Ryan Giggs At 40: Read The First Ever Interview With Manchester United's Legend

When I met Ryan Giggs he'd been kept away from the press by Fergie, luckily the gaffer wasn't around and I got the fledgling superstar to talk Ince, Cantona's paintings and Lee Sharpe's black eyes...
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When I met Ryan Giggs he'd been kept away from the press by Fergie, luckily the gaffer wasn't around and I got the fledgling superstar to talk Ince, Cantona's paintings and Lee Sharpe's black eyes...

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This interview is from 1993, when the fact that Ryan Giggs wasn't allowed to talk was all people - the press, Manchester United fans - talked about.

Giggs was promoting Reebok football boots and the questions were meant to be solely about that. (Fascinating.) It was on those grounds and those grounds alone presumably, that Fergie had said it could go ahead. But the people from the PR company never really monitored what we were talking about, or made any effort steer or curtail the interview. And Giggs was remarkably happy to chat, unfazed by any of the questions, and surprisingly unbothered about the inevitable wrath of his manager, which, apparently, sure enough came when he found out what sort of interview it was. Looking at it now the one thing that strikes me that Giggs still has, and he has had for the last 20 years at United and 1000 appearances is his sense of purpose and assurance. Even then, he seemed like someone who was never in any doubt about what sort of future he would have.

August 1993

Even in the close season, when the nation’s screens are strangely football-free, Manchester’s pubs still hum with talk of Ryan Giggs. And when they have tired of that, the talk is of Giggs’ lack of talk, his press silence, and his manager’s gag.

Down at Old Trafford, where groups of schoolchildren traipse round the Manchester United museum, in a pub across the road from Lou Macari’s Fish & Chip Shop, my announcement that I am about to interview Ryan Giggs fails to incite anything remotely like excitement, not even consternation, just out-and-out derision.

‘Yeah, right, ‘course you are mate ! You’ve got about as much chance of getting an interview with Ryan Giggs as my dog,’ pronounces one punter. ‘Less in fact.’

‘You’ve got about as much chance of getting Alex Ferguson to let you speak to Giggsy,’ starts his mate embarking with evident relish on what could well become a new pub game, ‘as there is of Salman Rushdie winning the Derby on Shergar.’

A third bloke takes a run up: ‘You’ve got about as much chance of that,’ he says flatly, ‘as City have got of winning something.’ This, it’s agreed, makes the others look quite plausible. ‘Alex Ferguson won’t let no f***** talk to him.’

I am that f*****, I tell him. And it’s true.

Rivalry between Manchester’s two teams, City and United, has, if anything, deepened in the last two or three years, exacerbated by the glamour and glory that Giggs and United’s successful crusade to win their first league championship for 26 years, have brought them, not to mention the acclaim for the sheer style of both.

While Giggs, Cantona and Ince have drawn glowing comparison with the great United era of Best, Law and Charlton, City have been left making their annual (forlorn) late chase for fifth place and prolonging a run of not winning a trophy for 25 years. Having seen United break the transfer record for Roy Keane, on the day I am due to interview Giggs City are trying to re-sign that somewhat devalued old boy, Paul Stewart.

On the way to United’s training ground, the Cliff, I ask the cab-driver what he thinks of City.

‘I’ll have none of that fookin’ language in my cab, if you don’t mind.’ Personally, he says, he hopes that City don’t sign their old, overweight workhorse. ‘They haven’t got much money as it is,’ he reasons, sympathetically. ‘They keep askin’ me for money.’

Later, I spend five minutes telling a barman that I’m going to interview Ryan Giggs, but he doesn’t say a word, not even a flicker of interest.

‘So, do you not like football the mate ?’ I ask him in the end.

‘Nah,’ he says glumly. ‘I support City myself.’

Just quite how much football and, specifically, United, matter in Manchester really only came through to me at the last game of the season, at home to Blackburn, the day after Villa had lost to Oldham and ensured United were Champions.

