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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 November, 2003, 12:31 GMT
The teenage tornado
By Tom Fordyce

It is 2 March 1991, and a chilly winter Saturday at Old Trafford.

With Manchester United trailing Everton 2-0 in a Division One battle, Alex Ferguson decided to bring on a skinny, dark-haired winger to change the game around.

A 17-year-old Ryan Giggs smiles
Remember this fresh-faced youngster?

It wasn't Lee Sharpe, or even Russell Beardsmore. It was a former Manchester City schoolboy who would go on to become the most decorated player in United's history.

Although he was unable to change the course of that game, more than 12 years on, it is easy to forget the impact the 17-year-old Ryan Giggs had on the domestic game.

This was pre-Premiership, pre-fancy foreign signings, pre-Champions League. English football was in the doldrums.

Into this moribund scene burst a player who, with one breathtaking swerving run, promised more excitement than a month of Clayton Blackmores and Mike Phelans.

"He was such a talent," remembers Giggs' United team-mate Paul Parker.

"When I arrived at United in July 1991, the club was already full of talk about this young winger. Alex Ferguson mentioned him to me when I signed, while Steve Bruce was already raving about him.

"It was Ryan's pace that was so special. If you weren't on his team in training matches, you were in trouble. Everyone at United likened him to George Best, but Ryan was so much quicker than Best.

"If you were marking him, you just had to let him go. You didn't bother chasing him because you didn't want to embarrass yourself.

"I was reasonably quick, but I never wanted to test myself against him. You might try to trip him up, but he'd get his own back at you."

Impossible to handle

Giggs initially struggled to get into a side that already boasted the speedy wing talents of Lee Sharpe and Andrei Kanchelskis.

"He would try certain things and you'd see the boss tearing his hair out and going mad at him," says Parker. "But Ryan would just shrug his shoulders and say, 'Well maybe you're right, but I wanted to do that'.

"Ryan had the ability to make something happen, even when you gave him the ball in tight areas.

"It was frustrating at times, because sometimes you'd want him to keep it and he'd try something difficult.

Ryan Giggs smiles
12 years on, Giggs has won more honours than any United player in history
"But his pace was a revelation to British football at that time. It was what made the United side so dangerous.

"People just couldn't handle Ryan. If you found him in space, managed to isolate one defender against him, you knew Ryan would create something.

"We would break so fast that it would sometimes catch us defenders out.

"You would clear your lines and look up to see the ball on the edge of their box, thinking to yourself, 'We'd better score here, because if it breaks down there's a massive gap in the middle'.

"It was great for me and Denis Irwin as full-backs, because any wingers playing against us would spend all their time tracking back defensively against our wingers. We'd hardly have anything to do."

Giggs found several players in the United team who were willing to guide him through those first few seasons.

Bryan Robson recommended he sign up with Harry Swales, the agent he himself had inherited from Kevin Keegan, and Ferguson did the rest.

"The boss brought Ryan through from a troubled childhood and always saw him as one of his own," says Parker.

"Ryan got very close to Paul Ince, and Incey took him under his wing. Ryan would also socialise quite a lot with Lee Sharpe. But he was always his own man and made his own decisions.

"He didn't go out looking for publicity. Apart from doing a few promotional things for his boot company, he was content to be known as Giggs the footballer.

"We used to socialise quite a lot as a team, and when you went into places there would always be a lot of attention, with people going in particular for Ryan.

"But he'd often go off by himself into a corner, happy to be the local boy. And we'd all look out for him - as soon as you noticed anything getting silly, we'd move on somewhere else.

"Ryan didn't want all the stuff that went with the fame. As soon as there was any hint of trouble, he would be off. He was very single-minded."

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