Wales' Greatest Players: Ryan Giggs

Born in Cardiff; made in Manchester. Ryan Giggs is one of the most decorated footballers of the Premiership era, making over 900 appearances for Manchester United and 64 appearances for Wales. Known for his mazy runs and his wand of a left foot, the Welshman struck fear into opponents with the ball at his feet. He formed part of the infamous Class of ’92 and became a key part of Ferguson’s revolutionary dominance of the Premier League. The current manager of the national team, but with a questionable international playing record - what should we remember Giggs for?



Youth
Giggs was born on the 29th November in Canton, Cardiff, to father Danny Wilson and mother, Lynne Giggs. He was christened Ryan Joseph Wilson but as a teenager changed his surname to his mother’s after his parents separated. Giggs’ father was himself a Welsh international, albeit for rugby league rather than football and it was rugby league that prompted the move to Manchester, with Giggs’ Dad representing Swinton professionally.

Following the move to Salford, Giggs appeared for Deans FC, who were coached by then Manchester City scout Dennis Schofield. It was here that he was recommended to Man City and was signed up to their School of Excellence. Whilst playing for Deans, Harold Wood, a Man United steward, spoke personally to Alex Ferguson, who sent a scout along to watch. Giggs was offered a trial in 1986 and played in a match for Salford Boys v United U-15s. He went on to score a hat-trick, with Fergie watching on from his office. In November 1987, a certain Alex Ferguson turned up at Giggs’ house, offering him schoolboy terms and the chance to turn professional in three years’ time.

Giggs broke through into the United first team at the tender age of 17, coming on as a full back for the injured Denis Irwin, in a 2-0 defeat against Everton on the 2nd of March 1991. His first full start came two months later against Man City, in which United won 1-0, with Giggs being credited the goal, despite it being in dubious circumstances and looking like a Colin Hendry own goal. Forming one sixth of the infamous Class of ’92, which consisted of the Neville brothers, Beckham, Butt and Scholes, Giggs would become integral to the United team by the time the 95/96 season came around.

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The Class of '92
The quest for silverware and league titles had begun for Giggs and going into the infamous 98/99 season, Giggs had already won 4 Premier League titles, 2 FA Cups, 1 Football League Cup, 4 Community Shields and one UEFA Super Cup. The team achievements were impressive enough, but Giggs’ talent also racked up individual honours as well. Giggs won the PFA Young Player of the Year two years in a row, with the first one coming in 1992. This is a feat only matched by Robbie Fowler and Wayne Rooney. He became the third Welshman to win this prestigious award, behind Ian Rush and Mark Hughes. Not bad for someone who had only turned professional in 1990!

Treble Winners
The 97/98 season was an unusually quiet one by Manchester United’s standards. For the first time since 1989, no silverware was making its way to Old Trafford, having being pipped to the league title and FA Cup by Arsenal. With renewed hunger and desire to return to winning ways; the 98/99 season begun. United started the campaign strongly, racking up an outstanding run of 33 games unbeaten from Boxing Day 1998 to the end of the season, eventually winning the league by just a single point.

United progressed through the FA Cup and set up a glamorous tie against Arsenal in the semi-finals. The two couldn’t be separated when they met at Villa Park, as the Premier League’s then top two played out a goalless draw. With the fixture firmly poised, the semi-final replay commenced three days later, with Giggs starting on the bench. Possession was evenly matched, but it was Man United who took the lead, with Beckham lobbing the ball over David Seaman from 35 yards. United took a slender lead into the break. Giggs was introduced around the hour mark, a 62nd minute replacement for Jesper Blomqvist. 

The game was very tight, both teams evenly matched and it was Bergkamp who scored next, with a slight deflection from Stam taking it past Schmeichel. The semi-final entered the final stages, with both teams in search of the winner. Phil Neville brought down Ray Parlour for an injury time penalty. Up stepped Bergkamp, who placed his penalty to the left, which Schmeichel heroically saved. Into extra time we go, and arguably Giggs’ finest moment. An unusually misplaced pass from Patrick Vieria on the halfway line led to Giggs picking up the ball and starting a mazy run. Off he set as he beat the entire Arsenal defence and scored from an acute angle, to make the tie 2-1. Ten men United (due to Keane’s earlier sending off), held on and made it the final, which they eventually won. 


