If we look at some of the most successful clubs in world football, we’ll often see one or two legends of that particular club reach beyond the barriers of mere legacy and become the icon, the synonym of that club. Ryan Joseph Giggs OBE, the Welshman has become the synonym of Manchester United in the modern era and an inalienable part of the Reds’ folklore. Who would have thought a player starting his youth career at Manchester City academy will become one of the greatest icons for their fiercest enemies but that was Giggs’ destiny that had brought him there. We’ll take a look back on the legendary career of one of the most successful players in world football history, Ryan Giggs.
Childhood and Early Career
Ryan Giggs was born on 29th November 1973 at St David’s Hospital in Canton, Cardiff, to Danny Wilson, a rugby union player for Cardiff RFC, and Lynne Giggs (now Lynne Johnson). Giggs is mixed race – his paternal grandfather is from Sierra Leone, and has spoken of the racism he faced as a child. As a child, Ryan grew up in Ely, a suburb of western Cardiff. His younger brother, Rhodri, is a former manager of the EFL League Two club Salford City. At first, he was named Ryan Wilson but he was brought up by his maternal grandparents and due to some issues between his parents, he changed his surname to Ryan Giggs when he was 16, two years later of his parents’ separation. Ryan Giggs had to leave his grandparents and move to Salford, a town in Greater Manchester for his father’s transfer to Rugby league club Swindon RLFC. It wasn’t easy for a 6-year-old boy to leave his loving grandparents and to settle in an unknown place but he settled in and began his quest of becoming a professional footballer.
Ryan Giggs appeared for the local team, Deans FC, who were coached by Manchester City scout Dennis Schofield. Schofield recommended Giggs to Manchester City, and he was signed up to their School of Excellence. Meanwhile, Giggs continued to play for Salford Boys, who went on to reach the finals of the Granada Schools Cup competition at Anfield in 1987. Giggs captained the Salford team to victory over their Blackburn counterparts and was the Man of the Match, and the trophy was presented to him by Liverpool chief scout Ron Yeats. Ryan Giggs also played rugby league at schoolboy level. While playing for Deans, Giggs was observed regularly by a local newsagent and fellow Old Trafford steward Harold Wood. Wood spoke personally to Alex Ferguson who sent a scout, and Giggs was eventually offered a trial over the 1986 Christmas period. Giggs played in a match for Salford Boys against a United Under-15s side at The Cliff(then training ground of Manchester United) and scored a hat-trick, with Ferguson watching from his office window. On 29 November 1987 (his 14th birthday), Ferguson turned up at Ryan Giggs’ house with United scout Joe Brown and offered him two years on associate schoolboy forms. They offered to waive YTS forms and persuaded Giggs to sign by offering the opportunity to turn professional in three years. Ryan Giggs signed the contract and thus a fairytale began.
Giggs was offered his first professional United contract on 29th of November, 1990 (his 17th birthday). He accepted the contract and became a professional two days later (1st of December 1990). 1990 saw United win their first major trophy since Alex Ferguson took over in 1986 where United defeated Crystal Palace in The FA Cup final. During the 1990-91 season, Manchester United was finally showing intent to threaten the dominance of Liverpool and Arsenal in the league but the best they could do that season was to finish in sixth place. Giggs although made his professional debut for the Reds in the second half of the 90-91 season against Everton at Old Trafford on 2nd of March, 1991 and as a substitute for the injured full-back Denis Irwin in a 2–0 defeat. In his first full start, Giggs was credited with his first-ever goal in a 1–0 win in the Manchester derby on 4th of May, 1991, though it appeared to be a Colin Hendry own goal later. However, he was not included in the squad of 16 that defeated Barcelona in the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup final 11 days later. Lee Sharpe, who had won the race to displace Danny Wallace, took to the field as United’s left winger, while Wallace was selected as a substitute. Giggs became a first-team regular early in the 1991–92 season, the last season of English First Division league before the advent of Premier League a season later. United finished the season as runners-up to their rivals Leeds United even after leading the table for a notable time period of the season. Ryan Giggs also remained active with the youth system and captained the team, made up of many of “Fergie’s Fledglings,” to an FA Youth Cup triumph in 1992. That FA Youth Cup triumph in 1992 paved the way for a number of talented players from the United youth academy to the first team and they ultimately became United legends years later. This achievement of the academy under youth coach Eric Harrison is forever embedded in the Reds history as the ‘Class of ’92’.