Forty-five minutes before the game was due to start, three men walked round the ground towards the commentary box up behind the Stretford End. One, leading the way, was a representative from Sky, another was ex-Man Utd stalwart, Paddy Crerand. The third was George Best. There were already several thousand people in their seats, watching Peter Schmeichel warming up with Brian Kidd and, as Best walked past, the whole stand, quite spontaneously, stood up and applauded. Best punched the air and waved in cele­bration. It was ridiculously moving.

Later, when the other players came out to warm-up, I watched Giggs, doing his tricks, flicking the ball around, without a care in the world, free of his responsibilities to this team, doing things with his left foot that probably only Best could even contemplate trying.

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Greatness shines on the greatest of occasions and, like Best against Benfica in the European Cup Final, Giggs shone on this, his greatest stage to date.

Twenty-one minutes into the game, in front of 41,000 fans, plus Michel Platini, Sir Matt Busby, Kenny Dalglish and press from all over the world, Giggs walked up and fired a free-kick from 35 yards into the top corner, as straight as an arrow and as explosive and sweet a strike as you are ever likely to see. He ran into Cantona's arms with a look of absolute joy and disbelief on his face.

'That really is special,' gasped Best on the air. 'They wouldn't have stopped that if they'd had the whole team in a wall on the line.'

So I am waiting for Ryan Giggs, waiting for him to speak. It's a long wait. The make-up girl asks me where I'm going to sit. 'Oh,' I say, 'I dunno... at his feet ?'

Like waiting for God, or Godot, or like waiting for George, you never believe he's actually going to turn up. We are waiting for Giggot.

Even the people from Reebok, his new sponsors at a reputed £2,000 a week, are pacing the room nervously.

Giggs is not only The New George Best, he is football's Greta Garbo. Still only 19, his footballing flair and thrills have ensured the media have already portrayed him as British football's great white hope; the last of the great wonder wingers, and, so far, the only genuine British world-class talent to resist the lure of the Lire.

'MILAN SU GIGGS IL NUOVO BEST', screamed the front page of Gazzetta dello Sport, reporting AC's rumoured bid of £15 million for Giggs this summer.

United manager, Alex Ferguson's attempts to protect Giggs from the media have sealed the enigma and have themselves made head­lines.

'Ryan Giggs ?' says the lady in the cornershop, 'Isn't he the one who doesn't speak ?' He is.

In United's official magazine (wittily titled, United), Giggs himself opines, 'If you say the wrong things, you end up in trouble. I don't think I'll be ready to talk to the press for another couple of years.'

A couple of years ? He's meant to be here in a couple of minutes.

Last season, after Ferguson had refused yet another Match of the Day request for a post-match bout of 'we're taking one game at a time’s’ with the BBC’s John Motson, Des Lynam was driven to wonder what exactly Ferguson and Giggs were hiding.

People began to speculate: maybe he was fantastically thick - even for a footballer; maybe he suffered from chronic shyness, or a hideous speech impediment, or some sort of drug-induced recklessness.

Alan Hansen spoke for many football fans when he said the public had a right to hear what he had to say. Sportswriters pointed out that India's teenage batting prodigy, Sachin Tendulkar, was already a very capable fielder of probing questions.

On the train to Manchester, one Man U fan told me he'd been having dreams about Giggs talking.

'He is chatting away,' he says, 'but the thing is he is talking in Welsh.’

I had nightmares that when he did arrive, the interview would consist of 'yeah well, I'm over the moon, aren't I ? Dead chuffed really. But it's not who scores the goals that counts, it's how the team plays as a whole, at the end of the day, I'll have to fight for my place and hope to do my best, if the gaffer selects me...’

In the meantime, the papers filled their pages with plaudits for what really counted: his football. Goalkeeper Tim Flowers reveled at Giggs' sidewinder skills and said that deciding which way he was going to turn next was 'a nightmare. It's frightening to consider what he can achieve.'

