Lehmann vs Almunia: A Battle for the Ages

Classic Feuds Gold

In the annals of sporting history there exist several epoch defining battles; boxing had Ali vs Fraizer, Formula One had Senna vs Prost and for a few glorious years football and, more specifically, Arsenal had Lehmann vs Almunia, a titanic clash of egos brought to a head once weekly in front of a raucous Gunners crowd baying for blood and thunder. It would not be an exaggeration to state that the petulant squabbles and mutual scorn that characterized the goalkeepers’ relationship over the four years they spent together in North London, may just constitute the greatest sporting rivalry of all time.

Lehmann Almunia

Lehmann vs Almunia: a Herculean battle for the ages

It all started rather anticlimactically. Newly-crowned league champions Arsenal, coming off the back of a spectacular unbeaten campaign, needed a backup for first-choice keeper Jens Lehmann, himself only a season deep into his Gunner’s career. Perhaps the the most impressive part of The Invincible’s aforementioned run is that they managed the whole thing with anonymous, space-holder Graham Stack as first reserve for Lehmann and the team’s success only heightened the need for an able understudy.

Step forward fresh-faced Manuel Almunia, signed for a princely sum of ‘undisclosed fee’ from Albacete which we can only assume translates fittingly as Able City. This signing itself changed nothing at the business end of the team; Lehmann was the undisputed first choice keeper, Almunia the recognised second. Even the arrival of the ridiculously named Estonian stopper Mart Poom a season later failed to disrupt the natural order of things and for three mildly successful seasons Arsenal’s first-choice keeper pottered along without a care in the world.

Lehmann Almunia 2

And much fun was had by all.

However, two horrific Lehmann errors in the opening two games of the 2007-2008 season would provide the opening Almunia had been waiting for. The first, a erratic piece of miscontrol allowing Fulham’s David Healy to pass the ball into an empty net, was farcical yet ultimately meaningless as Arsenal won the game 2-1 . The second,  an inexplicable fumble into his own goal from a tame David Dunn shot, would prove more costly as Blackburn held on to secure a 1-1 draw against The Gunners.

In the wake of that match, Mad Jens was heavily criticized for his lackadaisical display and an injury conveniently incurred the following week whilst on international duty gifted Almunia a starting place without the ignominy of formally dropping the German. The only problem was upon Lehmann’s return to full fitness the Spaniard selfishly and rudely remained in the starting line upon merit rather than humbly vacating his place to the German. Around this point the story gets sour.

Unwilling to accept responsibility for his own catalog of errors and subsequent demotion, Lehmann sought desperately to blame his failings on factors and people around him; a technique more recently known ‘Bendtnering’. First he blamed his fitness declaring that upon full recovery he’d regain his place. When he could no longer conceivably claim injury as a factor he inevitably found solace in blaming his Spanish counterpart; Almunia was responsible, there was no other possible explanation.

David Dunn

No other possible explanation comes to mind…

So Lehmann declared war and began a merciless campaign of smear-tactics reminding Almunia again and again through the press that he was only temporarily occupying a position that was Lehmann’s to reclaim whenever he saw fit. He did so by questioning his counterpart’s quality, suggesting Almunia’s replacement of him was a ‘humiliation’ and generally treating his colleague with equal-parts rancor and disrespect. At one point during this ordeal Almunia is legitimately and hilariously quoted as saying  ‘To have someone here who hates me is just amazing. I know he hates me.’

This wasn’t a secret war contested behind closed doors and vocalized through intense stares; Lehmann was openly and actively hostile towards the Spaniard.

In return, Almunia eventually bit back. After five months of being constantly berated for essentially doing his job, he replied ‘I treat people the way I would like to be treated myself… Every morning I wake up I know it is going to be the same. But I don’t care any more. I come into training and work with Łukasz Fabiański and Vito Mannone. They are better than him anyway.’ The one-way assault had suddenly encountered some resistance.

It is important to declare at this juncture that there is no rule stating teammates have to get along, nor definitive proof animosity between teammates necessarily prevents success. Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham (in)famously hated one another and yet the two were part of, arguably, the most successful English club side of all time in the form of Manchester United’s Treble-winning squad. What stands out about Lehmann and Almunia’s clash in particular is that rather than keeping their feelings to themselves, the two (Mad Jens especially) deliberately antagonized one another in the public eye.