By the start of the 1992–93 season, the first season of the newly formed Premier League, Giggs had ousted Sharpe to become United’s first-choice left-winger. He was recognized as one of English football’s two best emerging young wingers, alongside Steve McManaman. Giggs helped United to their first top-division title win for 26 years. His emergence and the arrival of Eric Cantona heralded the dominance of United in the Premier League. Ferguson was protective of him, refusing to allow Giggs to be interviewed until he turned 20, eventually granting the first interview to the BBC’s Des Lynam for Match of the Day in the 1993–94 season. United won the double that season, and Giggs was one of their key players alongside the likes of Cantona, Paul Ince, and Mark Hughes. Giggs also played for United in the Football League Cup final, where they lost 3–1 to Aston Villa. At the end of the 1993–94 season, Giggs won a second title in a row and became the first player in history to win two consecutive PFA Young Player of the Year awards, a feat equalled by Robbie Fowler and Wayne Rooney later.
1994-95 season saw Ryan Giggs being sidelined several times through injury and played only 29 Premier League games scoring only once. Though he recovered his form towards the end of the season, it was too late to help United with any major trophies. A failure to beat West Ham United on the final day of the season saw them lose the Premier League title to Blackburn Rovers. A week later, Ryan Giggs came on as a substitute in the FA Cup final against Everton, but United lost 1–0. In 1995–96, Giggs returned to full form and played a vital part in United’s unique second double, with his goal against Everton at Goodison Park on 9th of September, 1995 being shortlisted for the “goal of the season” award. In November that season, Giggs scored two goals in a Premier League match against Southampton, where United won 4–1 to keep up the pressure on a Newcastle United side who actually went ten points clear on 23rd of December, but were finally overhauled by United in mid-March. Giggs was also in the side for United’s FA Cup final win over Liverpool on 11th of May 1996, though Eric Cantona scored the only goal of the game. By now, Giggs had several new key colleagues from the famous Class of ’92 in Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Nicky Butt, David Beckham, and Paul Scholes. Beckham took over from Andrei Kanchelskis on the right-wing and Butt succeeded Paul Ince in central midfield to complete a new look United midfield along with Giggs and Roy Keane. The following season, Ryan Giggs finally had his first real chance to shine in Europe. Having played a key role in United winning their third league title in four seasons, he helped them reach the UEFA Champions League semi-finals, the first United side in 28 years to achieve this. However, their hopes of European glory were ended by Borussia Dortmund, who edged them out by winning each leg of the semi-final 1–0.
I have cried twice in my life watching a football player; the first one was Roberto Baggio and the second was Ryan Giggs.Juventus’ Alessandro Del Piero on Ryan Giggs in 1997
In the 1997-98 season, United went trophyless for only the 2nd time since 1989, as they were leapfrogged by Arsenal to the Premier League title and FA Cup. But the following season was awaiting as the most glorious season in United’s history as they conquer the continental treble being the first English side and Giggs played a pivotal part during that season. He scored a memorable solo goal against Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final leaving four Arsenal defenders in the ground.
In the UEFA Champions League semi-final home leg against Juventus, Giggs scored a vital 90th-minute equalizer to keep United in the tie and played a pivotal role in their 2-3 win in Turin. In the final against Bayern Munich in the Camp Nou, he set up the famous 91st minute Teddy Sheringham equalizer, and United scored again in 93rd minute through Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to turn the game in their favour and complete their treble.