Alan Hansen couldn't contain himself: 'If he's like that at 19, what's he going to be like at 25 ?' And Alex Ferguson said that when he signed Giggs he was 'the best I've ever seen at that age.'

Which perhaps goes some way towards explaining why he was so concerned, especially when Giggs became the youngest player ever to play for Wales (17 years and 321 days).

'Now I can tell my kids I've played with Ryan Giggs,' said Welsh captain Kevin Ratcliffe. When Giggs, along with a few other Welsh players, made a few innocuous comments at a post-match press conference (saying he was not the new George Best), Ferguson told Wales' manager Terry Yorath he would refuse to release Giggs for international duty if it happened again.

So expecting Giggs to turn up and do a photo session into the bargain is like expecting Prince to pop round and bring Thomas Pynchon with him, or like waiting to find out you have been the victim of a practical joke. But what happens next is the equivalent of a Ryan Giggs' dummy, a shimmy and a nutmeg all in one, and completely fools me: he turns up early.

When I turn round, my reaction is instantaneous. I think: ‘F*** me, that bloke looks like Ryan Giggs.’

Wearing a large grey Reebok tracksuit, black Reebok trainers and a silver Tag-Heuer watch, his holiday in Crete and United’s summer tour of South Africa have replaced Giggs’ famous death-white pallor with a deep brown tan. The short, sharp haircut has grown out. Only the piercing black stare and cheek-bones are recognizably his.

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But Giggs it is, just back from playing a friendly in Denmark against Peter Schmeichel’s old club, Brondby, where a shot against the post has been turned by one paper into, ‘a fabulous 40-yard thunderbolt that hit the post before anyone on the field could blink.’

‘I don’t think I can even kick a ball 40 yards,’ laughs Giggs, seemingly unaware of the expectant, nervous hush that has gone round the room.

His mum, Lynne, her husband Richard and Ryan’s mate Stuart, have come with him, but the impression of Giggs as a nervous, sheltered teenager, quickly disappears – rather too quickly for Ferguson’s liking, I should think.

Almost the first thing he does is call into question the need for him and the first team to be playing against teams like Brondby, only five days before their first match as defending champions.

What with friendlies against Brondby, Celtic and Benfica, not to mention United's 10,000-mile round-trip to play in South Africa in the summer, Giggs can't help thinking that sometimes playing for United is more like being at a PR firm than a football club.

Standing in the glare of the spotlights, with his arms folded stiffly across his chest, staring awkwardly at our photographer's camera with the startled anxiety of a creature trapped in a car's headlights, Giggs looks like any self-conscious teenager asked to do something he's not used to. The harder he tries to smile, the more he looks lost.

I can't help asking him if Fergie knows he's here and knows what he's doing.

'Yeah. Yeah, he does,' he smiles brightly.

Ryan's mum, Lynne, explains helpfully that although Alex wasn't too happy at first - he'd phoned up the night before to ask why the arrangements hadn't been made through the club - Ryan called him back and convinced him everything was fine.

But still I keep expecting Ferguson to make a Taggart-like entrance to try and snatch the tape of the interview off me. By the way, I say casually, do you call Mr. Ferguson 'Taggart' at the club?

'Not to his face,' Giggs mutters quietly.

'Anyway,' Ryan's mum chips in, 'he's in London today.'

We're in the clear.

In the days before championship fever swept through Manchester with such force that the practice was abandoned, on match days United's players would make their way from the team bus into the ground by crossing the car park, walk­ing through the throngs of fans.

My friend Frank tells a story how, before one game last year, he watched as Sharpe, Hughes and Ince et al seemed to risk injury as they pushed their way through the crowd. Gary Pallister's giraffe­-like strides, on the other hand, seemed to put the children in jeop­ardy, as they clustered round him for autographs. Strangely enough, Mike Phelan was able to stride into the ground absolutely un-pestered.

