in all competitions.
For the majority of his career, Giggs played on the left wing, terrorising right-backs both domestically and in Europe with his lightning pace, trickery and skill. The goal he scored at Villa Park against Arsenal in the FA Cup Semi-final replay in 1999, on United’s way to the unprecedented treble, epitomises Ryan Giggs at his prime. After picking the ball up in his own half, he runs all the way to the Arsenal penalty area, beating a host of Arsenal players with body-swerving moves before unleashing an unstoppable shot over David Seaman to win the tie for United. As Phil Neville puts it in the brilliant documentary Class of ’92, “that was Giggsy’s moment”.
In United’s exciting teams of the 1990’s and early 2000’s, Giggs was the perfect winger who provided the pace and dribbling to the magnificent crossing of David Beckham on the opposite side. Although not always credited with it when described, Giggs could cross the ball as well. He holds the all time Premier League record for assists with 162, further underlining the undeniable quality the winger possessed.
During the latter years of Giggs’ 24 seasons at United, he moved in more centrally, now pulling the strings in central midfield. After losing some of the electric pace of his younger days, Giggs adapted his game remarkably to become a reliable presence in the middle of the pitch. By the change of position, Giggs was able to showcase an impressive football intelligence in the way he controlled games and his ability to play the killer pass from central areas, something that has been lacking from the recent central midfielders at United. When United reached the Champions League final in 2011, Giggs was extremely influential in United’s campaign. The Welshman partnered Michael Carrick throughout the knock-out phases, getting three assists against Chelsea in the two quarter-final matches, scoring against Schalke in the first leg of the semi-final as well as setting Wayne Rooney up for United’s equaliser against Barcelona in the final at Wembley. Actually, as recently as this seasons last-16 match against Olympiacos in March, Giggs proved his worth by helping to set up Robin van Persie’s first two goals from brilliant through balls when United managed to squeeze through to the last-8 by overturning a first leg 2-0 defeat in Athens by winning the return leg 3-0.
The way Giggs has taken care of himself in order to prolong his career into his 40’s is also second to none.
In 2012, after playing his 900th game for United, Giggs was interviewed in the Gazzetta Dello Sport about his prolonged career and especially the way yoga has helped him play on.
The then 38-year-old told the Italian newspaper: “The yoga has definitely helped me. It helps me train every day because it gives me the flexibility and the strength not only to play the game but to train as well. I rarely miss a training session. Even if I do a little less than the younger players, I still go out and train. You have to change the way of thinking. I was a quick player when I was younger, now I am not so quick. You have to use your experience, use your intelligence on the pitch, to adapt your game and change your game, as I have done.”
Last year, former teammate and fellow United legend Gary Neville conducted an interview with Giggs where he revealed some of his secrets. He says that after games where his performances have dropped, singling out the games against Tottenham and Cluj in 2012, he starts thinking about what he can do to get back in to the rhythm. When asked what these things might include, he mentions things like no butter on his bread, going to bed an hour earlier every night, going home straight after training to rest his legs, no alcohol and no eating late at night to ensure he stays in excellent physical shape. That level of professionalism and determination in a man who has played over 1000 games in his career and won every trophy he’s ever set out to win is just incredible.
However, being a terrific player and model professional alone can’t affirm the title of the greatest. You have to win things as well. And Giggs easily ticks that box as well. The most decorated player in British football history with 13 (thirteen!) Premier League titles, four FA Cups and two Champions Leagues among his 34 trophies. Individual accolades have been consistently coming too, including PFA Young Player of the Year (in 92 and 93), PFA Players’ Player of the Year (2009), PFA Team of the Year on six occasions, UEFA Champions League 10 Seasons Dream Team (2002) and BBC Sports Personality of the Year (2009) to name a few. The ultimate honour of Giggs’ career came last week when he was given the Manchester United Lifetime Achievement of the Year, presented by Sir Bobby Charlton and a tribute with video messages from superstars including David Beckham, Alessandro Del Piero, Eric Cantona, Paul Scholes, Sir Alex Ferguson and Pele.
All these things put together makes for an easy decision in deciding who the greatest Premier League player of all time is. From a world class player who had every quality a winger should have (pace, skill, crossing, creativity, goals and assists), a perfect professional in terms of taking care of himself in order to keep performing at the highest level to a trophy winning machine at his favourite club, Ryan Giggs is the greatest the Premier League has ever seen. 963 Manchester United appearances and 1031 career matches (including 64 Wales caps and 4 with the GB Olympic Team) leading to a unrivalled 34 major trophies and countless individual accolades makes for an incredible career that is unlikely to ever be surpassed. As Sir Alex Ferguson would have put it: Well done.
Ryan Giggs astonishing trophy cabinet
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
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