Cole Sheringham

‘I hate you so fucking much.’

‘Stop!’ a teary-eyed Łukasz Fabiański once begged the two (probably). ‘Can’t you see you’re tearing this family apart.’ But poor, little Lukasz’s cry fell upon death ears.

Something had to give and that something turned out to Lehmann. After appearing in a smattering of games at the end of the season (thanks in no small part to an Almunia injury) both club and player opted to part ways with the German coming to the end of his contract.

Rather than prospering upon finally freeing himself of Lehmann’s shadow Almunia flattered to deceive. Blundering and bungling his way through the following two seasons, the Spaniard’s intermittent moments of brilliance only served to frustrate, providing fans with an image of what could be were he to deliver on a more consistent basis. Thanks to a combination of injuries and poor form he eventually lost his place to Polish understudies Łukasz Fabiański and Wojciech Szczęsny. Lehmann meanwhile returned to his native Germany to make war with the entire city of  Stuttgart. This wouldn’t be the last time the two crossed paths however.

Lehmann 2nd Arsenal

Beaten but not finished yet.

In 2011 Arsenal were going through an injury crisis (or as it’s more commonly known at Arsenal, spring); both Polish understudies were out leaving Almunia as the sole available goalkeeper. Once again Arsenal needed an able backup and in a bizarre twist of circumstance he turned this time to the German to support the Spaniard. Having retired the previous summer, Lehmann was free and ready to oblige Wenger and he returned as he had left; with words of warning to his counterpart, stating he was prepared to fight for a first team place. The difference this time was that the battle was not just between these two men and after a spirited cameo against Blackpool (a match Arsenal won 3-1), Lehmann was thrust back into the shadows never to play again. Almunia too was pushed to the bench as everybody’s favourite spelling-mistake Wojciech Szczęsny returned to the starting line up after a quick recovery.

That summer saw Lehmann bid his second farewell to his Arsenal teammates. The details of his final day are sketchy but we’ll endeavor to piece together what we can from the limited information we have.

As he said his goodbyes Lehmann began shaking hands and hugging his way through a changing room full of well-wishers whilst Almunia noticeably kept his distance at the back of the crowd. Making his way to the door the German hovered briefly, stopping at a teary-eyed Łukasz Fabiański.

‘Do you have to go’, little Łukasz sobbed.

‘I’m afraid so Łukasz’, Jens replied, crouching down on one knee to meet the Pole’s eyeline. ‘But this isn’t goodbye,’ he continued. ‘Just so long. Remember what I taught you. Keep your chin up and your ear to the ground. And more than anything remember Papa Jens will always love you.’

Łukasz Fabiański smiled weakly and wiped clear his eyes. ‘I’ll miss you Papa Jens’, he whispered.

‘And I you little Łukasz.’

Jens put a reassuring arm upon the Pole’s shoulder and beamed broadly before rising to his feet. As he reached the door he looked back once more and hesitated, taking a final, lingering look at the dressing room that he had called home for so long. As he motioned to leave, from the back of the huddle came a pronounced clapping, slow at first but gradually it began to build as other joined in. Soon enough the entire room was applauding the German and he swallowed back a wave of emotion as he took in the moment. As the crowd parted Jens became aware of the originator of the clap; the Able City Spaniard himself, Manuel Almunia.

The two shot-stoppers shared a look for what seemed like eternity but in reality was only a few milliseconds. Then Lehmann nodded a nod so feint and subtle Dennis Bergkamp would have been proud of it. Manuel responded with a cheesy grin that seemed to say ‘You can be my wingman anytime.’ And with that Jens was gone.

'Kid's got moves I'll give him that.'

‘You got moves kid, I’ll give you that.’

That story may not be completely true in terms of facts or events but the essence is true and it was important this piece had a poignant ending. For the pedants who like their true stories heavy on the truth and weak on story perhaps the quote below will satisfy you. It isn’t a heartwarming tale touching on subjects as diverse as fatherhood, forgiveness and loss with a cheeky Top Gun reference to boot, but it’s full of that truth you seem to love so much.

