This year marks the 25th season of the Premier League era, so what better time to assemble the greatest XI from English football’s top flight from the past quarter of a century.
Between now and Thursday 29 September we will reveal one player per day as we build up to the big reveal of the full line-up. Disagree with any of the selections? Of course, you do. Get involved with the action on social media by posting your all-time favourites using #FWPremXI.
Clubs: Manchester United (1992-2014)
Honours: Premier League (1992/93, 1993/94, 1995/96, 1996/97, 1998/99, 1999/00, 2000/01, 2002/03, 2006/07, 2007/08, 2008/09, 2010/11, 2012/13); FA Cup (1993/94, 1995/96, 1998/99, 2003/04); League Cup (1991/92, 2005/06, 2008/09, 2009/10); FA Community Shield (1993/94, 1994/95, 1996/97, 1997/98, 2003/04, 2007/08, 2008/09, 2010/11, 2013/14) UEFA Champions League (1998/99, 2007/08); UEFA Super Cup (1991/92); FIFA Intercontinental Cup (1999/00); FIFA Club World Cup (2008/09)
PL Appearances: 632
PL Goals: 109
The word ‘legend’ is grossly overused in modern football, but using that term to describe Giggs somehow doesn’t quite feel enough. His career, achievements and unparalleled longevity at Manchester United take him beyond the realms of the legendary and into something more akin to god-like status – especially in and around Old Trafford.
Giggs’ long and winding career path was paved with stunning goals, thrilling performances and enough medals to sink a battleship. But at the heart of his story lies a tale of adaptation and evolution as. When his pace began to wane, the Welshman shifted the emphasis of his game from his dynamic wing play to his passing and anticipation to carve out a role as a creative central midfielder.
If Giggs hasn’t won it, then it isn’t worth winning. A record 13 Premier League titles, four FA Cups, four League Cups and two Champions Leagues is an honours roll that is unlikely to be matched any time soon.
There will always be some debate over which of Sir Alex Ferguson’s United sides was the best: was is the double winners of 1994, the treble winners of 1999, or the Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney led European champions of 2008? The common denominator in all of those teams is Giggs.
The prodigious youngster broke into the United first team as a 17-year-old in 1991, and split his duties with the famous Class of 92 FA Youth Cup winners the following year.
Giggs’ incredible longevity is perhaps best illustrated by the near two decades separating his PFA Young Player of the Year awards (1992 and 1993) and his long-awaited receipt of the senior version of award in 2009.
“I remember the first time I saw him,” Ferguson said of watching a young Ryan Wilson (as Giggs was known at the time). “He was 13 and just floated over the ground like a cocker spaniel chasing a piece of silver paper in the wind.”
Everybody at Old Trafford knew that they had a special talent on their hands in this lightning-quick youngster, and it wasn’t long before Giggs was fulfilling his potential in the first team.
Able to carry and control the ball while running at full speed, Giggs was a nightmare for opposing defenders; his slalom dribbles and ability to whip dangerous crosses into the box, or cut inside and make a beeline for goal, all served to make him the complete winger.
Those skills were never better evidenced than in his phenomenal winner against Arsenal deep into extra-time of the 1998/99 FA Cup semi-final replay at Villa Park. Collecting the ball on the halfway line after an errant pass from Patrick Vieira, Giggs wove his way between four defenders and smashed the ball into the roof of David Seaman’s net – cueing an infamous hirsute, shirt-swinging celebration from the Welshman.
But as he approached his mid-thirties, Giggs found his playing time reduced as his position on the wing was taken by the younger, faster likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani. But rather than rest on the laurels of an already remarkable career, Giggs chose to adapt and fight to remain relevant, reinventing himself as a central midfield playmaker. By leaning on his experience and passing ability, the veteran engineered a renaissance that carried him past his 40th birthday before retiring in 2014.
Giggs’ sustained success – and example of decades’-long unwavering commitment and self-discipline – stands as a beacon to guide any young footballer hoping to make it in the game.
The long-time Manchester United No11 has written himself into the club’s history books and will be remembered alongside the likes of an icon he has regularly been likened to George Best, plus other Red Devils heroes, such as Bobby Charlton and Denis Law.
But Giggs’ legendary status stretches beyond the city limits of Manchester, as the Premier League records he set, and the crowds he thrilled, have seen him regarded as one of the greatest ever British players.
Most Premier League appearances (632 or 46,433 minutes); Most Premier League wins (434); Most Premier League points won (1,359); Most consecutive Premier League seasons played in (21); Most consecutive Premier League football seasons scored in (21). Not bad, not bad.
At his best, Giggs was one of the most entertaining players of the Premier League era; curly hair bouncing in the breeze as he snaked between opposition players – Giggs in full-flight was a sight to behold.
But it is his consistency and durability, his refusal to allow the game to pass him by, that mark Ryan Giggs out as one of the finest Premier League players ever.