I have been an avid football fan for quite sometime now. Manchester United is my religion and there’s a galaxy of Gods that I revere. I haven’t quite got married yet, so instead of saying “United, wife, kids” I’d say “United, girlfriend, beer. In that order”.
Every era, be it any sport, beholds this uncanny ability to produce a prodigy of such ethereal qualities, it would make everyone stand up and take notice. One look and you can tell that it’s likely that you might not come across a similar figure or anything even remotely close to that, possibly for the rest of your life. That is the feeling I’d gladly exchange my left kidney for. That is the surge I’d trade my loyalties with.
Football, today, has evolved almost beyond recognition. The competition is cut-throat and the player transfer market in major leagues holds the ability to put the Dow Jones to shame. Such is the magnitude of the sport, it’s almost scary. The English Premier League is probably the leader of the pack in those terms. The league has gradually gained prominence, especially in the past decade or so and transfer prices for top players are beyond belief. No wonder players are often tempted to change loyalties in pursuit of more glory and money (read, Cristiano Ronaldo). It is disheartening sometimes to see a promising talent leave for better shores. But that is the nature of the modern world of football, I guess it’s here to stay.
Given these circumstances, you’d be surprised to find a player who has stayed with a single club for his entire career. The likes of Paolo Maldini (AC Milan) are close to being extinct now. One such player, who has managed to devote all his energies to Manchester United for 21 years now, who has won over countless hearts in the process and still managed to hold a firm head on his shoulders, step in the arena nonchalantly and systematically disintegrate opposition defences, is Ryan Giggs.
He is the personification of the term ‘boy wonder’. He is the poster boy for endurance and eternal youth. One of the reasons why you would like to dedicate yourself as a fan, oh so selflessly to a team that has nothing to do with your nationality. Such is the magnetic charisma the man exudes.
Born Ryan Joseph Wilson on 29th November, 1979 in Cardiff, Wales. Who could have imagined him going on to become the most decorated player of arguably the greatest football club in the world? He started young, picked up skills from the street, showed a lot of promise from the word go. It was not long before word got around and opportunity came knocking. Calling that an opportunity would actually be an understatement. An Old Trafford steward, Harold Wood, watched Ryan play and told Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager, “He’s with City at the moment and if you lose him you’ll regret it”. Sir Alex, a veteran in the field with years of experience and an eagle eye for talent, turned up at his house and offered him a two-year term on an associate basis. When Fergie comes along, you just cannot say no. Nobody denies Sir Alex. Giggs signed up then and there. He was 14 then. He changed his name to Ryan Giggs, adopting his mother’s maiden name, two years after his parents separated, a dedication to his maternal inclination. A legend was emerging. His style suited the wings where he could weave through opposition defences and strike a lethal blow with his wonderfully gifted left foot.
He played for the youth squad for a few seasons and eventually graduated to the first team. Such was the impact he made on his arrival at the club, the first team players were constantly inquiring about him even as he was a part of the youth team. He made his league début in the 1991 season when he was only 17 and was crowned the PFA Young Player of the season in 1992 after he produced an assist which resulted in the winning goal against Nottingham Forest. United went on to lift the League Cup. It was to be the first of the 23 trophies he would go on to win with United over the span of his career. He had arrived.
Ryan spent most of the first season on the sidelines as he was not the first choice. From the 1992-1993 season onwards, he established himself as the first choice left winger. The 1993-94 season saw him come of age, which coincided with United achieving a famous league double. His popularity soared and he captured the imagination of many would-be United supporters. His clean-cut image was a sea change from the traditionally physical soccer typecast the league had come to be known for. He has been praised by some of the greatest players ever known to football like George Best, who once said, “One day, they might even say that I was another Ryan Giggs”. That was huge, coming from a man of his stature.