Almunia was recently interviewed regarding his time at Arsenal (he has since left for Watford) and although only touched on it briefly he did shed some light on his current relationship with Lehmann:

“In his last season at Arsenal there was a team dinner for us all to say goodbye. Jens and me didn’t speak — and I mean never — but he came to me with his wife and showed me a totally different face. I thought, ‘oh my God, who is this? This is not Jens!’ We talked about life, football, Spain, Germany, everything.”

So there you have it. The fiery German and the meek-come-embattled Spaniard left their differences on the pitch, their rivalry now just a sidenote to what would prove to be a increasingly sobering decade for Arsenal after the euphoric high of The Invincibles which coincided with the start of Lehmann’s tenure. But what a sidenote it proved to be. It may lack the intricacy of a Henry finessed finish or the delicacy of a Bergkamp touch but in many ways it is just a representative of modern day Arsenal; a beautiful, unstoppable car-crash contested by two drivers with undoubted talent but inexplicable blind-spots making you sometimes question why Wenger gave them the keys in the first place.

THE CONTEST: Lehmann starts the stronger of the two and is merciless in his assault relying on cheap shots to do the bulk of his damage. Despite initially refusing to stoop to the German’s level Almunia eventually fights back landing a few hard hits himself and seemingly put Lehmann down for the count. However at nine Mad Jens finds a new lease of life rising and landing a killer blow on his opponent before sinking to the floor himself.

FINAL VERDICT: DOUBLE KNOCKOUT. No winners except the fans.


The Gold ClubThe Gold Club


Jens Lehmann

‘The Madman’

Ah Jens. ‘Mad Jens’. Where to start with you?

Well maybe it’s best to begin by stating that our second inductee into The Gold Club is unquestionably a more left-field choice than debut entrant and certified Premier League legend Ryan Giggs. Lehmann can not hope to compete with Giggs’ in terms of domestic longevity nor trophy haul. His name will not be sung high and low through Welsh valleys nor, for that matter, through the lederhosed hinterlands of his native Deutschland. He doesn’t have a ‘that moment’ on par with Giggs’ marauding run through the Arsenal backline, in fact when attempting to conjure to mind an equivalent for Lehmann you are more than likely left with a montage of the German aggressively wagging his gloved finger in an opposition striker’s face or screaming in protestation at a decision gone against him. The closest thing the keeper has to a tangible ‘moment’ is the farcical confrontation with Didier Drogba embedded below.

And yet his name too will be written indelibly into Premier League folklore. Perhaps not front and centre as will be the case with Giggs, but scrawled in messy biro on the outer margins of the page. Not neat or conventional but deserving of a place all the same.

Why you ask? Well he was an Invincible for one; one of Arsene Wenger’s heroic league-romping squad who went the entire 38 unbeaten in 2003-2004. Then again so was Pascal Cygan and it’ll be a cold day in hell before he forces his way through The Gold Club’s rigorous screening  process and into our hearts and minds.

Well, then there’s the fact he was a damn fine keeper too, a fact his controversial reputation sometime serves to obfuscate. His fiery disposition together with a reputation for baiting opposition players and making inadvisable, gung-ho charges from his goal line at the first hint of the ball entering Arsenal’s half (an admittedly hilarious weakness) leads many to overlook the German’s quality; at his most awe-inspiring he was among the best in the world.

Really, you ask, sort of rudely now. Well let’s break it down. His size and aforementioned (over) eagerness to rush from his goal made for an opposing and intimidating presence should a pacey striker chance to slip in behind the Arsenal rearguard. Yes, this propensity to dash from his goal line did cost him on the greatest stage of them all – a early red card in the Champions League Final against Barcelona not only terminally crippled his side’s chances but cruelly ended Robert Pires’ Arsenal career as the Frenchman was substituted eighteen minutes into his self-confirmed last match, a game his entire family had traveled the bereted vineyards of Francais to watch.


However, the keeper’s admitted rashness, here and in other instances, was an accepted risk of the attacking full-back system Wenger employed. More often than not Lehmann’s quick reactions would immediately extinguish an opponent’s attack or, even better, disperse the ball immediately back into opposition territory. A similar sort of system was employed by Spurs and Hugo Lloris  under AVB this season although Lehmann was less of a ‘sweeper keeper’ and more of a steaming locomotive hellbent on retrieving the ball at all costs.

