Powerful and reflective documentary unveils Man United legend Ryan Giggs

Harry Reardon reviews 'Life of Ryan', a cinematic documentary on Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs

Harry Reardon
By Harry Reardon

The Ryan Giggs documentary released last month is a powerful film tinged with melancholy, writes Harry Reardon.

One of the most powerful words spoken in ‘Life of Ryan’, the Ryan Giggs documentary released on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download this week, is also one of the quietest.

The Giggs family are in their car driving home after a 3-1 win over Hull City in Ryan’s third game as caretaker manager, and spirits are high as they discuss the impression made by James Wilson, one of the youngsters he had selected.

“Daddy was a young player once upon a time,” Giggs says to his children, “About ten years ago.” One corrects him: “No, not ten years ago, about 25.” Almost lost under the background noise and the wistful soundtrack is his poignant reply. “Really?”

The moment soon passes, and he is back to his normal, measured self, but for a split-second, the release of melancholy is tangible. And in the context of this film, it does not truly come as a surprise.

For even in a documentary in which, out of not far shy of an hour-and-a-half in running time, all but the first 20 minutes is dedicated to Giggs’s four games in temporary charge of Manchester United, suddenly a young manager at 40, there always remains a theme that time is passing by.

Perhaps that should not be cause for sadness.

The film does well in emphasising Giggs’s overwhelming pride in his longevity, something recognised too by the many and illustrious talking heads, including Rory McIlroy, Bryan Habana and of course Sir Alex Ferguson, that are sprinkled throughout.

A look at Giggs’s mementoes – he keeps few in the house – reveals an award given to him by the Premier League recognising 500 appearances over the history of the competition; we also see his boots from the Champions League victory in Moscow 2008, which for him symbolise breaking Sir Bobby Charlton’s Manchester United appearance record.

And so the film is a celebration, certainly, but it is also a drawing of the curtain, a nod to the end of an era.

Its production team were also involved in last year’s acclaimed ‘Class of 92’ documentary, and there is almost a conscious nod to that about half an hour in, as newly appointed coaching team Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, Phil Neville and Giggs are filmed walking towards camera as Nina Simone’s sublime ‘Feeling Good’ pumps out in the background.

That does not seem an inappropriate choice of song either, as the managerial stint takes a pleasingly Hollywood turn – initial success against Norwich City, followed by a setback at home to Sunderland, and then apparent redemption against Hull.

But even then the wistfulness returns. Giggs’s free kick late on against Hull is saved, and he will not round off his record of scoring in every Premier League season. United draw against Southampton in their final game, and it becomes increasingly clear that Giggs will be overlooked for the manager’s job in favour of Louis van Gaal.

It is not a question that is directly posed of Giggs by the film-makers, but in a powerful piece of cinematography, the camera dwells on him a lot longer than it strictly needs to as he watches Van Gaal on TV in silence while the Dutchman fields questions about being linked to the role.

In the end, of course, it is indeed van Gaal who is given the job – a job which the last three months have shown needs a lot more than just ‘getting the old band getting back together’, as journalist Henry Winter refers to Giggs’s appointment half an hour in.

And so while Giggs remains at Old Trafford as Van Gaal’s assistant, perhaps fittingly, the focus turns back to his playing days as the film draws to a close. There is footage – of course – of his FA Cup goal against Arsenal in 1999.

“I don’t think I did anything before or after that goal,” Giggs says, “because that’s all people talk about.”

One of the final shots sees Giggs, the famous number 11 on his back, walking slowly away from the camera as his stellar United record is laid out on the screen.

Earlier, we had seen footage of his 40th birthday party in November 2013, at which he had claimed that he would be “glad when it’s over.”

All too aware of his declining powers, “Are you still contributing?” he asks himself. “Are you still happy?”

For any protestations he makes in the film about how rewarding management can be, and however far his career in football may still have to go, it is difficult to escape the feeling that he will never again be quite as happy as he was that Wednesday night at Villa Park in April 1999.

You can order ‘Life of Ryan’ online here

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