That’s what Robbo and I concluded at half-time of a youth team match one night in Preston.
We’d gone along to watch the game, and this lad – I think he’d come straight from school – was absolutely fantastic. All we needed was 45 minutes to see how truly exceptional a talent he was. We both agreed there and then that he was going to be a world-beater. He was that good. He was probably 14 or 15, playing against 18 and 19-year-olds and he was just running riot, head and shoulders above everybody else on that field.
So, I’ll never forget it the first time I saw Ryan Giggs.
The second time was just as memorable.
It was at The Cliff in 1988. Alex Ferguson decided to put together a little practice match between the first team and a variety of other players, mainly aimed at working on set-pieces and getting some messages across to the senior lads about tactics. This other group – I think it was comprised of young players who happened to be in the building at the time – were just there to play against us, really. Ryan was one of them.
I was Alex’s first signing for United and this particular session was during his second season at the club. By that point we had all come to recognise that his training sessions were always very, very bright. Archie Knox was the coach and he always insisted on them being bright. Not long, but bright. That day, I don’t know whether the manager wanted to specifically test Ryan against senior players or not, but there’s a good chance he wanted to get a look at him and see how he fared.
I was a right-back, so when the manager told me this kid would be playing left-wing, I was seriously worried about hurting him. I was six foot one and probably weighed around 85 kilos at that time, whereas this lad was maybe 50-odd kilos, wet-through.
Obviously I already knew he had a lot of ability because I recognised him from the youth team game I’d watched. But I was genuinely concerned about hurting him, so it was a case of me thinking:
Okay, let’s see how we go.
Straight away – probably before I’d even gotten past ‘Okay, let’s see…’ – he’d knocked it through my legs, ran around the other side and he was gone.
The kid nutmegged me.
I was England’s right-back.
It happened in a flash, and it was gone. But I knew what he’d done.
As he sped off, I shouted at his back.
“You won’t be doing that again, you little get.”
(Or words to that effect.)
There was no malice to my reaction and Giggsy took it in good spirits. He has told this story himself, actually, and he says that he did nutmeg me again in that same session. We’ll have to agree to disagree because he didn’t in my memory.
He didn’t need to. He’d already made his mark.