The German also called upon a biscuit-tin pilfering reach to pluck crosses from the sky, a cannon-like throw to find distant teammates always looking to break and seemed able to defy the laws of physics to save shots that had looked predestined to nestle into the back of his net. Throughout these moments Mad Jens would simultaneously be throwing a barrage of insults at the referee for not spotting supposed infringements (of which he, of course, claimed to be the victim) occurring on a constant basis in and around his six-yard box. ‘I’ve done my job. Now you do yours’, the goalkeeper seemed to be constantly telling the referee.

But the ref only got half the German’s thunder as he marshaled Arsenal’s defenders in a way that can only be described as Schmeichelesque; commanding, rebuking and outright bullying teammates into doing his bidding at times. Given Arsenal’s more recent problems it’s hard not to feel they’d benefit from a more Lehmannic presence lurking behind their backline; an angry voice spreading through the team’s ranks like a forest fire, gaining in momentum and ferocity as the game wears on. Undoubtedly talented as Wojciech Szczęsny is (and arguably a better handler of the ball than the German), he cuts more of a jovial presence in The Gunner’s goal, an impression Lehmann actively avoided. You’d be hard-pressed, for instance, to imagine Mad Jens taking a self-satisfied ‘selfie’ after a shaky North London derby win or allowing the complacency that occasionally creeps into the Pole’s game to creep into his own; in fact, Wenger’s later occasional preference for Manuel Almunia in goal ensured complacency simply couldn’t become an issue for Lehmann.

There’s also a sense that Szczęsny, like his team, has folded during the big games whereas Jens came emphatically alive one way or another during them. He had the uncanny ability to utilize all the aforementioned skills just when Arsenal needed it most; a crucial penalty save against Villarreal in a Champions League semi-final here, a full-face block from a scorching Ronaldo volley there (advancing the parameters of what we understood to be goalkeeping, via his face). The supernatural, man-of-the-match performance against Manchester United in a FA Cup final his team deserved to lose but Jens stubbornly insisted upon winning perhaps typifies this best.

Lehman Group Celebrate

However, he also had a nasty habit of spectacularly imploding in those same games. Big mistakes against Tottenham and Chelsea in his first season in England, the aforementioned red against Barcelona; the German never hid from the important matches but all-too-often made game-changing errors through instinct-based decisions.

The problem was all of his skills lacked a key essential ingredient; consistency. Throughout his career Lehmann rode sensational peaks and suffered embarrassing troughs. His mistakes were never a result of complacency – Lehmann’s self-confidence was always twinned with an iron-willed application – they seemed instead to be ingrained within his genetics.  The player’s form shifted with his mood and the same qualities that led him to pull off remarkable saves were intrinsically linked to the weaknesses that led to a number of high profile errors.

Wenger’s decision to test Almunia in his place may seem bizarre in retrospect, (Almunia at times made errors seem an artform; the 2010-2011 season saw Almunia’s Salvador Dalí compete with Heurelho Gomes’ Vincent van Gogh for the title of worst goalkeeper in the Premiership; a title made all the more impressive considering the category also contained well-versed fumblers Scott Carson, Steve Harper and a fresh off the World Cup plane, Rob Green), but it seemed intended as a jolt to the system for Lehmann. Upon his return Jens excelled in key matches but mistakes still intermittently appeared throughout his game. Wenger’s plan seemed to misunderstand the German; he believed by dropping Jens the mistakes could be eradicated from his game, theorizing a shot to Lehmann’s confidence would make him train harder and become more focused. But the problems were never a matter of poor focus or under-training. The goalkeeper was unshakably confident, yes but it could be argued this skill is essential for a top-level keeper. The ability to not get rattled and to pick yourself up again post-blunder is vital and a generation of England goalkeepers attest to the fact that one high profile mistake can ruin a once-promising career. Lehmann was never rattled. When he was dropped his response was not to look inside himself, it was to look to exterior sources; Wenger’s incompetence, Almunia’s inferiority.  Wenger’s dropping just made Lehmann resentful and angry at those around him.

