Ryan Giggs on reuniting with Manchester United teammates to help the next generation

April 1, 2023

Crowds still flock to see Ryan Giggs. He is strolling through Peel Park in Little Hulton, easing past starstruck kids in football kits as deftly as he used to slalom past defenders.

Some clamber on a climbing frame to get a better view. They yell “Giggs” years after their mothers and fathers hollered his name to the tune of Joy Division.

Some adults are giddier. One dog walker marks the occasion by dressing his terrier in a United away shirt and another supporter proudly brandishes his Paul Scholes tattoo as he poses for a picture with an amused Nicky Butt.

Read more: Three Ten Hag buys are now among Man United’s successful signings since 2013

The kids who have risen early on their Saturday morning have a new pitch to play on, named the Cruyff Court. Johan’s son, Jordi, now the sporting director at Barcelona, has flown in from Catalonia a day before the Clásico to open it with his old teammates.

It was during Johan’s time in the United States that he noticed a neighbour’s child with Down’s syndrome was watching other children playing soccer on their street. Johan approached the boy and started to play with him. When Cruyff returned from a string of far-flung away matches, he discovered the boy was now playing with the other children.

A 25-minute drive away from The Cliff training ground where Jordi used to marvel at Eric Cantona’s volleying technique, the Cruyff Foundation and Foundation 92 have gifted a five-a-side pitch to young Salfordians.

Johan’s 14 rules are listed next to one of the orange-framed goals and an orange ribbon tied to the posts is cut to signal the opening of the pitch. “We never had something like this,” Giggs says. “If we had something like this, we could meet up and have a proper game.

“I think when we took over Salford City it was one of the things that we wanted to do: give young people a chance that we were given as young players.

“After nine years now, with Salford City, the foundation came after that but that was the main reason, to give back to the community and to produce facilities like this, facilities perhaps we didn’t have when we were younger, and somewhere where the local community can go, enjoy themselves in a safe environment, be outdoors and play multi-sports, not just football.

Giggs and Butt on the Cruyff Court
Giggs and Butt on the Cruyff Court

“You see the running track around the edge, the basketball hoops, and it’s really important for us as players, because we got given a chance and we want to give back.”

Still feared by the blues and loved by the reds, in this United heartland that Giggs graces there is not a City shirt in sight. One intrepid lad proudly wears the United Umbro shirt from the Treble-winning season, unfussed by the rain clouds.

Giggs, now 48 and sporting a salt-and-pepper beard but still as fresh-faced as he was as a teenager, is warm company in the cold climate. It would be churlish to say Giggs is back in Salford when he has never really left. He moved to Swinton aged six and it was on those streets that he honed a technique that drew credible comparisons with George Best in his formative years in the United side.

“I started off at street football and then if you can find a pitch somewhere, it’s best,” he recalls, “but usually it was just you and a couple of mates, so it was on the road. There weren’t as many cars back then!

Giggs greets children ahead of the first game on the Cruyff Court
Giggs greets children ahead of the first game on the Cruyff Court

“Using the grids for goals, maybe trying to hit parts of the wall, just gradually coming back further and further. You’d just test yourself, trying to hit the curb and catch it, little things like that where you’d try and use your imagination. A lot of the time you’d be on your own or there’d be a couple of you.”

It has been nearly nine years since Giggs last pulled on the United shirt in what was his sole appearance as player and caretaker manager, but his name is remembered by children not even born when he strode onto the pitch against Hull in May 2014.

As one of Salford City’s co-owners, his friendship with Butt, Scholes and the Nevilles endures. Cruyff was a teammate for four years. “It’s a funny thing, football, you spend three or four years every day seeing the same person every day, sat next to him even, and then all of a sudden he leaves the club and you don’t see him for 10 years,” Giggs says.

“I think more and more now, with ex-footballers play charity games, futsal tournaments, play five-a-side tournaments and you probably see a lot more of ex-teammates and players you played against and spend a lot more time with them.

A Mount Rushmore of walls
A Mount Rushmore of walls

“It’s great to see Jordi. You always follow what an ex-teammate is doing and he’s obviously back at Barcelona, where it all began. It’s as if you’re back in the dressing room.

“We were saying just then, what do you miss the most? It’s probably not the games, it’s not the training, it’s the dressing room camaraderie.”

It was in July 2021 that an image emerged of Zach Giggs chasing after a ball, chalk on his boots from the left wing, representing the United academy in Northern Ireland 31 years after his father had.

Zach, now 16, was in his father’s arms for United’s trophy processions around Old Trafford on three occasions and father and son were in attendance last year for the club’s first FA Youth Cup triumph in 11 years.

Zach Giggs, running down the wing, for United aged 14
Zach Giggs, running down the wing, for United aged 14

Zach was only six when Ryan retired. Like others from Generation Z, he can gauge his father’s greatness in a couple of clicks. Or on a games console.

“I think youngsters now have got YouTube, they’ve got Fifa,” Giggs surmises. “Just as well, otherwise you wouldn’t be remembered!

“They probably just look at what marks you’ve got on Fifa and stuff like that. I know from my son that’s what he does but it’s great kids know your name. And the parents, the mums!”

So has he played as you on Fifa?


“LI don’t know! It’s a good question. I’ll have to ask him!”