Happy 39th birthday Ryan Giggs: All hail Manchester United and Premier League legend, veteran, genius

Comment by Robbie Gill

Ryan Giggs first appeared in the corridors at Old Trafford as a 14-year-old in November 1987 named Ryan Wilson, but today Manchester United’s hero across four decades will blow out 39 candles on his cake as he rejoices another birthday.

After a 25-year career, amassing 918 appearances, 165 goals, one super injunction and a new surname to boot, the Welsh wizard is now in his twilight years.

He is synonymous with the Ferguson era, notching up an unprecedented 12 Premier League titles, four FA Cups, four League Cups, two Champions Leagues and a host of personal accolades.

However, things could have been so different for the one club man who has embodied everything it means to be a Manchester United player over 23 seasons.

After being spotted playing for Salford Boys by Manchester City scout Dennis Schofield, Giggs signed up to their school of excellence.

He was subsequently spotted by Old Trafford steward and newsagent Harold Wood who was so impressed that he approached Ferguson who promptly dispatched a scout to watch the protégé.

After scoring a hat-trick in his trial at The Cliff, Ferguson went to Giggs’ home to convince him to sign for United.

Such was his talent that Ferguson offered to fast track Giggs into the first-team within three years, the rest, as they say, is history.

He was 17 when he made his debut against Everton four years later, and scored the winner in the derby in his first full start.

By 1992, the last season before the formation of the Premier League, Giggs claimed the PFA Young Player of the Year, beating the previous year’s winner and teammate Lee Sharpe.

This was the same year that Ferguson famously broke up a party at Sharpe’s house, warning them about their conduct and telling them in no uncertain terms to knuckle down.

Giggs took notice, going on to become the first player to win the Young Player of Year crown twice, in successive years.

Giggs quickly established himself as a first-team regular at Old Trafford, the first of Fergie’s Fledglings to do so after captaining them to Youth Cup victory in 1992.

Quick, fleet of foot, impossible ball control and the pop star image to match, he fast became the Premier League’s first superstar and earned comparisons to George Best.

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By the time David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville et al began to appear in the side, Giggs already had two league titles an FA Cup and a League Cup to his name.

A unique double followed in 1995-96 as Fergie’s Fledglings overturned Newcastle United’s ten point lead to prove Alan Hanson’s famous prediction wrong.

By this time Giggs was attracting praise from throughout the footballing community, which belied his tender age.

Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero described him as being one of two players who had made him cry, the other was Roberto Baggio.

On route to the treble success of 1999 Giggs scored his most memorable goal, dispossessing Patrick Viera and beating three men before firing across goal and sending United into the FA Cup final in the process.

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Giggs then assumed the mantle of United’s longest serving player after the departure of Dennis Irwin in 2002, the man he replaced in his first substitute appearance in 1991.

In the same year he celebrated his ten year anniversary at the club by playing Celtic in his testimonial aged 29.

In 2004 he then became only the third United player to make 600 appearances, following in the footsteps of Billy Foulke and Sir Bobby Charlton.

Giggs had to wait until 2006-7 for his next league title to arrive, but this was shortly followed by a wave of accolades.

His 100th goal for United came against Derby in 2007, then came his 100th Champions League game.

The following year he equaled Sir Bobby’s all time United appearance record of 758, scoring the goal that clinched his tenth league crown.

Ten days later, he broke the record, coming on as a substitute in the Champions League final as he and United claimed Europe’s richest prize for the second time in Ferguson’s era.

In 2009 Giggs was writing more history, scoring his 150th goal before winning the PFA Player of the Year for the first time in the same year.

Then in 2011-12 he became the oldest player ever to score in the Champions League with a strike against Benfica.

In February of the same season, Giggs entered unparalleled territory, marking his 900th appearance with the winner against Norwich.

LEGEND: The veteran’s glorious United career spans four decades

As his career has progressed, Giggs has become a Madonnaesque figure, constantly reinventing himself and championing the merits of yoga.

A player who was once a flying winger, blasting away all comers with raw pace has become a creative central midfielder whose brain is as quick as his legs once were.

As he turns 39, his importance to United is immeasurable, while not as pivotal on the field, his presence in the dressing room is paramount to their continued success.

He is one of the last bastions of one club players who represent a time of loyalty and the merits of maintaining a near perfect level of conditioning.

Giggs represents more than any other player what it means to play for Manchester United, the drive, flair and determination to be the best.

According to the rest of the team, he is the only man in the dressing room not to be on the receiving end of team banter.

Both off the field on it, his record is beyond dispute, it would be monumental if anyone could ever match what he has achieved throughout his career.

Giggs himself has always shied away from discussing his records, saying that they are something to look back on after retirement.

When he finally hangs up his boots United’s legendary No. 11 will look back on a career of unprecedented success and sensational memories for United fans.

WILL THERE BE ANOTHER? Giggs is 82 appearances away from historic 1,000

Please note: Opinions expressed above are those of the journalist and do not necessarily represent the views of Mancunian Matters.

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