Lehmann 2nd Arsenal

What Wenger initially didn’t understand was that these mistakes were a byproduct of the same iron and fire that made Lehmann such an asset to his team. The same confidence that inspires his team mates around him, the same instincts that are responsible for countless stunning saves are the same traits that proved Lehmann’s downfall on a number of occasions. This “fire” is what distinguishes him from his contemporaries and earns him a place in The Gold Club; a temperamental impulse equally likely to lead to self-destruction as to a moment of magic. It can’t be bottled, it can’t be tamed but at its most potent it made Jens a magnetic, mesmeric presence. A ominous storm swiftly approaching over the hillside. Hurricane Jens.

Lehman Confrontational

Aside from his five years in the English top flight (in addition to a brief cameo in which he was parachuted in to cover Arsenal’s never-ending injury problems), Lehmann played the majority of his career in his native Germany intersected by a brief and unhappy spell in Italy. Over the next two weeks we’ll dig a little deeper into these spells and his international career to give a fully rounded picture of the German. We’ll also look more closely at his rivalry with Almunia and the many controversies that have blighted and characterized Mad Jens’ career.


Ryan Giggs’ Trophy Cabinet




Manchester United

Premier League (13): 1992–93, 1993–94, 1995–96, 1996–97, 1998–99, 1999–2000, 2000–01, 2002–03, 2006–07, 2007–08, 2008–09, 2010–11, 2012–13
FA Cup (4): 1993–94, 1995–96, 1998–99, 2003–04
Football League Cup (4): 1991–92, 2005–06, 2008–09, 2009–10
FA Community Shield (9): 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2013
UEFA Champions League (2): 1998–99, 2007–08
UEFA Super Cup (1): 1991
Intercontinental Cup (1): 1999
FIFA Club World Cup (1): 2008


PFA Young Player of the Year (2): 1991–92, 1992–93
PFA Team of the Year (6): 1992–93, 1997–98, 2000–01, 2001–02, 2006–07, 2008–09
PFA Team of the Century (1): 1997–2007[93]
PFA Players’ Player of the Year (1): 2008–09
FWA Tribute Award: 2007
Bravo Award (1): 1993
BBC Sports Personality of the Year (1): 2009
BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year (2): 1996, 2009
GQ Sportsman of the Year (1): 2010
Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year (1): 1997–98
Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year (2): 1990–91, 1991–92
Premier League 10 Seasons Awards (1992–93 to 2001–02): Overall Team of the Decade
Premier League 20 Seasons Awards (1992–93 to 2011–12): Most Player Appearances (596)
UEFA Champions League 10 Seasons Dream Team (1992 to 2002): 2002
Wales Player of the Year Award (2): 1996, 2006
Premier League Player of the Month (3): September 1993, August 2006, February 2007
Goal of the Season (1): 1998–99
English Football Hall of Fame Inductee: 2005
Golden Foot: 2011

Orders and special awards

OBE for services to football: 2007
Honorary Master of Arts degree from Salford University for contributions to football and charity work in developing countries: 2008
Freedom of the City of Salford: 7 January 2010. He is the 22nd person to receive the Freedom of the City of Salford.

Dice                                                                                                           The Gold Club


Has the world now forgiven Ryan Giggs?

In early 2011, Ryan Giggs was vilified in the British press for cheating on his wife with socialite Imogen Thomas and, it later emerged, his brother’s wife, Natasha Giggs. Most damning of all, at least in the tabloids’ mind, were the footballer’s increasingly desperate attempts to cover the affairs up through temporarily succesful super injunctions and a much-derided attempt to take legal action against Twitter after users of the network publicly exposed his misdeeds. Three years on, with the dust settled, The Diceman asks, has the world now forgiven Ryan Giggs?

Giggs Suit

The problem with paying such unadulterated professional tribute to Giggs (of which he is fully deserving) is that you risk ignoring the elephant in the room; namely his very public misdeeds of  few years ago. Using him as a stick by which to measure future Gold Club inductees becomes problematic if you then refuse to consider all important aspects and sides of the Welshman’s career. Make no mistake, this blog can be unashamedly subjective at times, but deliberately ignoring the player’s negatives would only serve to undermine his many positives.