His career reached a crescendo in the 1998-99 season when United won the unprecedented treble, collecting the Premier League, the UEFA Champion’s League and the FA Cup. He scored the best goal of his career against Arsenal during the same season, when he dribbled past the whole Arsenal defence to launch a screamer past a hapless David Seaman, the then Arsenal goalkeeper. Andy Gray, the brilliant Premier League commentator gave it a fitting tribute when he described the goal live, saying, “A rather weary one from Vieira, gets past Vieira, past Dixon, comes back at him, it’s a wonderful run from Giggs! Sensational goal from Ryan Giggs in the second period of extra time. He’s cut Arsenal to ribbons and the team with 10 men go back in front 2-1…when we needed a finish, my God did he give us one, what a strike, after beating 3,4,5 players, wonderful, wonderful!” Ironically, that was to be the last goal scored in an FA Cup replay game as the format was changed from the next season to extra time and penalties. You couldn’t have asked for a better goal to draw curtains on a concept. It was the most befitting end to a fruitful campaign. The image of Giggs, bare-chested, swerving his shirt around sprinting the length of the pitch after scoring is etched in the hearts of every United faithful. The video still gives me goosebumps, after all the time span notwithstanding. That was the season I started supporting United. I needed no reasons.
The camaraderie he shared with his teammates was fabulous. He has gained tremendous respect from fellow United players, supporters and the management. Giggs has matured like fine wine. He might not be able to breeze past defenders with the ease he used to, but Sir Alex has used him judiciously. He plays a role deeper and holds sway in central midfield. He controls the heart of the defence and has a knack of delivering killer passes that result in goals most of the times. The United management even ditched their strict policy of offering players above the age of 30 a maximum of one year extension on their contracts by signing up Giggs for two more years after the 2005 season. This speaks volumes about the long-term impact he has had on the club’s ideology.
He has won several accolades over the years, apart from the mountain of titles he has won with United. Giggs boasts of a successful international career with Wales. He was the youngest player to represent the Wales national side when he debuted in 1991, a record he held for 15 years. He went on to win 64 national caps, scored 12 goals and was chosen as the captain for the side in 2004. He holds the unique distinction of having scored in every season of the Premier League and the UEFA Champion’s league since its inception and the only player to have scored in 11 consecutive Champion’s League tournaments. He beat Sir Bobby Charlton’s record of 758 club appearances in 2008. He is the only player to win 11 league titles. The amount of success he has achieved is staggering. We often joke that the whole Liverpool team put together would not have won half of what Giggs himself has.
But it’s not the statistics that set him apart from the bevy of superstars that United flaunt. His work ethics, discipline, single-minded dedication and unparalleled commitment are literally unheard of in football circles. On the pitch, he’s a joy to watch, off it, he is an enigma who quietly slips under the shadows of his private life. You’d be surprised to know that he has never been sent off in his entire soccer career with United and only once with Wales. The man has let his football do the talking all these years, stayed out of controversies and has scattered those seasons with moments of magic and stunning workmanship. He is one of the reasons I’m not ashamed of openly weeping when we lose a game, he’s the reason millions like me look up to United as more than a club. It is a brotherhood bound by passion, a legacy closely held together by those few chosen ones like Giggsey, who, week after week torment rival teams and bring joy to Old Trafford and to the living rooms of those all around the globe. He has been involved in fundraisers for charity and campaigns against racism. Just like his display on the pitch, he has never made a big deal about it.
Now, I’d like to give my right kidney as well but I wouldn’t be left with much. All that I could humanely do is sign a petition proposing Knighthood for him. For all that the man has done for us, this is the least he deserves. You can brand it as propaganda but I couldn’t care less, honestly. I am sure even our most bitter rivals, the hardcore Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool fans would agree with me when I say that he deserves the knighthood. The link is http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/ryan-giggs-should-be-awarded-a-knighthood.html. The petition will tell you all that I have missed out on here. The choice is yours.
He’s 35 now and has reached the twilight of his career. Regardless of how long he goes on for and when he retires, he has cemented a permanent corner in all our Red hearts!
My rant is over.
[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/2257832328/]