How do you rank tangible moments of not just quality but game-changing quality? How can you measure the significance of one Giggs goal over another or assess the influence he exerted in one match compared to another? It’s an impossible task.
What we’ve endeavored to do instead is find the examples that best represent Giggs’ ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. These five moments, we believe, best summarize the immense influence the one-club man has had on Manchester United and seek to function as the tip of the Giggs iceberg, offering a visual encapsulation of the wonders you’ll find if you dip beneath the surface. If nothing else the following clips offer another chance to bask in the magnificence of the Welsh maverick as he tears opposition defences apart.
5) Tottenham Hotspur 1 MANCHESTER UNITED 1, 19th September 1992
The Goal: Just witness how far away Giggs is from the ball when Austin miscontrols it; the mistake doesn’t deserve such brutal punishment. The winger capitalizes on the lapse in a nanosecond, retrieving the ball, bamboozling the covering Jason Cundy before striding past Walker and nonchalantly finishing from a difficult angle. All this at the tender age of 18.
The Significance: The goal is generally credited with announcing a young Ryan Giggs to the world, earning him a reputation for meandering runs and blink-and-you’ll-miss-him pace in the process. This moment perhaps best typifies Giggs’ electric beginnings and the Class of ’92’s rampant domination of the early Premier League era.
4) Wigan Athletic 0-2 MANCHESTER UNITED, 11th May 2008
The Goal: Sixteen years later and now an United veteran, Giggs works some space in the Wigan penalty area and finishes with an understated coolness, clinching United’s 17th League title in fine fashion.
The Significance: If young Giggs was the lungs of his team, marauding past the opposition with frenetic stamina, then old Giggs was the heart of his, controlling the tempo, pumping passes and dictating space. The Welshman, now converted into a deep-lying playmaker role, enjoyed a much vaunted purple patch in his mid-thirties, producing career-best performances and shepherding Fergie’s next generation of superstars into title winners. This goal was a cherry-on-the-cake finish to a resurgent season in which United won their second of three consecutive League titles and Giggs reproved his relevance.
3) Juventus 0 MANCHESTER UNITED 3, 25th February 2003
The Goal: A divine mixture of elegance and industry as Giggs races through the Juve backline and threads the ball (with his right-foot no less) past a motionless Buffon. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, it probably qualifies as the second best goal of the player’s career.
The Significance: The goal may not have come at a particularly pivotal juncture in proceedings with United already 1-0 up and looking comfortable, but it came during a period of mixed form for the winger as for the first time there were rumblings of discontent emanating from the Old Trafford crowd. Giggs, it was suggested, was losing his touch; his head had been turned after a period of intense speculation linking him with Inter Milan and it was beginning to show on the pitch. The typical Giggsian response was to remind United’s fans just what he was capable of. There have been no inferences of disloyalty since.
The Goal: Often overlooked but undoubtedly crucial, Giggs’ finish against Juventus is visually the least impressive impressive on the list although it still takes fine positional work and admirable composure for the midfielder to rifle the ball into the roof of the net.
The Significance: United’s Champions League campaign in their Treble-winning season is often reduced to three moments; the two snatch-and-grab goals in the Final and the epic comeback away at Juventus inspired by the heroics of Roy Keane. Rarely mentioned is the home leg in which the Italians held a damaging 1-0 lead for seventy-five minutes of the game until Giggs scrambled a last-minute equalizer.
So what you ask? It was in United’s nature to score last gasp goals and even had they lost, the 3-2 win in the return leg would have been enough to see them through. Except the only reason United scored a third was because Juventus were chasing the game. Giggs’ goal wasn’t just vital mathematically but in terms of squad morale it boosted the Devils, substantiating the belief that this was their year and reinvigorating them in preparation for the return leg and their cup match against Arsenal.
In moments such as this the United legend was written, not just domestically but all across Europe, and Giggs was so often the man with the pen. Ingrained in the brain are a litany of interchangeable images of Giggs forcing his team forward in the dying seconds, instigating one final surge down the left wing with a hidden reserve of energy and, inevitably, forcing a last gasp goal. Look no further than the final against Bayern for another example as Giggs lays the ball on a plate (albeit inadvertently) for Teddy Sheringham to greedily gobble up in the dying seconds. It’s a microcosm of the Ferguson ethos that Giggs has embodied for more than twenty years.
