Even as a teenager Ryan Giggs was by far the best

Our columnist recalls a childhood memory when he was given the ominous task of trying to subdue the flying Welsh winger.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 16:  Following the final whistle Ryan Giggs of Manchester United applauds the fans after his 600th appearance for the club during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane on January 16, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Two groups of 13-year-old boys huddled around their managers for a final talk on a February morning in 1987 in Swinton, a working-class suburb five miles from Manchester city centre.

I played for Victoria Boys from Stretford and we trained two miles from Manchester United's ground. Our manager was a match-day steward at Old Trafford who rewarded his man of the match with a complimentary ticket for the Stretford End terrace.

That cold morning, when the limbs were exposed to the northern English chill only at the last minute, the manager had a warning for me, an ineffective right-back. "Watch their winger Wilson," he said, as he looked me in the eye. "He's fast."

"Fast!" I remember thinking after I was mercifully substituted at half time. I couldn't get remotely close to him. My semi-pro footballer dad just shook his head. He'd seen his son get skinned by a skinny Welsh-born winger whose family had made Manchester their home.

We won that game 2-0, though, something I delighted in reminding Ryan Wilson when our paths crossed again. Not surprisingly, he did not recall having any difficulty with his marker that day.

Ryan Wilson changed his surname to Giggs when his parents divorced. He played for Deans Sports, who were based in Swinton, where his father had played rugby league. Deans were not an all-conquering junior side like many prodigies gravitate towards. An Aston Villa sort of team, middle of the road and unlikely title challengers, Giggs was far and away their best player.

We boys knew that United had made an approach, but we also thought that Giggs wasn't the best player in the league. That honour went to another speedy winger, Simon Davies, who was also signed by Sir Alex Ferguson, but went on to play only 10 first-team games at Old Trafford.

Giggs, of course, has made many more appearances for United since his first-team debut at age 17 against Everton 20 years ago next month. More than any player in the history of Manchester United. If Giggs features in today's Manchester derby at Old Trafford, it will be his 862nd game for the club.

For decades, nobody thought that any player would come close to Sir Bobby Charlton's 759-game club record.

Giggs, 37, has played a staggering 33 times against neighbours City - a figure which would have been higher had their cross-town rivals not spent the late 1990s out of the Premier League.

Ironically, it was the City scout Eric Mollander and not United who spotted him when he was 10.

"Every time I see him play he reminds me of when I first saw him," Mollander said. "Ryan was a younger, smaller version of what he is today. He was very, very quiet off the field but on it Ryan showed us that wonderful left peg. He could swerve, weave and dribble. And, boy, did he have good pace."

Mollander was so impressed that he approached Giggs's father and then informed City's chief scout Ken Barnes, who immediately told him to bring the youngster to the club. Unlike now when players can be signed at age nine, clubs then could not sign players until they were 14.

"Ryan came to us for almost four years," Mollander said. "He wore the blue of City but I never once asked him whom he supported. Ken Barnes would suggest Ryan was invited to first-team matches and often the four of them would go: mum, dad and both sons."

City offered Giggs a signing-on form on his 14th birthday, but United had stepped in with a personal visit from Ferguson.

"I was disappointed," Mollander said. "I think that's natural because I'd really grown to like Ryan and his family. But if a boy prefers to go to United rather than City, I never criticise United. And even though I'm a true blue, United are a wonderful club with an extremely successful manager."

Mollander is justifiably proud of his protege.

"Ryan is a great credit to himself, his family, to football and to Manchester United, his only professional club," he said. "His determination, modesty, and desire are a credit to himself and all those who have guided him throughout his career."