First thing’s first;  whether or not it is morally right to judge a player by their personal life is irrelevant at this stage. The harsh truth is that once his affairs were exposed Giggs was instantly and unequivocally  judged and some of the luster and magic associated with the Welsh maestro inevitably faded as a result therefrom. Ironically, his greatest folly it seemed, was not the affairs themselves but his futile and ignominious efforts to cover them up. Giggs’ undoubtedly foolhardy attempt to silence Twitter saw the Streisand effect (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect) executed in full force as the net seized on an opportunity to bring this Premier League footballer (therefore by definition an overpaid prima donna) down a peg or two. 

This blog doesn’t want to focus too heavily upon the nature of the affairs themselves. That path is much traveled and this blogger’s personal opinion is that Giggs’ personal life should be completely independent of his professional. If he makes a mistake on the pitch he should rightly be criticised; he is a highly paid professional playing at the apex of the game and should be liable to this sort of criticism. The player’s personal life is another matter and while outspoken opinions or on-field acts should be subject to criticism as they have a public and professional impact, Giggs’ infidelity bares no relation to his Manchester United career. If anything it shows the separation of Giggs’ personal and professional life as the loyalty the winger has shown to United and his long-term manager Ferguson contrasts vividly with his off-field antics.

The argument many make in opposition to this is that Giggs is a role model and capable of influencing a swathe of the nation’s children. It is a fair enough point but not a position Giggs volunteered for, nor one always easy to fulfill; certainly not when you’ve been an ever-present in the public eye as long as he has. Certainly he made every effort to ‘protect’ the delicate sensibilities of the nation’s youth by blocking the public broadcast of his wrongdoings (although we’ll admit it was probably for less noble intent).

Perhaps because of the aura of invulnerability he exudes there was widespread disbelief when it became ever clearer that Giggs was the unidentified Premier League footballer hiding behind a super injunction (even Sir Alex was reputedly dumbstruck upon learning of Giggs’ actions), as if this proof of his fallibility suddenly cast into doubt everything you thought you knew about the winger. Yet Giggs’ true crime was to panic and desperately try to safeguard a reputation he should have realised was already damaged but no irreversibly so at this point. Whether his resulting desperate attempts to silence Twitter did lasting damage is another matter.

Giggs Censored

Considering his career has been cloaked in a milky twilight for the last ten years or so, it is prescient to ask how much this shaming episode will effect his longstanding reputation when he retires. Three years on, the affair has not been airbrushed out of history like the (unsubstantiated) allegations made against David Beckham (Rebecca Loos anyone?), nor has it clung to him like muck to a shoe as past episodes have with John Terry or Ashley Cole. No doubt some of the reasoning for this is Ferguson’s steely resolve to protect his head-boy as much as possible during the manager’s final two years at United. Part too, can be ascribed to Giggs being one of the Class of ’92; a generation retrospectively touched with a sentimental glow. Then there’s the picture always painted of Giggs as a footballer who is easy to like, one of the rare good guys of the game. A UNICEF ambassador with a long history of charity work. He’s cheeky whilst not overstepping his boundaries. He’s fiercely loyal to his club both on the pitch and in various capacities off it (commercially, coaching, inspiring youth teams). And yet the window into his personal life serves to undermine this portrayal. He is no longer squeaky clean.


Over the years, Giggs has shown that he is nothing if not adaptable. Season after season the Welshman has proven himself an expert in rebuilding and retooling his skillset to meet the occasion, assuring he is always an asset and never a passenger. The irony in his response to 2011’s allegations is rather than adapt he shirked responsibility, trying to hide behind a court order rather than confront the situation. This reaction meant the scandal occupied far more prominence in the public eye than it otherwise warranted and left a rather ugly online footprint. Search ‘Ryan Giggs’ into Google today and one of the first options it gives is ‘Brother’ (after the far more intriguing ‘restaurant’ and ‘yoga’. My next port of call is to further investigate these tangents). Arguably, if Giggs had rolled over and accepted his fate (however morally unjust the protrusion into his personal life may have felt) the story may not be so readily available today.

The scandal now hangs there inconspicuously, a footnote on an undoubtedly glorious career, a blemish at the periphery of his story. It’s not acknowledged or addressed, it’s not considered relevant to the bigger picture or integral to the central narrative, but it’s there. Time will tell whether the blemish is ever truly eradicated.

Dice                                                                                                           The Gold Club

Ryan Giggs’ Top Five Moments

Ranked Gold

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. 

