Seeing Liverpool become European Champions was hard to take, according to Manchester United winger Ryan Giggs.
Giggs has just released his autobiography and in it he reveals how much the rivalry between the two clubs still means to him. Giggs was at Manchester Airport, still stinging from being on the losing side in the FA Cup final against Arsenal. Whilst there some Liverpool fans, on their way to Istanbul, spotted him and couldn’t resist a dig. His answer was to tell them he’d be "made up" when AC Milan beat them in Istanbul.
No doubt by half-time on the 25th of May the Welsh veteran was celebrating with AC Milan 3-0 in front. The smile was wiped off his face in the second half though as Liverpool acheived their victory in the fashion that will never be forgotten.
He reveals that he felt much the same as most Liverpool fans felt in 1999 when United somehow managed to score two goals in injury time to win the Champions League. He couldn’t bear to hear any more about it. “I didn’t buy a paper for a week,” he wrote.
In fact speaking even now about that night, Giggs admitted he was under a self-imposed news blackout for some time after. Liverpool’s win hurt, especially in light of another season without a trophy for United. Speaking this week he said, “I didn’t watch the TV or buy a paper. It was unbelievable. You don’t like to say it, but you have to give them credit for coming back from 3-0 down."
Even now it’s hard to take for him: "To be honest I don’t like to think about it.”
As we said yesterday, the mutual dislike between the two clubs is as big as ever. On an individual level many from each camp get on well with each other. Benitez spoke this week of Alex Ferguson’s congratulatory letter after Istanbul, and their recent trip to Europe together recently for a conference. Many a Liverpool fan has a colleague or friend that supports Manchester United, and they will get on well together and keep taunts light-hearted. Ask that same Liverpool fan what he thinks of United as a whole though and you’ll get an answer that shows the rivalry is still strong.
Giggs underlines just how important this match is to them: “For a Manchester United player, going to Anfield is still the biggest test. We have Chelsea and Arsenal, which are huge matches in their own right but there is something different about Liverpool. There is this fierce rivalry and the history of the two clubs. It is the one game in a season where you have to handle the pressure and everything else that goes around the game."
Giggs then shows why he became a footballer and not a mathematician: "The rivalry has been intense for as long as I can remember. Thirty years ago, they had the best of everything; the European Cups, the league titles, the best players and the best team. Since the Premiership started those roles have been reversed, which has just increased the passion." So according to Giggs the Premiership started in 1975? And United have won European Cups (plural)? We know what he means though – just before the Manchester United revival started t-shirts were on sale outside Anfield celebrating the 25th Anniversary of a United league title win. Liverpool haven’t won a title themselves since then, with just a smattering of silverware in between until May.
United are aiming to make it four wins in a row at Anfield today. Giggs himself won the game for United two seasons ago, scoring twice as Liverpool went down 2-1.
Steven Gerrard complained this week of being "outside the top three", as Liverpool are no longer considered a team with any chance of the title. Gerrard wants to put that right, but as Giggs says the standards have got tougher and tougher in the last couple of season. Giggs refers only to Chelsea and Arsenal as challengers for the title with his own team, saying: "It is hard to think people are saying we cannot afford to lose at such an early stage but Arsenal did not lose a game two years ago and Chelsea only lost one last year so it is getting that way. You can’t afford to drop points at any time in the season. You have to be focussed all the way through.”
And although we doubt he’ll be reading this, Giggs may not have realised it but today he’s got a chance to remember that night in 1999 when he got his European Cup winners medal. The trophy that United won that year is now on display at its permanent home in Liverpool. After winning it five times Liverpool got to keep the trophy, meaning that United fans and players can come and have a look at the cup any time they like, and just a one-hour drive away from Old Trafford.