The Giggs Story: 1994-99
Ryan Giggs proved to be a vital cog in the Manchester United machine that built on and then surpassed the achievements of the early 1990s, culminating in the never-to-be-forgotten night in Barcelona when the Welshman played a crucial part in the quest for the incredible Treble.
Having claimed back-to-back Premiership titles, all eyes were on whether United could make it a hat-trick in 1994/95, but it was not to be and, in hindsight, the season proved to be a watershed moment. The Reds finished the league campaign just a point behind Blackburn, but crucially had been denied the services of not only Eric Cantona for the run-in, banned for clashing with a Crystal Palace fan in January, but also Giggs himself.
Injured and forced to miss the last six games of the season, Giggs was also on the sidelines as United were edged out 1-0 by Everton in the FA Cup final, when the chance of a second double in a row evaporated.
The departures of Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis signalled the break-up of Sir Alex Ferguson’s first great United side, but 1995/96 witnessed the moulding of the next, with Giggs at its core. His 'Class of 92' team-mates were gradually establishing themselves, and so the Neville brothers, Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Nicky Butt helped United capture another league and FA Cup double.
What made it all the sweeter were the comeback from 10 points behind to pip Newcastle to the title, beating Liverpool late on in a dour cup final, and the team demolishing TV pundit (and ex-Liverpool player) Alan Hansen’s early-season assertion that "you’ll never win anything with kids".
Now something of a veteran despite being still only in his early 20s, Giggs committed his future to the club in 1996/97 by signing a new five-year contract. With Beckham now attracting attention full-time, the focus moved away from Giggs slightly as United retained the title. The man himself confessed to being disappointed with his contribution in his autobiography some years later, even though he rated his performance in a 4-0 win over Porto as one of his very best. A series of niggling injuries restricted his effectiveness, but a double hernia operation at the end of the season did the trick in the long term.
United went empty-handed in the 1997/98 season, though Giggs' brilliant goal to equalise Alessandro del Piero’s early opener lit the touch paper for an enthralling 3-2 win over Juventus at Old Trafford.
But 1998/99 more than made up for the previous year, as Giggs and company captured the unprecedented Treble of league title, FA Cup and Champions League, in heart-stopping style. The run, shot and shirt-waving goal celebration against Arsenal in the cup semi-final at Villa Park are worth a place in club folklore in their own right, but overall they were just part of an astonishing achievement.
Giggs’ late equaliser against Juventus in the first leg of another epic semi-final proved vital, and it was his shot that Teddy Sheringham pounced on in the final in Barcelona to level proceedings with Bayern Munich just as time looked to be running out.
But Giggs remained as cool, calm and collected as ever when reflecting on the historic climax to the season, telling the official United magazine: "I’ve never suffered from nerves. I learnt to play in any game, any situation. There are just enough nerves to get the adrenalin going, but you need that."