Giggs became United’s longest-serving player when Denis Irwin left in May 2002, and he became a pivotal part of the club, despite still being in his 20s. Giggs continued to excel in the four years that followed the Treble triumph of 1999. United were Premier League champions in three of the following four seasons, as well as reaching the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals three times and the semi-finals once. In April 2001, he signed a new five-year contract. Ryan Giggs celebrated his 10-year anniversary at Old Trafford with a testimonial match against Celtic at the start of the 2001–02 campaign, losing 4–3 in a game featuring a cameo by Eric Cantona. However, this was one of the most disappointing seasons United had endured since Giggs made his debut, as a dismal run of form in early winter ultimately cost them the league title and to rub more salt into the wound, Arsenal won the league at Old Trafford when Wiltord scored a memorable winner. On top of that, United was surprisingly knocked out of the Champions League on away goals in the semi-finals by German underdogs Bayer Leverkusen. A year later, on 23 August 2002, he bagged his 100th career goal in a draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The 2002–03 season was one to forget for Giggs. He was forced to defend his poor form, insisting that he was not finished. This dip -in-form included being booed off the pitch in the 74th minute of a 1–1 semi-final first leg draw at home to Blackburn Rovers in the League Cup on 7th of January and an open-goal miss during a 2–0 defeat against Arsenal in the FA Cup on 16 February that was described as the worst of his career, and prompted sarcastic chants by the Arsenal fans of “Give it to Giggsy.” A week later, on 24 February, Manchester United chief executive Peter Kenyon refused to rule out the possibility of Ryan Giggs leaving Old Trafford, saying: “It’s too soon to say whether we would even consider a bid, and all we want to do at the moment is concentrate on this season.” It was further claimed that a rift in the dressing room was contributing towards Giggs’ possible departure. However, the following day, Giggs played one of his most memorable games, in a 3–0 victory against Juventus. After coming on as a substitute for Diego Forlán in the eighth minute, Giggs scored twice, including a goal that would later be heralded as one of his greatest goals and one of his finest Champions League moments. Despite Giggs’ poor form, United was able to clinch the title back from their rivals Arsenal. After speculation throughout the season that Giggs was close to joining Italian club Inter Milan, Giggs quashed the rumours by saying he was happy at United.
Three seasons starting from 2006-07 to 2008-09 is considered as the Rooney-Ronaldo era of Manchester United as they won their second hat trick of league titles and UEFA Champions League in 2007-08. But Giggs played the role of a proper leader behind these two storming youngsters to guide them towards success. On 6th of May 2007, with Chelsea being only able to manage a 1–1 draw with London rivals, Arsenal, Manchester United became the champions of England. In doing so, Ryan Giggs set a new record of nine league titles, beating the previous record of eight he shared with Alan Hansen and Phil Neal (who won all of their titles with Liverpool). In the 2007 FA Cup Final, Giggs had a goal ruled out in the 14th minute of extra time after referee Steve Bennett deemed him to have fouled goalkeeper Petr Čech in forcing the ball across the line. Giggs played a starring role in United’s 2007 FA Community Shield victory after netting in the first half to bring the game to a 1–1 draw, which led to penalty triumph for the Red Devils after ‘keeper Edwin van der Sar saved all of Chelsea’s first three penalties; the goal was Giggs’ first professional goal at Wembley Stadium. In the 2007–08 season, Alex Ferguson adopted a rotation system between Giggs and newcomers Nani and Anderson. Giggs scored his 100th league goal for United against Derby County on 8th of December, 2007, in which United won 4–1. More landmarks have been achieved. On 20th of February, 2008, he made his 100th appearance in the UEFA Champions League in a game against Lyon and on 11th of May, 2008, he came on as a substitute for Park Ji-sung to equal Sir Bobby Charlton’s record of 758 appearances for United. Giggs scored the second goal in that match, sealing his, and United’s, 10th Premier League title. Ten days later, on 21 May 2008, He broke Bobby Charlton’s appearance record for United when coming on as an 87th-minute substitute for Paul Scholes in the Champions League Final against Chelsea. United won the final, defeating Chelsea 6–5 on penalties after a 1–1 draw after extra time, with Giggs converting the winning penalty in sudden death.