Giggs was also a key part of United’s Champions League run, making 9 appearances and scoring 5 goals. Giggs scored a crucial goal in the semi-final home leg against Juventus, a 90th minute equaliser but injury would sadly rule him out of the away fixture in Turin. After a stunning comeback, United won the second leg 3-2 and progressed to the final. Giggs had overcome his injury by this time and started on the right side of midfield. Bayern took an early lead from Basler’s free kick and went 1-0 up. Giggs had a few chances in the first half, but a tame header against Oliver Kahn was the best he could manage. 

Bayern had a chance to seal the victory when a Carsten Jancker overhead hit the crossbar in the second half. United won a corner deep in injury time and Beckham floated the ball across the box, with Yorke heading it back across the goal. The ball landed at Giggs’ feet on the edge of the area. He took a shot with his right foot but it was poorly struck. It landed at Sheringham’s feet and he stuck it away in the corner, to equalise. Less than 30 seconds later, United forced another corner. Beckham swung the corner in again, with Sheringham heading it across goal and Solskjaer getting the all-important touch to make it 2-1. History was made and Giggs was a treble winner!

International 

As a youngster, Giggs captained England Schoolboys but he was never fully eligible for the England side due to the schoolboy level being dependent on where the school is. In his one year with England schoolboys, he played 9 times, winning 7 and losing 2. Ironically, one of the wins was actually a 4-0 victory over his Welsh peers, many of whom he would join up with when he made the move to Wales youth. In May 1991, shortly after his first start for Manchester United, he was called up to the Wales U21 team, a 2-1 victory over Poland, which would turn out to be his only appearance for the Under 21s having been called up for the senior side later that year. 

Giggs made his senior international debut against Germany in October 1991, coming on as an 84th minute substitute. With this appearance, he held the record for the youngest Welsh player to appear for the senior team, a record which stood for 8 years. /his first senior goal came on the 31st March 1993 in a 3-0 win over Belgium in Cardiff. This was the same game that Ian Rush broke the Welsh top goal scorer record at the time, by scoring his 24th. After his international debut, Giggs missed 18 consecutive Wales friendlies, with Giggs stating that a protective measure was taken in order to prevent unnecessary injuries. 


As a result of this, Giggs’ international commitment was widely criticised by many Wales fans. The winger would play in qualifying campaigns and amassed 64 appearances in all, scoring 12 goals. Perhaps his greatest feat as a Wales player was playing a key role in Mark Hughes' side which came within a game of qualifying for Euro 2004. After four frustrating years under John Toshack, Giggs announced his international retirement, stating that concentrating on his Manchester United career was his main reason. His final game was the Euro 2008 qualifier against the Czech Republic, a game in which his 64th cap and the man of the match award was earned.

In June 2012, Great Britain announced they were having an Olympic Football team for the first time in 50 years. The Welshman was chosen as team captain and one of the overage players. He scored in a 3-1 win over United Arab Emirates to become the oldest goal scorer in the Olympics, beating a record by Egypt’s Hussein Hegazi which had stood for 88 years. Great Britain progressed through the group stages but were eventually knocked out by South Korea on penalties.

Managerial Career

Giggs was appointed as player-coach at Manchester United on 4th July 2013, starting a new era under David Moyes. Moyes endured a tough start to his new role, eventually being sacked and Giggs taking over as interim manager. He oversaw four games in total, with a record of two wins, one draw and a defeat. Despite this being a small interim period, Giggs stated that the pressure of managing United left him unable to sleep properly, eventually leading to him breaking down into tears when the season was over. The arrival of Louis Van Gaal saw Ryan Giggs appointed assistant manager. During this time, Giggs added to the silverware, this time from a coaching perspective, when United won the FA Cup in extra time against Crystal Palace. However, despite winning the FA Cup, van Gaal was sacked and with the appointment of Jose Mourinho, Giggs announced his departure.

His next job, and his current, would be becoming manager of Wales. Due to previous international commitment problems, the appointment of Giggs became divided opinion. Giggs couldn’t have started better, with a 6-0 drubbing of China, a game in which Bale scored a hat trick and beat the all-time goal scoring record for Wales. A 1-0 loss against Uruguay and a draw against Mexico were to follow before a spectacular 4-1 thrashing of Ireland marked Giggs’ first competitive match. It was here that Giggs’ favouritism to youth began to show, with some emerging talents grasping the opportunity to play for their country. Having just embarked in the latest qualifying campaign, a solid 1-0 victory against Slovakia in March was a great start, with an unfortunate 2-1 loss against Croatia in June. Next up Hungary!


This piece was written for @TFHBs by writer Rhys Crabtree (@Crabbers89) - Follow him on Twitter and continue the debate!

The Football History Boys, 2019

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