An ode to Ryan Giggs
David Beckham was the golden boy of the media, popular despite himself. Paul Scholes, the silent assassin; his demeanour as unassuming as the 40 yard passes that he used to ping effortlessly. The Neville brothers were fire and brimstone personified, and you could almost swear Nicky Butt would take a bullet for you.
Held together by an unyielding team ethic and fostered under the steely gaze of a behemoth in football management, Ryan Wilson as he was born, was bred into the most successful British player, Ryan Giggs.
The crown jewel of the fabled class of ‘92, his ability with the ball at his feet was only rivalled by his loyalty to the club that he was a part of. Or was it the club which was a part of him?
It’s hard to tell these days.
As a fan growing up supporting Manchester United, spoilt by the incessant, and almost obnoxious success that we were buffeted with, and then to hit the harrowing depths that the void left by Sir Alex Ferguson invited, the one constant that you could draw a measure of comfort from was the steady presence of Ryan Giggs.
And yet today, the club gears up to brave life without the man.
For many, their most cherished memory of Ryan Giggs would have been the FA Cup Semi Final wonder goal against Arsenal. And in many ways, it was that goal that laid the cornerstone for the years of success that the club enjoyed after that.
There are goals that you remember because they take your breath away, and there are those that gift you a new lease of life when you’re a fraying bundle of nerves. A man down – Roy Keane, no less – and playing against the defending Champions and FA Cup holders, Ryan Giggs’ magisterial solo effort that day did both in equal measure.
But to consign him to merely one moment, timeless though it may be, would hardly do the legacy that he has sculpted due justice.
A footballer’s legacy is often more fondly remembered than it ought to be; for such is the sweetness inherent to reminiscence. But the recollections of a curly haired boy, twisting and turning, running riot down the left wing year after year, truly begets the air of romanticism that is associated with it.
For as much as Ryan Giggs grew up in Manchester United, the club grew up with him too.
Many times, it is said that a leader is born and not made. Sometimes, they come with a generous measure of charisma and an equally imposing wit, but sometimes they are the simply the ones that outlast everybody and stick to their guns through thick and thin.
From a wiry wing wizard to a willful and wily operator in the centre of midfield, Ryan Giggs’ tenure as a player oversaw 5 generations of success at Manchester United, representing the club’s gold standard, and eventually embodying it.
By the time we as fans realised that though, the imperious Alex Ferguson had called it a day. Only, it was such a lengthy tenure that the Scot enjoyed at the helm of United, that many were lulled into a false sense of security that it would never end.
But when it did, almost automatically, everyone turned to Ryan Giggs.
Perhaps beyond the 168 goals he scored or the 963 appearances that he racked up, looking past each trophy that weighs in on his cabinet or the countless personal accolades that were showered on him, the true legacy of Ryan Giggs lies in the fact that almost unbeknownst to us, he had grown into the mantle of Sir Alex Ferguson’s natural successor.
I can pay him no greater compliment than that.
Today, Manchester United has another enigmatic leader at the helm. And certainly, Jose Mourinho’s credentials, if not his self-belief, perhaps merit the job sufficiently to edge Giggs out of contention for the time being.
But like on that fateful day on 11th April 1999 against Arsenal, when everyone seemed too caught up in the heat of the moment to be aware of the bigger picture, it would seem that Ryan Giggs has the answer once again.
Today, his parting words to the club tantalisingly read, “It’s time for a new chapter and a new challenge. I’m excited about the future - I’ve had the best apprenticeship into management anyone could ever ask for.”
To many who can’t seem to look past the poignancy of the moment, those words may seem like goodbye. But for the man who cut out Viera’s stray pass in his own half, it would seem that the only thing in his sights, yet again, is the greater goal on the other side.
It may appear as though Manchester United may finally be done with Ryan Giggs. But I’m not too sure that Ryan Giggs is done with Manchester United.