Ryan Giggs' forgotten goal
The year that Manchester United won an historic treble of Premier League, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League is one of the most glorious periods that a club and its fans will ever experience. That 1998-99 season remains my clear favourite as a supporter of the Old Trafford side, and as they prepare for another European adventure I find myself reflecting on it anew. There were so many memories; where Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole formed a striking partnership of rare majesty, a season when David Beckham amassed over thirty assists, next to whom Paul Scholes, Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs completed one of the finest midfields that Europe has seen.
There are so many memories, in fact, that I should return to many of them at some other time. The one that stands out now, for some reason, is a largely-forgotten goal by Ryan Giggs. It came at the end of the first leg of the UEFA Champions League semi-final against Juventus, when Manchester United, having been thoroughly outplayed at home, somehow scrambled their way to a 1-1 draw. Until Giggs intervened, United's much-vaunted midfield had been bewildered by the subtle passing and prodigious energy of Antonio Conte, Edgar Davids and Zinedine Zidane. Indeed, the greatest marvel of a wonderful game was that the Italians' margin of superiority was only a single goal.
Then, with injury time on its way out, Ryan Giggs arrived. A ball came over the right, and, having stepped inside the line of the far post, he crashed a drive high into the net from a few yards out. His technique made the chance look deceptively simple – many lesser players might have slashed this half-volley high into the stands – and maybe why this is why it has often been overlooked in write-ups of that triumphant year. There's also the fact that this parity that Giggs had earned his team was lost very quickly a fortnight later in Turin, as they fell behind to two Filippo Inzaghi goals within 10 minutes.
Manchester United would, of course, go on to win that tie, defeating the Serie A side with goals from Roy Keane, Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole. But Ryan Giggs' late strike is as symbolic of the club's spirit as anything that I saw in that two-legged tie, right up there alongside Keane's astonishing performance at the Stadio delle Alpi. Chelsea, the most recent winners of the Champions League, know all too well that it is a trophy whose fate is decided by the smallest shifts in momentum: this year, with no clear favourites for the title, we can expect a few more goals of this ilk. I hope, not so secretly, that at least one of them falls in favour of Manchester United.