Giggs 3

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. 

Giggs 4

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.

Giggs 5

2) MANCHESTER UNITED 1 Juventus 1, 7th April 1999

Clip available here <http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xy9f95_1999-april-7-manchester-united-england-1-juventus-italy-1-champions-league_sport&start=117>

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.

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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 Gold Club   The Gold Club


Ryan Giggs

‘The Immortal’

Our inaugural selection for The Gold Club is Premier League stalwart come human trophy cabinet Ryan Giggs. The Manchester United winger has graced this country’s top division for over twenty glorious years and although his indispensability to The Red Devils has faded over time, he still has the capacity to change the direction of a game, to dazzle and surprise in equal measure.

His longevity and other-worldly consistency place him at the apex of the league. He is timeless but refuses to become a relic; United’s midfield Zelig, not so much reinventing himself as renewing and reproving his relevance to each new Ferguson incarnation. Even at forty years of age you fancy him to snag a goal in United’s remaining games thus continuing his remarkable record of having scored in every Premier League season to date.

He is also obscenely decorated. Among the honours he has amassed over his career are thirteen Premier League titles, four FA Cups, four League Cups, two Champions Leagues, an Intercontinental Cup, a FIFA Club World Cup, seven appearances in the Team of the Year, a Player’s Player of the Year Award and an OBE for services to football. At no point during his career can you ever accuse Ryan Giggs of being a passenger; a charge you could arguably level at several of his teammates at various points during their illustrious careers.   

Title Winners 2

But success, consistency and an extraordinary work rate, although undeniably key ingredients, would not alone qualify Giggs for a place in The Gold Club. United teammate Michael Carrick has these traits in abundance too and yet he is missing something, an artistic propensity, a flagrant genius which is critical to our understanding of the game as a thing of beauty. Henry referred to it as ‘va-va-voom’; whatever the English term Giggs reeks of it.

As a young man Giggs would centrifugally pivot into space, always asking questions of his marker, questions his marker rarely had answers to. As an elder statesman the Welshman has become the player to exploit these spaces now created by others, threading through eye-of-the-needle balls and delivering pinpoint crosses. Perhaps an understated quality of Giggs’ game is the near-perfect weighting given to all of his passes. Watch the compilation of assists in his Player of the Year campaign below and witness the sheer delicacy and preciseness given to each one, all are exact and instinctive in their measurement. 

Then there’s his dribbling. At his most deadly the ball became an extension of Giggs’ boot, an appendage the winger willed in whatever direction and at whatever speed he saw fit. In another life the Welshman would have made a fine American footballer, guaranteed to gain yards with every mazey run he undertook, dragging his team deeper and deeper into the opposition’s half.  

The ultimate contradiction is that, despite Giggs’ vast career and long list of achievements, he is often boiled down to one moment of on-field excellent. That goal. 

Perhaps it was the timing of the goal (late in extra time for a team playing with ten men), perhaps it was it’s placing in the overall narrative of United’s outstanding treble season or perhaps it is simply the sheer magnificence of it as Giggs weaves through multiple challenges like honey through a sieve before smashing the ball into the roof of the net with a finish infinitely harder than it looks. To this day it still raises hairs on the back of the neck. Breathtaking does not do it justice. If it is the goal Ryan Giggs will always be remembered by then it is a fitting image through which to remember his career.

Ryan Giggs. An unstoppable, vivacious, inspired wizard with an unquenchable thirst for winning. And our first member of The Gold Club.

Title Winners


The Gold Club

Replacing Player of the Week is The Gold Club a Grüber and Diceman certified Hall of Fame designed to recognize and analyse the Premier League’s most revolutionary, exciting and legendary players. To earn a place in The Gold Club a player must have left an indelible  mark on the Premier League be that in terms of individual success, significant influence or consistently high levels of on-field excellence.

By inducting a player into The Gold Club we are bestowing them with this blog’s highest possible honour. The players chosen are the reason we personally (and so many others) fell head over heels in love with the beautiful game. They are idols and inspirations, visionaries and pioneers, unassuming geniuses and unashamed risk takers. They are, quite simply, the best of the best and we feel a pressing duty to rediscover what made them so great.

Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado,  we give to you, The Gold Club.

The Gold Club

Dice       Gruber