1) MANCHESTER UNITED 2 Arsenal 1, 14th April 1999
The Goal: ‘It’s a rather weary one from Vieira…Giggs…gets past Vieira..past Dixon who comes back it 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 ten men go back in front 2-1!’
Martin Tyler’s commentary is etched into this blog’s collective memory. As is everything about that goal. Vieira’s directionless ball, that inexplicable torrent of pace, the debonair weaving that leads to Keown ending up on his backside, that rocket finish into the roof of the net and of course that iconic bare-chested celebration.
The Significance: In the distant future, on the day Ryan Giggs passes away, instead of an epitaph this clip will just be played continuously for weeks on end. The family of Patrick Vieira will complain but no one else will. It’s equisite, superlative, fully deserving of consideration in the same bracket as Maradona vs England or Zidane vs Leverkusen.
And it’s emphatically Giggs. Once again the Welshman performs best when his team’s back is against the wall. Once again (as above against Tottenham and Juve) he capitalizes on a mistake that he has no right to punish with a goal. Once again he reveals hidden depths of resolve and energy he seems to store deep inside him for such occasions.
This was more than just the goal that took Manchester United to the FA Cup final. It was the goal that broke Arsenal, causing The Professor to retreat to his lab and rejig the formula. It was the goal that made that squad (and us) believe indisputably that the impossible was possible, a self-fulfilling prophecy that ignited the players in times of turmoil and drove them to success. It was a goal that gripped you, shook you and reminded you just why you love the beautiful game. You can keep Zlatan’s gravity-defying overhead kicks, Barca’s eye-watering, fifty-pass team goals; we’d take Ryan Giggs running directly at a tired, ageing Arsenal backline any day of the week.
THE PREMIER LEAGUE MANAGERIAL SACKINGS THIS SEASON
Ranked from Reasonable to Indefensible
The Premier League has given us seven managerial casualties thus far this season with the inevitable promise of more to come. Given the criticism often thrust upon overzealous owners for being too trigger happy, short-termist or downright foolish, we’ve decided to study the aforementioned ex-gaffers and rank the acrimonious circumstances of their departures from fairest to harshest dismissal.
7) Ian Holloway, Crystal Palace – Left By Mutual Consent 23rd October 2013
Position When Sacked:19th (5 points from safety after 8 games)
Final Five Games: Man Utd 2 Crystal Palace 0, Crystal Palace 0 Swansea 2, Southampton 2 Crystal Palace 0, Liverpool 3 Crystal Palace 1, Crystal Palace 1 Fulham 4
Reasons For Dismissal: The nature of Hollway’s dismissal is perhaps more complex than other examples on this list. While not an outright resignation the decision to leave was, at least in part, his own, and the term ‘mutual termination’ seems a fair assessment of the Bristolian’s departure rather than a weak attempt to sugarcoat the manager’s removal. Chairman Steve Parish said at the time that ‘”Ian felt that a new approach might help keep us in the division” with Holloway admitting he just didn’t have the energy to steer Palace through a relegation dogfight. In terms of form, the manager departed following five straight defeats and although results betrayed what were some gutsy performances, there was a fear that continuing in this vein would lead to Palace being cut adrift at the foot of the division.
Replacement: Tony Pulis
Verdict: Although we love Holloway it’s hard to argue that his departure wasn’t the right decision for both the club and the man. He seemed to return to the Premiership to discover it was a far different place from the one he had left two years earlier. Under him, Palace looked severely under-prepared for Premier League survival most apparent when the club embarrassingly had to leave two new signings out of their twenty-five man squad after over-buying during the summer. At times like these Holloway appeared woefully out of his depth and it says a lot about the character of the man that he acknowledged as much himself and sought to do what was best for the club. The excellent appointment of Pulis in his place has only strengthened the belief that Holloway was the wrong fit for The Eagles this season. Here’s hoping that an extended break in the lower leagues with Millwall will reinvigorate the enthusiastic manager and eventually give him another crack in top flight.
