Manchester United’s famed Class of ‘92 are notorious in football folklore, regarded as the pinnacle of homegrown talent. And of all of them, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Phil Neville and Nicky Butt, it was Giggs who was the first talent to emerge.
Having impressed in the Manchester United youth set-up, Sir Bobby Robson had initially taken notice of the talented left-winger after he’d provided several moments of magic against the youth team for Salford Boys, with Robson recalling: “The first time I saw Giggsy, he was playing for Salford Boys against United’s apprentices. He was thin and wiry but he just glided past four of our apprentices as if they weren’t even there, then he put the ball in the back of the net. I just thought ‘this kid’s an absolute natural.’” Giggs would later feature for and eventually captain the youth side that were famous victors of the FA Youth Cup in ‘92, despite also featuring frequently for the first-team.
Giggs had continued to impress during intermittent appearances for the first-team and was described as “a 17-year-old winger with pace to burn, a bramble patch of black hair bouncing around his puppy-popstar face, and a dazzling, gluey relationship between his impossibly fleet left foot and a football,” by the London Evening Standard, soon after making his first-team debut. Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to elect Giggs for first-team duties, alongside his impressive performances, ensured an eventual path to the first-team arose for the remainder of the Class of ‘92 in the seasons that followed.
Giggs continued to impress throughout the remainder of his debut season for the first-team and was influential in a Manchester United side that finished First Division runners-up and won the League Cup — in the process earning him the PFA Young Player of the Year award. By the start of the following season, Giggs had usurped the left-wing role from Lee Sharpe and claimed it as his own. Giggs’ rise and inclusion within the Manchester United set-up coincided with the side’s asserted dominance in English football throughout the Nineties, with United winning the newly-formed Premier League alongside the FA Cup in his first full season. A second PFA Young Player of the Year award swiftly followed.
Giggs had reportedly “single-handedly revolutionised football’s image”, and this quickly became apparent, soon becoming part of the Premier League’s attempt to market a new era of English football. Giggs was offered his own TV show, Ryan Giggs’ Soccer Skills, featured on countless magazine covers, and had revolutionised football’s image similarly to former infamous Manchester United winger George Best.
Touted as one of football’s most exciting prospects, on-field comparisons to predecessor Best were prominent: both wingers exceptionally quick, slight, and blessed with outstanding dribbling capabilities. It seemed, however, that even this early into the young winger’s career that he could perhaps surpass the accomplishments of those who’d come before him. “One day they might even say that I was another Ryan Giggs,” Best himself stated after early encounters with the Welshman.
Over the duration of the seasons that followed, Beckham, Scholes, Butt and the Neville brothers were eventually integrated into the first-team squad, following the successes of their former teammate. The Class of ‘92 were influential in a Manchester United side that’d achieved three league titles in four seasons and were now looking to dominate Europe, just as they had on the domestic stage. Giggs certainly elevated his performances, earning recognition on the continental stage. “Beckham and Scholes have shown their talents as goalscorers for England, but Giggs is the best. He was brilliant against us and he will be even better next year,” Alessandro Del Piero admitted after his Juventus sides defeat to a Giggs-inspired Manchester United side.
It wasn’t until 1999 that Giggs and Manchester United would triumph in Europe, as part of the club’s unforgettable Treble-winning season. Manchester United’s timeless triple — victors of the Premier League, Champions League, and FA Cup — is often regarded as the finest season in the club’s history and it wouldn’t have been possible without the influence of Giggs.
Sheringham and Solskjær are immortalized after their late, late goals versus Bayern Munich, in the competitions legendary finale, but the importance of Giggs’ assist for Sheringham’s equaliser mustn’t be underestimated.
Giggs influence in the side’s FA Cup victory certainly hasn’t been underestimated and his performance in the their semi-final triumph over Arsenal is often touted as one of his greatest. Scoring one of the competition’s greatest ever goals — surging from his own half and waltzing through the Arsenal defence before smashing the ball past a helpless David Seaman — Giggs set up a final against Newcastle United.
“I stood still, and it was like slow motion, in and out, gliding in and out. He’s like a gazelle. He had this grace about him and he was making body movements without even touching the ball and Lee Dixon went wrong, Martin Keown went wrong. I just saw him going through, going through… That was Ryan Giggs; that was what Ryan Giggs was all about; this was Giggs’s moment.” Phil Neville recalled of the iconic goal during the Class of ‘92 documentary.
Giggs has since endured a most extraordinary career, spanning over 22 seasons and including no less than 34 trophies, making him the most successful player in Premier League history. Beyond his ample quality, and astounding consistency, the incredible longevity of his career also warrants acclaim. “It’s almost impossible to replace a player like Ryan Giggs; you do not find many players like him. He is a rarity. He has world-class attributes and has achieved so much at one club. You can only look up to him.” Sir Alex Ferguson has since stated.
As a result of Giggs longevity, and the changes made to his natural game to ensure the prolonging of his career, erased are the memories many once had of the sheer explosiveness provided by his exploits on the left-wing throughout the Nineties. Giggs darting down the left-wing for Manchester United left defenders with “twisted blood”, according to Sir Alex Ferguson, leaving some of the world’s greatest ever players in awe.
Zinedine Zidane referred to Giggs as “truly world-class”, Johan Cruyff claimed: “Eric Cantona is a great player, but he’s not as good as Ryan Giggs,” while Alessandro Del Piero went as far as saying: “I have cried twice in my life watching a football player; the first one was Diego Maradona and the second was Ryan Giggs.” These comments only serve as a testament to such an incredible talent.
Giggs deserves plaudits beyond his individual brilliance or the longevity of his career, however, as he’s provided so much more. Sir Alex Ferguson had always emphasized the importance of youth and tried to integrate young players into his Manchester United side soon after commencing his reign. Giggs proved that Sir Alex Ferguson was correct in his approach to remain faithful to Manchester United’s illustrious youth system and deservedly earned his manager’s trust. It was this trust that helped ensure opportunities later arose for the remainder of the Class of ‘92; opportunities that they took, and helped spark Manchester United’s reign of dominance in English football.
There is no doubting the talent in the boots of the Class of ‘92; an inimitable group who each proved themselves worthy of donning the infamous red jersey of Manchester United. But David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Phil Neville and Nicky Butt might never have been offered the same opportunities had Ryan Giggs not flourished before them and for that they, and every Manchester United fan across the globe, owe Giggs their sincerest gratitude.
By Lewis Henderson @_lewishenderson