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Tearing you apart for 24 years: United’s greatest ever?

rp_1225243-25791294-640-360-200x200.jpgDestiny, like many other words, is a term often overused in football, but it’s difficult to dismiss it when it comes to Manchester United.

The 1999 Treble was clinched on what would have been Sir Matt Busby’s 90th birthday, while had George Best not departed this world, he would have enjoyed the celebrations for his 62th birthday as United lifted the European Cup in Moscow in 2008.

How apt then, that 12 months on from Sir Alex Ferguson’s last game in charge, United decided it was time to unveil the man tasked with the gargantuan job to restore the club in the upper echelon of English and, hopefully, European football.

May 19th 2014 might well come to signify a bright beginning in United’s history books but, for now at least, it signifies the end of the most illustrious career Old Trafford has seen.

After 24 years and 963 appearances, Ryan Giggs’ decision to hang up his boots does not only bring the curtain down on the footballing life of the most decorated British player in history, it also marks the end of a generation defined by the class of 92.

The kids who grew up watching Giggsy breeze past defenders – “like a cocker spaniel chasing a piece of silver paper in the wind”, as Fergie famously remarked – have now finished university and some might indeed have kids of their own.

The Reds who still stood on the Stretford End when he made his debut for the club – “Remember the name, for we might hear about this boy again,” warned Clive Tyldesley as Giggs trotted onto the pitch for the first time as a United player – have seen their hair growing increasingly grey as those of the man himself.

Players have come and gone, United have experienced unsurpassable heights – winning a first league title after 26 years, clinching two Doubles and the whole of the 1998-99 season – and cruel lows – few and far between, mercifully – but the young lad who joined the club as Ryan Wilson remained a constant throughout.

A dazzling talent in the early days of the Premier League, Giggs has symbolised the league more than any other player and not just because of his wonderful record of netting in all bar one of the season he took part in.

He also arguably represented and will always represent United more than any other player.

Having made his debut in an era when football on TV was the exception rather than the norm, Giggs then enjoyed the media coverage that neither Bobby Charlton nor Best were afforded.

Bigger media exposure does not, of course, make a player better than the other, though achievements that are captured by the cameras reach a wider audience than those that are immortalised in the minds of a fortunate few.

If Sir Bobby was the link between Munich and United’s first European triumph, than Giggsy symbolised United’s transition into the era when football abandoned its sporting roots to become an entertainment business.

Having broken onto the scenes as the new George Best, Giggsy showed plenty of the Northern Irishman on the pitch but, mercifully as far as his career and United were concerned, none of the sheer madness that characterised Bestie’s existence off it.

His emergence coincided with Eric Cantona’s arrival at the club, but while the mercurial Frenchman epitomised Fergie’s early success more than any player, Giggsy outlasted him by 17 seasons – a lifetime by modern football standards – and where Cantona divided audiences, Giggs unified them, with even the most anti-United fans reluctantly bowing their heads at the Welshman’s brilliance.

Even during United’s glorious quest for the ultimate accolade in football in 1999, Giggs’ star never shone brighter than others, despite his crucial equaliser against Juventus and the greatest FA Cup goal of all times. In a team comprising so many great players, Giggs was indeed seen by some as a player who not often performed with the same consistency of some of his peers and while he never had the media profile of David Beckham, he kept on playing at the highest level while his former teammate had turned into a businessman of sort.

Giggs never produced a season of supreme brilliance as Cristiano Ronaldo did in 2007-08, nor was he ever as devastating in front of goal as the Portuguese was, though it’s hard to fathom Ronaldo evolving from flying winger into the sort of central midfielder Giggs was in the autumn of his career, a tribute to his football many have often undervalued.


Perhaps even more importantly, despite once being close to move to Inter Milan, Giggsy never got involved in the sort of contractual shenanigans so typical of Wayne Rooney’s career and, as Rio Ferdinand said, in many ways, his greatness will be fully appreciated only now that he’s retired.

Many clubs, in England and in Europe, are symbolised by a man but Manchester United have been blessed with such an array of talent that is hard to single out one player who could represent the club’s glorious history.

In many ways, however, Ryan Giggs is that man and those who’ve been lucky enough to witness him in action, will never forget what they saw.

From his debut, to the title winning goals at Wigan and from the penalty that clinched the Champions League in the Moscow rain to the ovation he received in his first game as a manager, it truly has been “a wonderful run from Giggs”.