Ryan Giggs re-lives the Champions League Final that made history
There will be no end-of-season Champions League Final on Saturday in Istanbul because of the global Covid-19 pandemic, but instead Manchester United legend, now Wales manager, Ryan Giggs will be savouring the memories of one of the most remarkable matches in the history of the Champions League more than 20 years ago.
Now a Laureus Academy Member, in 1999, Giggs played in one of the most dramatic Champions League Finals of all-time, as Manchester United scored twice in the final two minutes to beat Bayern Munich at the Nou Camp in Barcelona.
In an interview with Laureus.com to celebrate the organisation’s 20th anniversary, Ryan describes the match as the climax to ‘the best season I ever had as a footballer’ when United won a unique treble of Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League.
That golden season resulted in Ryan and manager Sir Alex Ferguson sharing a stage with Nelson Mandela at the Laureus World Sports Awards - almost 20 years ago to the day – when Manchester United won the very first Laureus World Team of the Year Award.
Ryan recalls: “It wasn’t the greatest game that I played or had been a part of, but the finish was the best - 1-0 down with two minutes to go, we ended up winning 2-1. It’s the only time I have ever cried on a football pitch. The shift of emotions you go through, it was just too much. So I sank to my knees and just cried my eyes out.“It was a huge moment for Manchester United, with the history that we had with the Champions League, the Munich air disaster, losing half an amazing team and then ten years later winning the European Cup. There was big pressure on us because of the history, because of the long wait. So to finally do it was a fantastic achievement.“That was the best team that I played in. We had a great squad, we had late comebacks, a never-give-up attitude, we had players at their peak and five or six young lads who came through the youth team.”
And then there was Sir Alex Ferguson…
Ryan says: “He really is the biggest influence of my career. He had everything as a football manager. Tactically he knew his football, he knew his players. The human element was huge where he had to get the best out of these great players: when to give you the famous hair-dryer, where he would be that close to you shouting at you, but he also knew when to put his arm around you.“He evolved with the times. If you go back to when he first started, he had a couple of staff; when he finished, there were more staff than players and he embraced that. He ticks every box and I model a lot of the things that I do when I'm coaching on Sir Alex, like standards and discipline.
“Within that framework, it's how you handle the individuals, the man management. I've seen how he handled the likes of Cantona. So these are all things that can only help you in regard to leadership and ideas that you can take forward in your job.“One of the most important things that I think that people forget is to enjoy yourself. That's the last thing I say to my players when they're going out. And it was what Sir Alex would tell the players before we would go out: enjoy yourself. And that's really when you can express yourself. When you can be at your best.”
Ryan says he always tries to learn from other great managers. “In our league at the moment we have fantastic managers, obviously Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola. I was fortunate to spend two years under Louis Van Gaal at Manchester United, so I learned a lot from Louis who was very similar with Sir Alex regarding standards, regarding discipline.
“With the obvious pause in the season, because of COVID-19. I think there's a lot of questions still to be answered, but I think what we have seen this year is Liverpool are a fantastic team, managed by a great coach Jurgen Klopp and, it pains me to say it as a United fan, but they have been fantastic this season. Obviously they'll go on and, whatever way it is, they'll win the League and deserve it.“They've had two brilliant seasons actually. Last year pushing Man City, all the way. They’re a great team to watch. There were certain things that I've taken out of the way that Liverpool play, and taking it on to the way that I want to do with Wales.“Hopefully United will bridge that gap and catch them up. But you have to give credit where credit is due and Liverpool have been fantastic this season.”
Now as a manager, Ryan takes a special interest in the young players who are the future of the game. He has a special word for Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford.
Ryan says: “I’ve seen him coming through the ranks, such a talented player. And you have Jadon Sancho at Dortmund, a young player who's made the bold decision to leave Manchester City and go to another country at a young age. And he really has made a difference. His team-mate as well, Erling Haaland who's scoring lots of goals.“And I’ve got a lot of good young players in my Wales team, the likes of David Brooks, Dan James and Ethan Ampadu. It’s great when you see young players burst onto the scene and they're just fearless. They just, don't think too much about the game and just express themselves. And you think back to when you were like that.”
Though the Champions League is on hold, Ryan says the thought of great European nights are always with him, particularly some of the great battles that Manchester United had with Spanish teams over the years.
“You think of Real Madrid and Barcelona, but it’s not only the great clubs. We played a Deportivo La Coruna team, which was amazing at the time. We played Bielsa's Athletic Bilbao, who were a brilliant team. And a great Valencia team. They are always difficult to play against because all the players are comfortable on the ball and cool and can adapt to different tactics.“But it's also a different atmosphere when you play against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu or Barcelona at the Nou Camp. There’s a different roar when they get a shot or when they score a goal. It was great to play against them, different cultures, different things to overcome.
Ryan recalls some of the most memorable games. “During the '99 season we played Barcelona, two 3-3's. So 3-3 at the Nou Camp, 3-3 at Old Trafford, amazing games. We beat Real Madrid 4-3 at Old Trafford, but we actually didn't go through over the two legs, but another, fantastic game.“They are clubs that have got the same philosophy as Manchester United. You score two, we’ll score three. And so many brilliant players over the years that I've played against who have been part of them,” added Giggs.
Ryan still remembers the moment that he and Sir Alex Ferguson attended the inaugural Laureus World Sports Awards, 20 years ago this week. President Mandela made the speech which has reverberated over the last two decades…..‘Sport has the power to change the world, it has the It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else.’
As Ryan recalls: “He spoke in a soft manner, but his words were louder than anyone I’d ever heard before. He had a way of communicating to everyone. It was an amazing thing to be part of, because of course Laureus was just starting out then.”
The speech proved to be the catalyst for the creation of Laureus Sport for Good and the Laureus World Sports Academy, of which, 20 years on, Ryan is now himself a member.
Over the last 20 years, Laureus Sport for Good has raised more than €150m for the Sport for Development sector, reaching and helping change the lives of almost 6 million children and young people since 2000. Laureus Sport for Good currently supports more than 200 programmes in over 40 countries that use the power of sport to transform lives.
The Laureus World Sports Awards is the premier global sporting awards. First held in 2000, the annual event honours the greatest and most inspirational sporting triumphs of the year and showcases the work of Laureus Sport for Good. Since 2000, the Laureus World Sports Awards have been held in Monaco, Lisbon, Estoril, Barcelona, St Petersburg, Abu Dhabi, London, Rio de Janeiro, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai and Berlin.