Longevity in football often leads to the actual talents of these players being overlooked. Especially when they get into their 40s. Rather than being praised for the adroitness and excellence in their positions, which allowed them to stay at the top of the game for such a sustained period of time.
The likes of Paolo Maldini, Roger Milla, Peter Shilton, Dino Zoff, and Javier Zanetti are primarily and condescendingly remembered by some for their final years, when they were the oldguard swiping down the young whippersnappers.
The same can be said of Ryan Giggs; the precise, decisive, and intelligent midfielder of 2005 to 2014 was a much different commodity to the galloping gazelle between 1990 and 2003, while 2004 was firmly his transitional year.
It was the early Giggs that was easily the most exciting, as his weekly exploits were so mesmerising, cheeky, and thoroughly entertaining to behold that it led to constant comparisons to Old Trafford’s greatest ever winger George Best. They weren’t hyperbolic, too – just look at this goal from Loftus Road during Manchester United’s first ever double winning campaign in 1993/1994.
By February 1996, with Manchester Untied closing in on Kevin Keegan’s previously rampant Newcastle United and Ryan Giggs having won two titles, he was already beginning to be regarded as one of the experienced pros of the team, someone that could guide the likes of Phil Neville, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, and David Beckham in their Premier League pursuits.
Looking back this was one of Ryan Giggs’ prime seasons for the club. It was the last time he got into double digits for goals in the league, as he scored 11, and he was seemingly buoyed by the responsibility of assisting and inspiring the younger players alongside him, while at the same time looking to match the likes of Eric Cantona and Roy Keane, too.
Yet, for all Ryan Giggs’ brilliance during this campaign, it will still forever be remembered as the year that Eric Cantona single-handedly dragged Manchester United to the title. That’s because, sometimes, you need a moment of awe-inspiring brilliance that burns itself into football fans’ memories. It especially helps when that moment is live on TV, too.
Ryan Giggs nearly had just that when Manchester United travelled to Burden Park to face Bolton on February 25th. Just five minutes into the contest the Welsh wizard was released by Roy Keane and suddenly Manchester United were assaulting towards goal with four forwards against three defenders. But the ball was bouncing like an inflatable fifty pence piece, and while Giggs was able to knee, shin, and then seemingly mis-control it towards the goal Jimmy Phillips was now closing in on the angle.
What happened next was simply divine, especially because it was accompanied by the obligatory iconic Martin Tyler commentary. Because of that, my words simply won’t do it justice, so have at it below. The build-up starts at the 3:50 mark.
Now, I can’t figure out if this goal, and Giggs’ reputation, is all the better because of the fact it hit the bar and then bounced out, only for David Beckham to emphatically head home. And don’t forget the praise Pele got when he missed from the halfway line.
If Giggs’ effort had actually just looped into the goal straight from his left foot, would it have changed the course of time dramatically? Probably not. There’s already plenty of Ryan Giggs stunners to fawn over. In fact, he scored a pearler of a winner in the Manchester derby just a few weeks later.
Either way, Manchester United won the contest against Bolton 6-0. It was a vital, confidence boosting trouncing, especially going into their title decider at St James Park the following week, which they also won. That was decided by a single Eric Cantona goal, something that would divide United and their opponents in the following five games, too.
Cantona’s towering consistency became the residing memory of that season, while even the triumphant debut outing of Fergie’s Fledglings is brought up before Giggs solo endeavours. Still there’s not much reason for him to complain, because that would probably still have been the case even if his Bolton shot had been just a centimetre or two lower, while it’s safe to say that things ultimately turned out rather well for Ryan Giggs and his career in the end anyway even without the goal.