Scale of Sacking: Reasonable
6) Paolo Di Canio, Sunderland – Sacked 22nd September 2013
Position When Sacked:20th (3 points from safety after 5 games)
Final Five Games: Southampton 1 Sunderland 1, Sunderland 4 MK Dons 2 (League Cup), Crystal Palace 3 Sunderland 1, Sunderland 1 Arsenal 3, West Brom 3 Sunderland 0
Reasons For Dismissal: Di Canio’s gung-ho management style was always likely to attract mass criticism at the first sign of trouble and trouble didn’t take long to find its way to the Stadium of Light. During his short tenure at the club the Italian took exception to almost everyone, routinely criticizing staff, media and his team alike. The squad took the brunt of his ire with Di Canio not shying away from publicly chastising any player who stepped out of line be it Phil Bardsley who was photographed showering himself in £50 notes or John O’Shea’s game-costing red card against Crystal Palace. All of which would be acceptable were it not for the perhaps unsurprising fact that Sunderland just wern’t picking up results.
Replacement: Gus Poyet
Verdict: Clearly a quick-fix solution born out of desperation the previous season, Di Canio’s appointment had never really taken off with the fans (despite a 3-0 Tyne-and-Wear derby win) leaving him little in the way of support when the walls started closing in. The case could be made that five games into a season is hardly enough time to judge a manager, but the damage had been done via the many public fallings-out Di Canio had with his team. The fiery Italian had been vocal about the need to completely revolutionise the club, tearing it apart from the inside out to get rid of the bad practices the Italian manager believed had infested the club. Chairman Ellis Short evidently thought differently and opted to cut his losses with Di Canio while there was still time to turn the season around and who can blame him.
Scale of Sacking: Fair
5) Martin Jol, Fulham – Sacked 1st December 2013
Position When Sacked:18th (3 points from safety after 13 games)
Final Five Games: Leicester 4 Fulham 3 (League Cup), Fulham 1 Man Utd 3, Liverpool 4 Fulham 0, Fulham 1 Swansea 2, West Ham 3 Fulham 0
Reasons For Dismissal: Put pure and simply, Fulham’s performances this season haven’t been good enough for a team of their quality. A team including Berbatov, Parker, Bent, Hangeland and Kasami shouldn’t be languishing in the relegation zone as they did under Jol (and have since), but perhaps the Dutchman would have been granted more time had his team not looked so utterly inept and devoid of ideas. It wasn’t the defeats themselves such as the manner in which they reacted to going down. The writing was on the wall the moment Meulensteen took up a coaching role at the club.
Replacement: René Meulensteen, then Felix Magath
Verdict: The only reason Jol is not further up this list is that Fulham’s subsequent lackluster performances with Meulensteen at the helm seem to suggest a far higher level of decline in the ageing team than had previously been thought. Indeed, any manager would perhaps struggle to inspire consistent performances out of a squad solely dependent upon experience and so bereft of youth and vigor (Kasami aside). That being said Jol did nothing to confront this problem and his post-match interviews towards the end of his reign revealed a man increasingly worn out by the beautiful game albeit one who consistently handled himself with dignity. Shahid Khan had to make a change, although Jol deserved better than the speculative limbo he was placed into when Meulensteen joined his backroom staff.
Scale of Sacking: Fair but flaunting his replacement in his face was a bit of a low-blow
5) René Meulensteen, Fulham – Sacked 14th February 2014
Position When Sacked:20th (4 points from safety after 26 games)
Final Five Games: Swansea 2 Fulham 0, Fulham 0 Southampton 3, Fulham 0 Sheff Utd 1 (FA Cup), Man Utd 2 Fulham 2, Fulham 2 Liverpool 3
Reasons For Dismissal: If Khan was looking for a marked improvement when he ditched Jol and gave the reigns to Meulensteen, he didn’t get it. Performances remained languid and, at times, worryingly apathetic as the Londoners spiraled closer and closer to relegation. Despite attempting to support Meulensteen by giving senior positions to experienced figures Ray Wilkins and Alan Curbishley, at times these appointments seemed to have the opposite effect, undermining the Dutchman by suggesting he lacked the capacity to do the job by himself. In the end, Khan came to a crossroads and made the decision to go for broke with the appointment of Felix Magath.