At the start of Manchester United’s 2008–09 campaign, Sir Alex Ferguson began placing Giggs at central midfield, behind the forwards, instead of his favoured wing position. Sir Alex Ferguson said in an interview, “(Giggs) is a very valuable player, he will be 35 this November but at 35, he can be United’s key player. At 25, Ryan would shatter defenders with his run down the flank, but at 35, he will play deeper.” Giggs has begun taking his coaching badges and Ferguson has hinted that he would like Giggs to serve as his coaching staff after retirement as Ole Gunnar Solskjær did. After a successful season, Giggs was short-listed along with four other Manchester United teammates for the PFA Player of the Year. On 26th of April 2009, Giggs received the award, despite having started just 12 games throughout the 2008–09 season (at the time of receiving the trophy). This was the first time in his career that Giggs had received the award. On 12th of September 2009, Giggs made his 700th start for United. Giggs scored his 150th goal for United, only the ninth player to do so for the club, against Wolfsburg in his first Champions League game of the season. On 28th of November 2009, the eve of his 36th birthday, Giggs scored his 100th Premier League goal – all for Manchester United – scoring the final goal in a 4–1 victory over Portsmouth at Fratton Park and becoming only the 17th player to reach the milestone in the Premier League. On 31st of December 2009, Giggs was named the Manchester United Player of the Decade. On 16th of August 2010, Giggs kept up his record of scoring in every Premier League season since its inception as he scored United’s third in their 3–0 home victory over Newcastle United in their opening fixture of the new campaign. As he found the net in the final two seasons of the old Football League First Division, he had now scored in 21 successive top division campaigns. On 17th of January 2011, Giggs reached 600 league appearances (all for Manchester United), as he played in their goalless draw against Spurs at White Hart Lane. On 6th of March 2011, Giggs surpassed the Manchester United league appearance record of Sir Bobby Charlton by playing his 607th game against Liverpool. On 26th of April, against Schalke 04 in the Champions League semi-final first leg, Giggs scored the first goal from a Wayne Rooney pass, also making himself the oldest goalscorer in Champions League history to date. Giggs also played in the 2011 Champions League final, but unfortunately ended up on the losing side as Manchester United were defeated 3–1 by Barcelona. But Giggs, however, won his 12th league title with Manchester United in 2011.
Giggs made his first start of the 2011–12 season in the UEFA Champions League game away at Benfica. He scored United’s equalizing goal in a 1–1 draw at the Estádio da Luz, in the process breaking his own record for the oldest goalscorer in Champions League history. He also became the first man ever to score in 16 different Champions League campaigns, moving clear of Raúl who was tied with Giggs on 15 seasons. On 19 November, Giggs played in a league game in his home country of Wales for the first time in his distinguished career when United met Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium and won the game 1–0. Giggs maintained his record of scoring in each of the past 22 top-flight seasons by scoring United’s third goal against Fulham at Craven Cottage in a 5–0 win on 21 December, his first of the season in the league. On 10th of February 2012, Giggs signed a one-year contract extension with Manchester United. United dramatically lost the league title that season by goal difference to their cross-city rivals Manchester City when Sergio Aguero scored a last-minute winner against QPR on the final matchday of the season. Giggs scored his first Premier League goal of the 2012–13 season against Everton on 10 February 2013 in a 2–0 home win, extending his goal-scoring sequence to 23 consecutive seasons in the highest division including all 21 Premier League seasons. On 5 March 2013, Giggs made his 1,000th competitive appearance in a 2–1 home defeat to Real Madrid in the second leg of the round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League. United, however, won their 13th Premier League title at the end of the season and 20th top-flight title overall moving 2 clear of their arch-rivals Liverpool at that time. Sir Alex retired on May 2013 after 26 years of being at the helm of Manchester United but Giggs signed a new one-year contract with Manchester United on 1st of March 2013, keeping him at Old Trafford until June 2014. New manager David Moyes announced Giggs as player-coach in July 2014 with immediate effect. On 2nd of October, after coming off the substitute bench against Shakhtar Donetsk, Giggs became the all-time leading appearance holder in the European competition, overtaking Raúl, an achievement he described as “special”. In November, Giggs celebrated his 40th birthday, leading to media outlets and football figures praising him for reaching the milestone while still an active professional footballer. Giggs became interim player-manager of United when Moyes was sacked in April 2014 after just 7 months of taking charge.
Giggs announced his retirement from professional football on 19 May 2014 in an open letter to all Manchester United fans posted on the club website. After their last home game in the Premier League, Giggs waved to the Old Trafford faithful for the last time in an emotional farewell. Giggs left the Manchester club after playing 963 games and scoring 168 goals across all competitions.
During his early days in football, young Ryan Giggs, using the name Ryan Wilson, captained England at schoolboy level, playing at Wembley Stadium against Germany in 1989. But he wasn’t able to represent England at the senior level due to restrictions at that time which were ultimately taken down by The FA in 2009. But regardless, Giggs would’ve chosen to play for Wales as per numerous interviews on this particular topic.
