When Ryan Giggs first shot to prominence in 1989, it wasn’t because of a goal for Manchester United, nor was it a goal for Wales. It was his performance for England Schoolboys, back when Giggs was still going by the name of Ryan Wilson.
Because of his England Schoolboys background, it’s a popular belief that Giggs could have represented the England national team at international level. The fact is, he was born in Cardiff to Welsh parents, and even though he grew up in Manchester, Giggs was never eligible for England. It was only in 2009 that FIFA changed rules around residency. After having spent so long in England, Giggs would have been eligible for the national team in 2009 had he not already represented Wales.
That misconception has given rise to a myth, however. Throughout Giggs’ long and fruitful career at Manchester United – he has a winner’s medal for each and every one of United’s 13 Premier League trophies – the one thing that England seemed to lack was a left-sided midfielder. The theory is that England would have won a World Cup with Giggs at the helm. The reality is that it would have been impossible: Giggs is Welsh and didn’t want to play for England anyway.
“It’s the question that’s bugged me more than any other over the last 10 years. I’d rather go through my career without qualifying for a major championship than play for a country where I wasn’t born or which my parents didn’t have anything to do with,” he said in 2002.
After 64 caps and 12 goals for his country he retired from international football in 2007 having never appeared in a major tournament. It was a shame for the international game and for world football in general. Ranking alongside the likes of George Best as one of the best players never to appear in a World Cup means that the world was deprived of another superstar playing on the biggest of all stages.
But that’s not what international football is about. It’s about pride above glory, about representing your country because you are passionate about it, not playing for the best team because you want to win a trophy. Giggs had enough of them anyway.
Whether a recreated Manchester United treble-winning midfield, featuring David Beckham on the right, Giggs on the left and Paul Scholes in the middle would have won England a World Cup is lost to history’s unknowns, but it’s moot anyway, like asking if Pele would have been England’s record goalscorer if he’d been born in Bristol and not Brazil.
This month Ryan Giggs will face many of his former Manchester United teammates on the international stage as the Icons of Football tournament pits an England team, featuring Andrew Cole and Paul Scholes, up against a Rest of the World side featuring Giggs, Pep Guardiola and Peter Schmeichel at The Belfry from June 23-25. Make sure you get your tickets here!