Ryan Giggs, however, sparked a melee that looked as if Madonna and Michael Jackson had just turned up together. With hundreds of kids throwing autograph pads, Man United shirts and programmes in the air for him to sign, as Giggs negotiated his way through the crowd, a taller, older and, somehow, more desperate figure, armed with a Ryan Giggs postcard from the souvenir shop, also joined the fray.

Pushing and elbowing the children out of the way, this older bloke reached Giggs just before the door, only to find he didn't have a pen on him. At which point, Frank maintains, he poked one of the kids in the eye and took a pen off him. He emerged from the melee, clutching the signed postcard, triumphant and unabashed. It was me.

During the hours that I spend with him I am constantly waiting for Giggs to scream, 'I remember you', and make a run for it. The last time I interviewed someone more than five years younger than me, it was Bros. It was like babysitting. Not Giggs.

'Yeah, I'm always laid back, that's the way to handle things really,' he shrugs.

Even in his first real interview, he seems to have evolved a neat style of answering a leading question with 'Yeah' and then not much else, or laughing at a remark intended to provoke one back, without giving one.

When I ask him if Lee Sharpe's doing alright, keeping out of trouble and everything, not playing too much 'golf’ etc, he just raises his eyebrows and smiles and says, 'Oh, yeah, he's great,' as if to say, 'I'm not going near that one.'

Inevitably, a few slip by. When I ask him what the best thing about United's trip to South Africa was, it's possible the club's PR people were hoping for a better answer than 'the weather.’

More experienced, more polished (less honest) players might have advised Giggs to talk about the training clinics the club arranged in townships in Tembisa, or his delight at meeting Nelson Mandela.

‘It wasn't even their summer !' he enthuses with true Mancunian amazement.

But it's a relief to find that, contrary to reports, Giggs is neither tongue-tied nor dim-witted, and neither, in an age when it seems even fifth-rate footballers have agents and publicists, is he content to just trot out a series of non sequiters or overly cautious rhetoric. The look on his face at the mention of Gazza’s hair extension is quite something to behold, a look of absolute astonishment at what some people will do for publicity.

According to his mum, Lynne and her husband, Richard (Ryan's step-father) it was never only Alex Ferguson who wanted to operate the press gag; it was what Giggs himself wanted too.

'The boss has been a bit protective, yeah,' he says now, 'but it's been for the best really. He's done a great job, with the team and with me.'

It's a credit to Ferguson, Giggs' parents, his mates and his family that he has stayed so well-grounded. Once he's relaxed, he's diffi­dent but quietly cocky, not at all arro­gant. His mother and his step-father both testify to his ability to deal with everything that's happened to him calmly, despite his tender age. Certainly, that seems to have been his reaction to the stories about his real father and his family in Today, though his mother says it probably affected him more than he let on.

When I asked whether she herself wanted to say anything about the story, his mother said, 'Only that there's a job at The Beano he [the journalist] should go for.'

Giggs has the sort of face, expression and personality that mean you are always wondering what he is thinking. You get the feeling that a lot of things are internalised. He just deals with it. He couldn't seem calmer, or more relaxed. Like any 19 year-old in his position - in sport, pop music or movies - he can't even begin to ver­balise what it's like, what it's like to be him, and to have his talent, except with an incoherent mixture of amaze­ment, bemusement and gratitude.

'It's good, yeah. It's great. It's weird. It's not to do with being in a good mood or bad mood. It just either hap­pens or it doesn't.'

His mother, on the other hand, can hardly contain herself. Despite the intrusiveness of the articles in Today, she chats away happily in front of, or to, a member of the press, her pride and excitement for Ryan's achievements carrying her away into a tide of little confidences, funny incidents and embarrassing stories - all about Ryan. It's very endearing, but you can't help thinking she is too friendly for her own good.

Having never expected him to turn up in the first place, it's bewildering to now see Ryan Giggs crossing his arms and throwing his fingers, staring meanly, doing a reasonable impersonation of Ice Cube, for the camera. He seems quite happy obeying the photographer's instructions to jump in the air with his arms outstretched, or nod in a series of imaginary headers.

