Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, much like Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez et al, head into Saturday’s Wembley final looking for their third Champions League crown. Whilst Barcelona’s reputation as the world’s best club team is founded on the side’s strong technical ability, the British pair’s technique has allowed them to adapt and enjoy unparalleled longevity at the summit of the European game.
In enjoying such success in their twilight years, the pair exemplify the benefit of strong technical ability on the ball. In terms of style, neither player is instantly recognisable from their youth, yet they both maintain the same hunger that brought their initial breakthrough. With Giggs a key member of the Class of 1992 and Scholes following shortly after, the duo have adapted to survive four distinct eras under Sir Alex Ferguson. Their fledgling starts coincided with United’s ascendancy with the ‘kids’ producing an improbable league and cup double in 1996. Giggs was then a precocious winger with lightning pace and quick feet on the left flank, whilst Scholes stood in for Eric Cantona as a second striker during the Frenchman’s ‘Kung-fu kick’ ban.
The second era reacted to Arsene Wenger’s 1998 double with an historic treble in 1999, a landmark season that also set the foundation for United to become the first and only club to win three consecutive Premier League titles. On the way to the treble Giggs’ mazy dribble and emphatic finish against Arsenal in the last ever FA Cup semi-final replay showcased the Welshman’s close control and match-winning ability. Meanwhile, Scholes began to cement his reputation as a goal-scoring midfielder, adding to his key strikes for England in the 1998 World Cup with a crucial away goal against Inter on the way to the 1999 Champions League success. The 2002/03 season saw Scholes net a career-best 20 goals in all competitions due to his impeccably-timed runs into the box.
Severely challenged by Chelsea’s newfound wealth, United, driven by the dynamic duo, responded to the Blues’ back-to-back titles with another hat-trick of titles and a Champions League win over their rivals. By now Giggs played less as an orthodox winger and more as a playmaker, positioned centrally within a three-man midfield or drifting inside from his wide left station. Scholes too adapted, turning provider as he retreated closer to the back four to pick up possession and start attacks with precision passes. Despite finding themselves in new roles, the pair continued to produce important goals, with Scholes’ solitary strike against Barcelona enough to see them through to the 2008 final and Giggs’ penalty deciding the final shootout in their favour.
Having been central to all of Ferguson’s rebuilding campaigns, both would do it one more time. Post-Cristiano Ronaldo they returned to an orthodox 4-4-2, and after lifting their 12th and 10th respective league titles last weekend, Giggs and Scholes face arguably their toughest test yet against Bar