I’d rather go through my career without qualifying for a major championship than play for a country where I wasn’t born or which my parents didn’t have anything to do with.Giggs about his decision to play for Wales rather than England
In May of 1991, Giggs made his debut for the Wales Under-21s, a 2–1 victory over Poland in Warsaw. It would turn out to be his only appearance for the team, as he received a call-up to the senior team later that year. Giggs made his international debut away to Germany in October 1991, coming on as an 84th-minute substitute for Eric Young at the age of 17 years, 321 days to become the youngest player to appear for the Welsh senior team; he held this record until June 1998, when Ryan Green appeared against Malta at the age of 17 years, 226 days. Wales were still in contention to qualify for UEFA Euro 1992 before the game, but a 4–1 victory for the Germans, who went on to win their remaining games against Belgium and Luxembourg, meant they qualified at Wales’ expense. His first senior goal for Wales came on the 31st of March, 1993, in a 3–0 win over Belgium in Cardiff in a World Cup qualifying game, the same game in which Ian Rush scored for Wales for a record 24th time. After his international debut in 1991 against Germany, Giggs missed 18 consecutive friendly games before finally making his first friendly appearance for Wales against Finland in March 2000. The reason for his continued absence from non-competitive fixtures was largely a protective measure against unnecessary injuries; in his autobiography, Giggs states: “At that time, whenever I played two games in one week I always seemed to pick up an injury, so [Alex Ferguson] and I sat down and looked at it game by game. If the international game was a friendly, the feeling was that I didn’t have to play.” Regardless, his regular withdrawal from Wales squads and routinely missing friendlies were criticized. In a 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifier against England at Old Trafford where Wales lost 2–0, Giggs played against some of his present and former Manchester United teammates including David Beckham, Gary Neville, and Wayne Rooney. During a 2006 World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan on 12 October 2005, Giggs scored a rare double in a 2–0 win, but Wales failed to reach the play-offs. In September 2006, he played in a friendly against Brazil at White Hart Lane where Wales lost 2–0. Brazil coach Dunga complimented Gigg’s performance by stating he would not look out of place playing for the five-time world champions alongside stars such as Kaká and Ronaldinho.
Giggs announced his retirement from international football on Wednesday, 30 May 2007, at a press conference held at The Vale of Glamorgan Hotel, drawing the curtain on a 16-year international career. He cited concentrating on his United career as the main reason for stepping down. His final game for Wales, as a captain, was the Euro 2008 qualifier against the Czech Republic on 2nd of June at Cardiff. He earned his 64th cap in this game and won the Man of the Match award as Wales drew 0–0. He scored 12 goals in total for his country. In an interview with the Western Mail on 26th of March 2010, Giggs hinted that he might be tempted to come out of international retirement for his country’s UEFA Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, in order to cover for the injured Aaron Ramsey. He later clarified his position to BBC Radio Manchester, saying that he would only return to Wales duty in an emergency.
On 28th of June 2012, Giggs was confirmed as one of the three over-age players selected for Great Britain to compete at the 2012 Summer Olympics alongside Craig Bellamy and Micah Richards, and he was subsequently named the team captain. He scored with a header against the United Arab Emirates in a 3–1 win on 29 July to become the oldest goalscorer in the football competition at the Summer Olympics at the age of 38 years and 243 days, beating an 88-year-old record that had been held by Egypt’s Hussein Hegazi.
After being appointed as the interim player-manager for Manchester United in April 2014, Giggs won 2 games out of 4 for the Red Devils. After the arrival of Luis van Gaal in July, he announced Giggs’ name as one of his assistants with immediate effect. Giggs’ assisting Van Gaal, won The FA Cup with United in 2016. Ryan was suggested by many – including Louis van Gaal – as the Dutchman’s potential successor at Manchester United. However, following the appointment of Portuguese coach José Mourinho, Giggs announced his departure from the club on 2 July 2016.
Giggs was appointed manager of the Wales national team on 15th of January 2018, succeeding Chris Coleman, who had left the role to take up the manager’s position at Sunderland the previous November. Giggs successfully led Wales to qualify for Euro 2020, following a 2–0 win over Hungary in their final encounter on 19th of November 2019. Wales secured promotion into UEFA Nations League A after winning Group 4 of the 2020–21 UEFA Nations League B season.
Giggs married his long-time partner, Stacey Cooke, in a private ceremony on 7th of September 2007. They have two children, both born in Salford, and lived in Worsley, Greater Manchester, close to where the player grew up. Giggs and Cooke were divorced in 2017.
Ryan received OBE- Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire from The Queen in 2007 for his contribution to the English football.
We wish one of the greatest of the game a very Happy Birthday and wish him luck for his future managerial career as well as for his personal life.
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