None of them go in, I joke.

'I have actually scored a header !' he points out. 'Against Forest, just closed me eyes and stuck me head down and it went in.'

I ask him if he has dreams about football. No, he says, but sometimes he has nightmares about playing for City. 'Sometimes I lie in bed at night after a game, thinking what I should have done, or, before a game, thinking about what I'm going to do.'

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He tells me about the first real game he ever played, in the Sunday league, for Deans, a youth club in Swinton.

'I played really well, but we got beat 9-0.'

When he was 11, he played for Salford Boys, 'against a team from Liverpool, Bootle they were called. The A-team played first and got beat 5-2, I think it was. Then the B-team played straight away and we won 8-1 and I scored six. So, you know, after that I didn't play for the B-team anymore.'

Do you remember any of the goals?

'I can still remember them all. The best one was the first one really. I just went on a bit of a mazy.'

I ask him to describe it.

'Er, I just went on a dribble and whacked it in really,' he says simply.

He's been doing it ever since. At home in their cottage in Swinton, Ryan Giggs' trophies, including two Young Player of the Year Awards, clutter the shelves, sharing them with those groovy sunflower toys that dance to music.

Ryan Giggs was born Ryan Joseph Giggs in Cardiff, on November 29th, 1973. His mum, Lynne Giggs, was not married to his father, a rugby player from Cardiff called Danny Wilson.

Although his parents stayed togeth­er, on and off, for 15 years, it was not without turmoil, caused mainly by Wilson's penchant for the ladies and for drink, leading inevitably to brushes with the law and six months inside for assault. Today newspaper couldn't help pointing out that if anything, Ryan Giggs' dad had far more in common with George Best than his son does.

When Ryan was seven, his father, whose virtuosity at rugby for Cardiff was, sadly, never matched by his dedi­cation, switched to Rugby League and a move to Swinton, where Ryan and his brother Rhodri spent the next eight years. Ryan excelled at rugby and basketball.

If it's true that Giggs had a happy, if troubled, childhood, he is, apparent­ly, now reconciled with his father, though the Today material can't have done a lot for the two families' rela­tionship. Lynne Giggs says the matter is now in the hands of their solicitors.

When the family moved to Swinton, they took the name of the boys' father (Wilson) as part of the new start, and this was the name that, for eight years, Ryan grew up with. By the age of 15, he had signed to United's youth team. His parents had separated, so when he needed a passport to play for United abroad, the passport was issued in his mother's name, the only name on his birth certificate: Giggs. Although he later captained the England school­boys, Giggs nonetheless opted for Welsh nationality and is now a fervent patriot.

'I didn't really stand out when I was young,' Giggs remembers, with the kind of modesty that seems to understand and accept that he now does.

'I'd have a good game now and again, but that's all. There were a few good kids around.'

According lo popular legend, when he was 11, he was spotted playing football by the boss of Deans as he drove by on his milk-round and from there ended up at Manchester City’s School of Excellence.

‘I did feel confident, yeah. I thought I could get an apprenticeship with a club, but never so quickly and not a club as big as United. It was the only thing I wanted to do, so I was quite determined. I used to go out in the field on me own, you know, keeping the ball up, and I used to train with clubs that I didn't play for, just to train.'

The story goes that a friend of Ryan's mum knew about Ryan from her son who also played at Deans, and being a United fan, she told her newsagent who was a steward at Old Trafford.

On the day of Giggs' 14th birthday, the day he became eligible to sign forms with a football league club, Alex Ferguson turned up at Giggs' house and knocked at the door. City were left feeling like the bloke from Decca records who missed out on signing the Beatles.

'I'd been with City three or four years and had one trial with United at Christmas, which was the only time the boss had seen me play. City were sort of stalling, and I'd always been a United supporter. Even at City, it was always my dream, so I jumped at it.'

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To think he could have been fighting for his place with Rick Holden.

