If you could encapsulate the last twenty years for United into 90 minutes of football, it would be the match on Sunday at Carrow Road. In complete control, by far the better team, somehow contrive to throw it away by conceding an easily avoidable equaliser and then win it with the last kick of the game.
Of course, it wouldn’t be United without some romanticism. Ryan Giggs scored the winner in the 90th minute of his 900th appearance for the club.
So many times under Sir Alex have United made it hard for themselves. But I guess that’s what makes it memorable. Had we been 3-0 up at half time, something that would not have been too unjust, the game would be more or less forgotten about an hour later. Instead we are given another one of those great moments where feelings change instantly from dejection to ecstasy. We’re not the only team to have these memorable moments. City had one only a few weeks ago at home to Tottenham. But they’re so frequent with us that this Norwich game will be forgotten about in a few weeks, just like no one remembers Bolton away in ’09 or Wolves at home in ’11.
No one can sum United under Sir Alex better than Ryan Giggs. If you think of his greatest goals for the club you think of his goal against Arsenal in the FA Cup Semi Final. Some may even point to his solo goal in Turin in 2003, but most would say his wonder goal in against Arsenal is his greatest contribution to the club. Yet, the goal he scored exactly a week earlier was vital that season. Had he not equalised in stoppage time at home to Juventus in the Champions League Semi Final in ’99 we would have been in a desperate situation. To take a 1-0 deficit to Turin would have been practically impossible. That goal gave us the impetus to go there think we still had a chance. There’s no telling how important that goal was. Yet because of his and our many other memorable moments, it’s never spoken about. His goal against Arsenal was a bonus. We were up against possibly our greatest ever opponents in the league and from the moment Roy Keane was sent off to the moment Patrick Vieira “assisted” Ryan Giggs; any United fan would have snapped your hand off for penalties. You just don’t score against that Arsenal side with only 10 men.
Giggs often gives the ball away in matches. He often plays aimless balls forward that come to nothing, but he’s always trying to make something happen., and is often the most frustrating player going; you always want Giggs on the pitch as a United fan, because you know he can create a goal, often with his only real contribution in a match; just look at the games at the Liberty Stadium and Stamford Bridge this season.
That’s just like United, though. Our 1999 and 2008 teams are the best teams we’ve had; yet, both times we took the title race to the last day of the season. Both Champions League finals we won were in the most dramatic of fashions; even the two semi finals those years left us on tenterhooks.
While we all laud Giggs with praise after praise, its worth pointing out he has never, at any point in his career, been United’s current best player. In 92-94 the team relied heavily on Pallister, Bruce and the front two of Cantona and Hughes. 95-97 was all about one man; Eric Cantona. In ‘99 Schmeichel, Beckham, Yorke and Keane were our main men. In 2003 Paul Scholes was in his absolute prime, he and Van Nistelrooy were lethal. The title winning sides since then relied on a mixture of Rooney and Ronaldo, Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez and just Rooney. However, he was a starter in every single team. From the age of 19 to the age of 38.
When Ashley Young got that ball on the left hand side, everyone ran to the near post, Giggs gambled and went to the far post. We’ve not won the so many trophies down the years because we’ve bulldozed teams every game. We’ve had very few superstars recognised globally. We’ve won because it’s the only thing the club knows. The word defeat has no meaning to Sir Alex, and no one demonstrates this better than Ryan Giggs.