The saga surrounding Ryan Giggs’ future has gone on longer than an Eastenders Christmas special, but finally we all received a little bit of closure over the weekend. Giggs announced, after almost 30 years association, that he would be leaving Manchester United in search of pastures new. Following his role as assistant to both David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal, and having completed all of the necessary badges and qualifications, Giggs felt he was ready for the top job. The club’s hierarchy, reeling after the disastrous spells of the two aforementioned managers, obviously felt otherwise and plumped for the “guaranteed” success offered by José Mourinho.
Giggs, the Welshman with the Salfordian accent, burst onto the scene in 1991 and immediately became a star. The girls loved him (I know this because his posters plastered the walls of my sister’s bedroom), and sponsorship deals with the likes of Reebok and Quorn quickly followed. When he retired from playing in 2014 he had won literally every honour possible in the club game, including 13 league titles, two European Cups and four FA Cups. He holds the record for number of appearances for Manchester United, surpassing Sir Bobby Charlton’s long- standing record. He scooped numerous individual accolades, including two PFA Young Player of the Year awards in 1992 and 1993, and in 2009 was named PFA Player of the Year and BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
Despite the above he still divides the support. Many will call him a “legend” and others will say, despite his longevity and success, that he coasted for large spells and could have done more. His off the field antics, including a string of affairs and involvement in a hotel opposite Old Trafford that was opposed by the club, can’t help his cause, although many will say they don’t care what he does away from football.
In terms of his management credentials, his involvement with Moyes and Van Gaal has to go down as a black mark against his name. Again, people are divided on this. In my opinion there are one of two schools of thought, and neither look upon him favourably. The first is that he was a lame duck, appointed to appease the fans although he had no say in how the team functioned. If this was the case why didn’t he speak up, stick to his principles and leave if he felt he wasn’t valued? Or, on the other hand, is he just as guilty as Moyes and Van Gaal, and did his advice as assistant contribute to three disastrous seasons?
People will point to the four games he served as caretaker manager after Moyes was canned. In the opener, he selected several young players as United ran out 4-0 winners. It was immediately seen as an antidote to Moyes’ “let’s make it hard for Newcastle” ethos. However, that was followed up by a 1-0 home defeat to Sunderland, the kind of result that has characterised the reigns of Moyes and Van Gaal. It’s one thing being the main man and another entirely taking charge of a few meaningless end of season games.
He pledges that at his new club he will play swashbuckling, attractive football in the way that he was brought up at Manchester United. That’s all well and good, but he’ll need to pick the right chairman and ensure that both are singing from the same hymn sheet. If he joins a team struggling at the bottom of the table, he may have no option to revert to a more robust, direct style of football. He may want to invest in youth, but he may not be given the time, a rare luxury in the modern game.
Now, he can go and forge his own path, free from the shackles of expectation. If he proves to be good enough, unlike a raft of former Ferguson disciples, then he may find himself in the Old Trafford hot seat at some point in the future. To do that he’ll need to prove himself as an individual and separate himself from what has happened at the club over the last three years.