Interim Manchester United manager Ryan Giggs will face a number of career-defining conundrums this summer.
After an incredible 24 campaigns in the Red Devils midfield, does the Welshman finally hang up his boots? Subsequently, should he continue down the coaching path laid out for him by higher powers at Old Trafford, with Giggs widely tipped to be announced assistant to the incoming Louis van Gaal and one day become the Dutchman’s successor? Or would he be better off forging his own career in the Premier League management racket?
Some of these decisions won’t be in Giggs’ hands. For starters, whether he continues to feature in every Premier League campaign to date will depend on the wishes of the next permanent United boss. Likewise, at this moment in time it remains unclear whether van Gaal will accept the Welsh icon as his assistant next season – it’s not as if the former Eredivise, Bundesliga, La Liga and Champions League winner will struggle for candidates to work as his No.2.
But Giggs will have some say over where he ends up next season, which in many ways is the most crucial question; does he request to stay within the Old Trafford framework, or does he cut his own apron strings, before one day coming home to roost?
Ending a 25 year spell so abruptly is never easy but the notion of doing so is already on the Welshman’s mind, as reported by the Daily Mail and Mirror Football. You can certainly understand that point of view; Giggs has worked under the greatest manager English football has ever seen and continually plied his trade with top players at the highest level – there isn’t too much to learn from van Gaal that he doesn’t already know, especially about the Premier League.
Likewise, the veteran winger’s niggling grievance under Moyes was his lack of influence on first team affairs. Being a manager that once pulled down his trousers in a half-time team-talk and said to his players ‘Do I look excited?’, van Gaal’s reputation as an incredibly particular and maverick figure is well-known, and the assumption is that he’s not the easiest man to work with. You can’t imagine him actively heeding the advice of a coach whose management career thus far consists of a 4-0 victory over Norwich City and a 1-0 defeat to Sunderland.
He’s hardly the first manager with such a cavalier repute and in many ways that no-nonsense, self-assured demeanour is what’s made the Netherlands boss such a strong candidate for the United gig. One can certainly draw parallels in character to Sir Alex Ferguson.
But van Gaal’s frostiness could be amplified if he’s forced to take on Giggs as his assistant. Now forming the majority of the coaching staff at Old Trafford and even releasing their own hit documentary, the famous Class of ’92 are growing in power at Carrington and the Welshman is their leading unofficial figurehead. The last thing the 40 year-old wants to enter is a backroom battle for political power at Old Trafford, especially against a manager who has previously duelled with the dark forces behind the scenes at Bareclona and Bayern Munich.
Another problem clouds the horizon. It’s no secret that United’s ageing side needs to be dismantled ahead of next season, with the Premier League champions planning to spend around £200million on new players and the vast majority of the old guard expected to be sold or released. In many ways, van Gaal’s ultimate aim as Red Devils boss is to make drastic changes to the squad this summer and oversee it’s speedy transition throughout the course of the next campaign.
Giggs on the other hand, has significantly different ideas. He’s already urged United to offer 35 year-old Rio Ferdinand and 32 year-old Patrice Evra new deals rather than release them this summer, understandably so considering he’s played alongside the former defender for over a decade. I’m not questioning the 40 year-old’s professionalism, but it would be a tough start for both if Giggs and van Gaal immediately pose polar ideas on the future direction of the squad.
Should all these issues amalgamate, then Giggs will find himself more a puppet of the Old Trafford hierarchy than a genuine second-in-command. United’s plans to have the Welshman wait in the wings until van Gaal’s tenure is over is obvious. Bearing in mind the former Ajax boss is 62 and has already discussed the issue of retirement publicly, that may not be as far off as expected.
But what will Giggs be able to bring to the dugout without prior experience? David Moyes spent ten years at Everton learning his trade but lasted just eleven months at Carrington. Right now, we don’t know if Giggs has the quality to manage Barcelona or Bury.
The other option is and braving the world of Premier League management. That would certainly improve Giggs’ credentials for the United hot seat, should the midfield veteran go on to prove himself at a lesser club with completely different standards and aims. The toughest test for any player as talented as Giggs is being able to accept the failings of others and communicating his ideas to lesser-equipped players.
But English management is in a huge mess. We’ve reached the point where every Premier League chairman, upon making a new appointment, has to overlook the nature in which any given candidate lost his last job. There are exceptionally few top flight managers without a number of discerning black spots on their CV.
Steve McLaren, Steve Bruce, Bryan Robson, Mark Hughes, Roy Keane, Steve Coppell, Paul Ince, Gordan Strachan and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer are just a few examples of managers who worked under Ferguson and were once tipped to eventually succeed the Scot, but have since found themselves lost in the hire and fire culture of English football.
In a nutshell, the opportunity to be fast-tracked as van Gaal’s No.2 and eventually be appointed United boss isn’t one Giggs will be offered again. Should he decide to forge his own path and not that already set out for him at Carrington, it could well be the last time the Welshman’s name is brought up in regards to the Red Devils post.
In many ways, it’s a catch-22 situation for Giggs. Working as van Gaal’s No.2 could leave him frustrated and eventually under-equipped when the time arrives to succeed him. Assistant manager or not, the Welshman would face the same weaknesses he does now in regards to the United post, namely a troubling lack of experience. Things may be running a lot smoother at Old Trafford by then, but there will still be little to suggest the 40 year-old is a manager capable of winning Premier League titles.
On the other hand, Premier League management is enduring as hostile an environment as it’s ever seen, and Giggs could quickly find himself engulfed in a world where the average tenure lasts just 1.4 years. Then again, if you can’t master the nuts and bolts of the trade, then you don’t deserve to manage a club of Manchester United’s magnitude.