Tributes flooded in from all corners of the footballing universe as Ryan Giggs announced his retirement from the sport earlier this week. The 40 year old brought the curtain down on a glittering career which has seen him represent Manchester United an incredible 963 times, lifting 34 trophies along the way. Making his debut in 1991, Giggs terrorised Premier League defences for years as a dynamic and unpredictable left winger.
With the appointment of Louis Van Gaal, a major overhaul at Old Trafford is anticipated this summer. Recent reports suggest that a fee may have been agreed with Bayern Munich for the transfer of Toni Kroos, whilst a number of other high profile individuals have been linked with a summer move.
But while much of the focus seems centered upon the addition of central defenders and midfielders, United are also in desperate need of a new wide player. Whilst the career of Giggs is a phenomenon that will likely never be repeated, a winger in the mould of the Welsh Wizard would be welcomed at Old Trafford.
The 2013/14 season revealed a number of painful truths about the current United side. One of those is the genuine dearth of quality in the wide areas. David Moyes’ stubborn insistence on exploiting the flanks revealed that the current contenders for the positions are either unsuitable for the role or simply not good enough.
Shinji Kagawa and Juan Mata prefer a more central position while Adnan Januzaj has also tried his hand as the “number ten”. In recent times, Nani hasn’t convinced anybody that he has the end product to match the tricks and putting it bluntly, Ashley Young just isn’t good enough. Antonio Valencia has proven himself as a strong wide option but simply isn’t in the same dynamic and explosive mould as Giggs.
In modern football, the traditional out and out winger seems to have become unfashionable. Every manager now seems to be focused on utilising wide men as inside forwards rather than players that hug the touchline. There aren’t many individuals that closely mirror Giggs’ style, much less match his quality.
But the need for the out and out winger to stretch the game still exists. Earlier this year, Theo Walcott’s absence saw Arsenal struggle for some time in their attacking play. The injury denied the Gunners’ of a valuable outlet that could stretch a defence through his pace and positional play. Of course, this isn’t to say that Walcott is of the same calibre as Giggs, rather that an out and out winger can still be a vital asset in modern football.
Regarding United’s current wide options, the opinion that they’re not up to scratch is one that Van Gaal seems to share. Recent rumours have linked the sixty two year old with several candidates to occupy the flanks at Old Trafford. Memphis Depay, the Dutch prospect that currently plys his trade with PSV Eindhoven, is an option that is believed to be interesting Van Gaal. Yehven Konoplyanka is another, with a £12 million transfer tussle with Liverpool anticipated over the twenty four year old Dnipro winger.
Whether these players can replicate Giggs’ style down the flanks of Old Trafford remains to be seen. But what should be clear to all is that United need to strengthen in the wide areas. In the now infamous home draw to Fulham back in February, Moyes was rightly maligned for his tactics. But by the same token, only a pitiful eighteen out of a record eighty one crosses found a team-mate. Even if it was the wrong approach, a team of United’s calibre should be able to provide better service from out wide.
Of course, there are other pressing concerns that need to be addressed. Central midfield is an area which has been crying out for reinforcements for years whilst the departures of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic mean at least one central defensive arrival is expected.
But if the rumours are to be believed, Van Gaal has also recognised the need to strengthen out wide. Beyond the interim spell and the twilight years as a deep lying playmaker, Giggs terrorised defences as an out and out winger. It may not seem fashionable in the modern game, but a wide man more in the mould of the Welshman is another thing United need right now.