When he was 17, he signed a five year contract with United, and having come on as a substitute against Everton made his full debut on May 5th 1991 in the Manchester derby.

‘The match against Everton just passed me by really. I can't remember any of it. I'm never nervous before a game now but back then in the changing rooms, I was shaking. Sick to my stomach. Same with the City game. At about 1.30, one of the players said, "You're playing", and I thought, they're winding me up here. Then we had the team talk and the boss says, I can still remember it, he says, "Ryan, you play on the left".'

There's a kind of wonder in his voice as he says this that's almost funny and even now, his face lights up with awe and excitement. 'I just went, "Arrghhh" [holding his head in his hands]. I couldn't believe it.'

What sort of game did you have?

'Played okay actually,' he says, the cockiness, like his play, immediately back in evidence. He talks about it now like a veteran.

'Your first game, you don't relax on the ball. As soon as you get it, you want to get rid of it. It went okay really, and we won, so...'

Characteristically he doesn't mention the goal. Seventeen years-old and making his debut in the Manchester derby, Giggs scored the only goal of the match.

The way he re-tells it now is interesting not because it was obviously not a classic (no 'going on a dribble and whacking it in'), but because it shows that all footballers, even Ryan Giggs, describe a goal in the same way. It proves that underneath football-ese is not a language footballers learn to speak but a genetic imprint. Suddenly, he actually becomes quite animated.

'Well, what happened was... Brian McClair's crossed it. I've got across the defender and it's just bounced up, bounced, hit my foot, and gone through the defender's legs and hit him and wrong-footed the keeper, and it's just gone in.'

Poetry.

After a 10.30 start and two hours training at The Cliff, Giggs lies on the fitness table at Old Trafford getting a massage from Man Utd physio, Jim MacGregor.

'Here I am,' MacGregor jokes, 'holding the superstar Giggs' left leg. Though I've seen more muscle on a wee sparrow.'

Giggs, 11 stone 61bs, takes the joke, flexes imaginary muscles. Since that goal against City, Giggs' goals have all been with the left foot. His right foot could do with some work (as if I can talk) and United fans will be dismayed to hear that, as yet, the coaching staff are not doing much about it.

'Some clubs make you train with no boot on your good foot, so you can't use it,' Giggs says chirpily. 'We don't do that.'

At the photographer's studio, Giggs, still quiet and uncomplain­ing, has spent about half an hour pointing his bare left foot in a passable pirouette as the photographer zooms in on it. Forget Nureyev, we are talking Nijinsky. Giggs doesn't show what he thinks of this, whether he realises the significance, he just swings it sweetly back and forward for the camera. I am working out a plan to touch the foot of God.

Last year, Giggs scored crucial first goals that not only seemed to kick-start his team but came to symbolise them. George Best, of course, was the same. Against Coventry (5-0), 'Boro (3-0), Norwich (3-1) and Blackburn (3-1), his goals seemed to inspire and ignite United. His goals turned two of the key games on the run-in.

Against Norwich, where the Sky commentator was left screaming, 'It's a landslide', as United came marauding forward, Giggs' goal was not the first to carry echoes of Best. Against Southampton, 1-0 down at home with only nine minutes left, twice Giggs ghosted in, dummied the keeper and fired home. His goal against Spurs, skin­ning two defenders, nutmegging one and then rounding the keeper before scoring from an outrageous angle, had Best joking afterwards, 'If he carries on like this, they'll be calling me the second Ryan Giggs.'

Best, who was better with both feet, but had the same balance, same perfect poise and swerving skills as Giggs (if not the power of shot), later wrote that, 'Giggs was the jewel in the Championship crown... There are times when I see myself in his play, if we lose possession, we see it as a personal insult. I love watching Ryan snapping back at opponents' ankles to get the ball back when he's lost it.'

I ask Giggs if he's heard George Best describe the dream he often has. Amazingly, he hasn't.

