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.
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.