Replacement: Felix Magath
Verdict: Although thirteen games is undoubtedly too shorter tenure to get the measure of any manager, Fulham simply couldn’t afford to give Meulensteen the time to prove himself. That being said they backed him in the transfer market during January (£12 million was spent on Konstantinos Mitroglou) and encouraging performances against Man Utd and Liverpool had seemed to suggest the Dutchman was slowly steadying the ship. Like Jol, the nature of Meulensteen’s dismissal was graceless although arguments could be made the ex-United coach was appointed in similar circumstances himself so should have known what to expect. Time will tell if Magath’s disciplinarian approach is what the team needs.
Scale of Sacking: Once again a fair dismissal but to seemingly appoint a replacement before having the good grace to dispense with Meulensteen’s services lacks class
4) Malky Mackay, Cardiff City – Sacked 27th December 2013
Position When Sacked:16th (1 point above relegation zone after 18 games)
Final Five Games: Stoke 0 Cardiff 0, Crystal Palace 2 Cardiff 0, Cardiff 1 West Brom 0, Liverpool 3 Cardiff 1, Cardiff 0 Southampton 3
Reasons For Dismissal: It’s not quite as clear-cut as it was portrayed at the time. Mackay (or staff working alongside Mackay) spent a lot of money in the summer transfer window with mixed results (Medel seems integral, Cornelius less so). It could be argued that with that amount of money spent, a chairman could expect to see his team reach a certain level of performance. Where this issue clouds is in deciding what degree of the team’s bad form was caused by Vincent Tan undermining his manager and what degree would have occurred regardless of Tan’s input.
Replacement: Ole Gunnar Solskjær
Verdict: Constant speculation into Mackay’s future at Cardiff no doubt hampered his side’s progress and left the Scot in a position where every matchday he wasn’t sure whether that game would be his last. Tan inherited Mackay when he took over the club so one could make the case that since the manager was never officially the his choice, the Malaysian was well within his rights to fire Mackay and bring his own man in. However, the way in which Tan handled the dismissal is unarguably abhorrent as he presumably attempted to make his manager’s position untenable in the hope that Mackay would quit of his own volition and Tan would not have to provide the Scot with a tasty severance package. Let’s hope with his own baby-faced choice in place, Tan now retires from the public eye.
Scale of Sacking: Undeserved although his position had long-since become untenable
3) Steve Clarke, West Bromwich Albion – Sacked 14th December 2013
Position When Sacked:15th (2 points above relegation zone after 16 games)
Final Five Games: West Brom 2 Aston Villa 2, Newcastle 2 West Brom 1, West Brom 2 Man City 3, West Brom 0 Norwich 2, Cardiff 1 West Brom 0
Reasons For Dismissal: More than any other dismissal on this list, Steve Clarke’s seemed to come out of nowhere, particularly given a much-lauded victory at Old Trafford earlier in the season and a desperately unlucky draw at Chelsea more recently still. However, it was a run of bad results against relegation favourites Cardiff and Norwich that did it in for the erstwhile number two, with the Scot a victim of his own success in The Baggies’ previous campaign. Clearly the board felt a succession of losses against meager opposition represented a significant enough step back to cost Clarke his job.
Replacement: Pepe Mel
Verdict: There is an argument to be made that Clarke’s initial success was the anomaly and this season’s form accurately represented his true managerial abilities. It is also true that West Brom had only won 7 of their 34 games played in 2013 suggesting that despite this still being relatively early in Clarke’s tenancy his team had reached a point of stagnation. However the results against United and Chelsea implied there was still life in the old Brom yet and, with the team in no real danger of relegation (then anyway), the least Clarke deserved was another full season to attempt to rectify the situation. Add to this the fact that successor Pepe Mel wasn’t appointed until 26 days after Clarke’s departure and it seems pertinent to question The Baggies’ urgency in sacking their coach with no planned replacement in place.