In the dream, Best is the age he is now but is back playing for United. Sir Matt's in charge and Best has played the week before and played well, but he's not sure (with all the years away) if he's playing, so he looks at the team-sheet. Crerand and Law and Alex Stepney are there. So, of course, is Giggs.

Giggs doesn't seem particularly pleased, or surprised. Maybe the 'new George Best' thing is getting to him, although I doubt it, some­how. United's Mark Hughes and Clayton Blackmore and the rest of the Welsh squad have already nicknamed him 'George'.

'Yeah, they like that one,' he mutters sardonically. 'They're a good laugh, the Wales team.'

Have you met Best ?

'Yeah, I've met him a few times, at functions, or after a game, had a few chats with him. Seems like a good fella. He just said, well done and keep it up. Told me to keep to myself. Encouragement.'

There's no way of telling how much it means to him.

Football is his life, and like most footballers, Giggs seems more comfortable in a football world, that protected uni­verse, where perfect happiness is a hat-trick for United.

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We do a quick Q & A.

Who would you most like to meet ?

'Pele.'

Which goal would you most like to have scored ?

'Michael Thomas for Arsenal v Liverpool.'

Who's the hardest player you've played against ?

'Earl Barrett.'

How long do you think Eric Cantona will stay at United ? 'Hopefully a long time. He's definitely given us a new dimension, but you know, if he goes, he goes. Hopefully he won't.'

Have you seen Eric's paintings ?

'No, he lives in Leeds.’

Favourite goal last season: 'Against Blackburn, cos of the occa­sion. They'd put a bit of a dampener on the night so that goal got it going again.'

Happiest moment in football ?

That night, definitely. The crowd was just brilliant.’

How hung-over were you ?

'Well, we'd all been round to Stevie Bruce's and, er, celebrated, [laughs]. I don't know how we turned out that performance that night. Maybe we should do that every night before a match.'

Did you know Villa were losing to Blackburn while you were playing Palace ?

'We could tell by the crowd, really. We heard at half time that Villa had got beat.'

Favourite food ?

'Bananas.' ('Ooh, he loves bananas,' confirms his mum.)

Favourite actors ?

'Eddie Murphy, Al Pacino.'

Do you believe in God, Ryan ?

'No, I don't really. Erm, I'm not too much into religion and all that.'

When Ryan Giggs goes to the supermarket, by the time he's got from the car (a red Golf GTi) to the freezer counter (for ice lollies) and back again, the money in the meter has run out and the parking ticket makes them the most expensive ice lollies in Manchester. And besides, they've melted.

'It can get on your nerves, yeah, people always wanting to talk to you about football, sign things. It's to be expected really.'

Giggs' status in the game is changing. The summer has seen him rise to the level of actual superstar. Tabloid front pages, high-profile sponsorship, the acclaim of helping United win the league... His mum says the pressure and the attention, and the challenge of living up to expectation only spurs him on.

Sure enough, the new season starts with Giggs lashing home United's first goal of the season, away to Norwich and again United go on to win.

Giggs is fond of reminding people that Best (for one) was away from home and his mates, and was 15 when he left Belfast. So for now he still lives (mostly) at home.

'When he's in, the phone never stops,' coos his mum.

Since Today ran a picture of the house and the road it's in, they get people knocking at the door the whole time.

'I still go out, yeah, with me mates. You just have to be careful where you go. I don't go to any City pubs. I get hassled now and again, the odd idiot now and again, in clubs and that. You've just got to walk away really. Be sensible.'

When Giggs looked at houses recently, his step-father laughs, he was on the verge of buying one because he liked having speakers in the bathroom. They persuaded him to have one built. I ask him how his girlfriend deals with it all.

'I haven't got a girlfriend,' he says quickly. 'I haven't had a girlfriend for about a year. It was nothing to do with the lifestyle, no, or the football. We just weren't getting on. Normal story. We're still friends, but as for going out in the future, maybe, maybe not.'

'Oh I can't believe he told you that,' cries his mum, when she hears. 'She's not going to be very happy with that.'

Apart from football, his life is, of course, predictably mundane.

