Ryan Giggs made his Manchester United debut in 1991, and 21 years later he is still an integral part of Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad. He is the most decorated player in the history of English football, including an astonishing 12 Premier League titles, and he is United’s all time record appearance holder. To many, he is an all time great. I disagree.
For all the great achievements and many accolades Giggs has received over the years, a part of me has often found myself thinking ‘is he really THAT great a footballer?’.
Before you think I am completely clueless, I do rate him very highly as both a player and a professional. As a Liverpool fan I have huge respect for him for what he has done in his career, and how he has been part of such an impressive period in United’s history, I just feel that he has not quite been the world-beater that many people think he has.
Admittedly individual awards aren’t the be-all and end-all of how a player is judged, but considering the amount of titles and cup competitions he has won, and the fact he is an attacking flair player, the only major awards he has won are the PFA Player of the Year and BBC Sports Personality of the Year, both in 2009. While both awards are hugely prestigious, for Giggs they were more of a Lifetime Achievement Award than recognition of his great displays in 2009. This sums up my opinion of Giggs; if you purely judge him on longevity then he is one of the all time great players, but if it comes down to pure talent and influence, which I feel it should, then he is not.
When looking back at all the major games in Giggs’ career, including Champions League finals, FA Cup finals and huge league clashes with Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City over the years, how many has he actually played a pivotal role in?
Barring the remarkable FA Cup semi-final goal in 1999 against Arsenal, which he is deserves huge praise for, there is nothing else that springs to mind. He was quiet in all four Champions League finals he has played in, in 1999, 2008, 2009 and 2011, and while he didn’t necessarily do anything wrong in these games, the great players are the ones who decide matches of such magnitude.
Giggs has played in an incredible 13 domestic cup finals, winning eight of them, but he has never scored in any of them, which for a left winger/central midfielder is poor. You would’ve thought that on at least one of those occasions Giggs might been the difference between the two sides, but he hasn’t.
If you compare him to the other top British players of his generation, they have all had big moments in big games over their careers.
Paul Scholes has scored in the FA Cup Final, he scored a fabulous winner against Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final in 2008 and he has scored winning goals against Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal numerous times. To me, he is in a different class to Giggs. Steven Gerrard has scored in the final of the Champions League, FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup, winning two of them almost single-handedly. Wayne Rooney has decided huge matches with moments of individual brilliance, from the overhead kick against City to his superb finish in the Champions League semi-final against AC Milan in 2007. He also has goals in the Champions League and League Cup final. Even Frank Lampard, who himself has been criticised for going missing in big games, has Champions League and FA Cup final goals to his name.
It is certainly disrespectful to be flippant about the unbelievable length and consistency of the 38 year old’s career, and anyone who can play at the top level for two decades has to be a top player, but it doesn’t guarantee greatness in my opinion. To be a true great you have to have defining moments in that lengthy career, like Raul, Alessandro Del Piero and Bobby Charlton. I don’t believe Giggs has. Ian Callaghan is Liverpool’s record appearance holder but he is nowhere near the best player to have played for the club, and while Giggs is far superior to Callaghan, I believe there have been plenty better to have graced the Old Trafford turf than him.
Even at his peak, during the mid to late 90s, if someone had asked me to name the 20 best players in the world at that time, Giggs wouldn’t have come to mind. Before I am accused of any kind of Liverpool bias against United, players like Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Roy Keane and Scholes were all, or still are, phenomenal players who I did think were among the world’s elite in their prime.
When it comes to representing Wales, Giggs has also never really had a defining moment. In fairness, the calibre of the Welsh team has been nowhere near the level of United during his career, but special players can still produce great moments playing for weak sides. Can you really think of a memorable Ryan Giggs moment for Wales?
I’m fully aware that some reading this may feel this is a completely unfair assessment of one of the most highly thought of British players in history, but it is an opinion I hold quite strongly.
To me, Ryan Giggs has been a superb player over the last 20 years, with dribbling skills and pace in abundance, as well as an intelligent football brain and a cultured left foot. Off the pitch, regardless of recent events, he has been a model professional and a likeable character every since he arrived on the scene. The question is: is Ryan Giggs really THAT great.
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