Scale of Sacking: Very harsh
2) Michael Laudrup, Swansea City – Sacked 14th February 2014
Position When Sacked:12th (2 points from relegation zone after 24 games)
Final Five Games: Man Utd 2 Swansea 0, Swansea 1 Tottenham 3, Birmingham 1 Swansea 2 (FA Cup) , Swansea 2 Fulham 0, West Ham 2 Swansea 0
Reasons For Dismissal: Much like Steve Clarke,Laudrup seems to fall into the category of managers damned by their own success. Laudrup’s debut campaign for The Swans was a dream as the Welsh club won the League Cup in style and finished an impressive 9th in the league. Cue a unanimous raising of expectations which the manager couldn’t possibly fulfill and less than a year after his famous cup win the Dane has been shown the door. In defence of the decision, Laudrup’s future has always been a sketchy subject with rumours filtering in and out during the summer that the manager was on the verge of resigning (swiftly denied) and The Swans’ recent league form had seen just one win in ten. Even taking all this in however, the decision still seems incredible.
Replacement: Garry Monk
Verdict: Analysing the club’s recent form (which seems to be the primary reason for Laudrup’s dismissal) shows that among the teams played over the last ten games were Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Everton. Slipped inbetween these results was an impressive cup win over that very same Manchester United. While this year’s campaign hasn’t come close to eclipsing the heavy heights of the last, Swansea have had to factor the Europa League into an already busy fixture list and have wracked up multiple injuries to integral players over the course of the season (Michu and Vorm crucially). Laudrup’s summer buys are yet to truly deliver (Bony aside) but one would have hoped last seasons heroics would have earned the Dane enough good faith for the Swans to spend the season hovering comfortably in midtable and testing themselves in European competition. Undoubtedly Huw Jenkins thought differently.
Scale of Sacking: Ridiculous bordering on unjustifiable
1) Andre Villas-Boas, Tottenham Hotspur – Sacked 16th December 2013
Position When Sacked:7th (5 points from Champions League places after 16 games)
Final Five Games: Tottenham 2 Man Utd 2, Fulham 1 Tottenham 2, Sunderland 1 Tottenham 2, Tottenham 4 Anzhi 1 (Europa League), Tottenham 0 Liverpool 5
Reasons For Dismissal: Mutual termination was the official terminology given to the parting of ways between Villas-Boas and Tottenham however it seems clear to all that the Portuguese manager was sacked after an abject humiliation at home to Liverpool. This result combined with a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of City a few weeks earlier was too much for Daniel Levy who demanded more from the £100 million Spurs spent over the summer.
Replacement: Tim Sherwood
Verdict:Although we’ve been loath to judge the fairness of a sacking based on managerial replacements thus far Tim Sherwood’s appointment is essential to the structure of our verdict. AVB, throughout his Tottenham tenure, made constant references to ‘the project’ he was building at White Hart Line; a long-term vision to advance the club until they were capable of consistently competing with the best. As Brendan Rodgers has shown at Liverpool projects take time, both to implement a new style and integrate new players; especially when you have so many new, senior players in the case of Tottenham, all of whom are expecting significant game time. This new team cannot be expected to instantly click; they must learn the system, understand their teammates, understand the league. What Levy essentially expected was for Villas-Boas to produce a title winning team with a wholly new untried and untested squad.
Putting this to one side for a moment and recognizing that, like Vincent Tan, an owner or chairman has a right to see a certain amount of progress after parting with a considerable outlay, one can fully understand anger after two repugnant displays in the space of a month against teams that should be title rivals . However, what doesn’t make sense in this narrative is to fire Villas-Boas and replace him with youth coach Tim Sherwood . This is not a criticism of Sherwood who by all accounts is a fine coach, but even he must clearly see himself as a buffer between coaches and projects (hence why he refused to accept a six-month contract). The sacking of Villas-Boas wasn’t an inconceivable decision because of the manager’s ability (although undoubtedly he deserved more time) or Sherwood’s inexperience, it’s a ridiculous decision because it essentially turns its back on the £100 million outlay four months into the season, writing it off as a loss as can be seen in Tottenham’s attempt to instantly sell-on several of their new recruits in the January transfer window. It’s short-termism at its most apparent. It’s the footballing equivalent of cutting off your nose to spite your face. It is, without doubt, the stupidest sacking of a Premier League season so far characterised by stupid sackings.
Scale of Sacking: A fucking travesty
Bookmaker’s Current Favourite For The Sack: Chris Hughton