'I just go home and relax, listen to music, play pool, golf. Go into town and do a spot of shopping [Armani tops, Armani jeans, Paul Smith suits]. With football, you're not really allowed to do a lot of things.'

How much do you earn?

'Er, I'm not allowed to tell you that,' he says, laughing.

Do you get less than Roy Keane ?

'Oh yeah ! I don't think anybody knows how much he gets actually.'

Your mum says you've never got any money on you ?

'No, I haven't, it's true.'

I was going to try and borrow a few grand off you.

'Sorry,' he says, laughing.

How Alex Ferguson protects him here on in remains to be seen. He has been known to step out to the Hacienda or Back To Basics in Leeds with Lee Sharpe, although it's rumoured that this particular practice may well have been curtailed after Sharpie had 'an accident with a golf club' at a nightclub and ended up with two black eyes, on the cover of the Daily Star, and a new nickname - 'Shines'.

'He looked like Bungle from Rainbow,' Giggs laughs. 'Er, the boss wasn't too happy, no, but... you're always gonna get idiots around who are going to cause trouble.'

The Boy Wonder himself created his first scandal this summer - 'Ryan Swiggs' - on holiday in Crete. Sex? Drugs? Rock 'n' roll? No. Giggs Drinks Lager Shock Shame Scoop. Did Alex have a word with you about that ?

'No, not really. He just said, "You can't go anywhere these days can you ?" '

Giggs himself doesn't seem too concerned by the intrusion that made the front pages, or worried by the precedent, but seems to recognise a striker's instinct in the story.

'There was a photographer there and he's just seen his chance. There was no story to it. It said, "He's been out every night." What else do you do on holiday ? Do you know what I mean ?'

His best mate at the club is Paul Ince. What about the celebration dance you and Ince were doing last season?

'That was Incey's idea. He's mad, Incey. I don't think the boss was too bothered at that point. If it had been the beginning of the season, I don't think he'd have been too happy. If you're fair with him, he's fair with you, really. If you're going out late, doing stupid things and being seen in pubs in Manchester before a game, it gets back to him... '

What about the quotes you gave after the Wales game ?

'That was just a misunderstanding really. Terry Yorath said it was okay, so I thought it was. But, no, he was not a happy man, the boss. He can, er, lose it now and then, but I suppose that's part of his job.'

If Giggs doesn't go to Milan, it's hard to see him going anywhere else - at least while Paul Ince and Alex Ferguson are at United and players like Cantona can help develop his game. It's easy to see a similarity in the role that Ferguson has with him and the way Busby nurtured and tried to protect Best.

Giggs' superb left-foot strike on his debut against Belgium has left Wales well-placed to win him a platform even Best never had: The World Cup. It can only increase the likelihood of a bid from Italy, especially now Milan's winger Lentini is recovering from a horrific car crash.

Giggs' reaction to the idea of going to Italy, though, is instinctively negative. I find myself trying to sell him the idea, the challenge of playing with Baggio, Van Basten etc. (what am I doing ?!)

'It's just fanatical,' he complains, with surprisingly scornful force. 'You're like a megastar over there. For me, it could ruin me career, ruin me life. I'm happy to stay at United for the rest of my life.'

By the end, Giggs seems as unbothered about stopping talking as he was about starting. At the end of the day, he has not said, 'at the end of the day'. At the end of the session, the sweatshirt he has been wearing (Reebok) is lying there, waiting for a claimant, or a charity auction, like Madonna's bra, or Prince's stilettos.

What's amazing about the Ryan Giggs story is that it is only two and a half years since his debut, and that Ryan Giggs has only really been playing football for eight years.

'I didn't really start till I was 12,' he remembers, slightly surprised himself.

Finally we do Desert Island Discs.

'Erm, music, it could be anything really. Films, it would have to be The Godfather or GoodFellas.’

Favourite book?

'I don't really read books. I like magazines, really, so FHM !’  he grins.

He's learning fast.