Ryan Giggs, 1999, and an opportune moment for a cliche

Ahead of Manchester United’s FA Cup quarter-final with Arsenal this evening, there will be plenty of nostalgia.  That 1999 seme-final replay was one of the most dramatic games the competition has ever seen and Ryan Giggs’ winning goal probably does deserve to stand above every other moment in his career.

Because it’s such a celebrated moment, there’s no need to revisit the goal itself: it’s so famous and so frequently replayed, that it’s engrained on the mind of almost every supporter over the age of twenty.

Instead, think about this: how fitting that the highlight of Ryan Giggs’ career is a goal which encapsulated all the qualities which ultimately made him great.

As his speed dwindled and his hair develop that greyish tint, Giggs evolved as a player - and that’s something that he perhaps doesn’t get enough recognition for.  Yes, he owed his longevity to all sorts of conditioning habits, but also predominantly to his ability to perform different roles on a needs-must basis.

In time, history will tell us that Giggs was the most flamboyant winger of his generation, but for almost the last decade of his playing-career he was a completely different sort of footballer to the one who emerged in the early 1990s.

Towards the end, admittedly, he became a less than effective presence in the centre of Sir Alex Ferguson’s midfield, but it’s a special type of athlete who can learn a different role mid-career.

Anyway, that Arsenal goal…

Even before 1999, if you were asked to picture Ryan Giggs’ typical passage of play, it would replicate what he produced at Villa Park.  The graceful ambition on the ball, the swaying body-shape, the defenders being left in his wake…no, he didn’t always marry his ability to knife through a defence with that quality of end product, but the goal still seems like a cliche of sorts.

It was what you expected from Ryan Giggs, what you always knew he was capable of doing.

A lot of footballers have a signature moment or a stand-out goal, but very few of them produce it at a really significant time.  Even just within the confines of English football, how many of the accepted Premier League icons have replicated that combination?

Very few, actually.

Outside of its greater importance to Manchester United’s treble-winning season, that passage of play is a priceless part of his legacy.  It was the right sort of goal, at the right time, in the right situation.  It was the sort of cosmic alignment which happens very rarely.

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