Wednesday brought the news that after his short holiday in Dubai Ryan Giggs had decided not to take up a role in Jose Mourinho’s coaching staff at Manchester United. While the Portuguese was thought to be keen to keep Giggs at the club, the role offered, thought to be some sort of bridge between the junior and senior teams, certainly appears to be a demotion from his position as Assistant Manager under the now departed Louis Van Gaal.
From the perspective of both men this outcome is totally understandable. Mourinho has, like many other managers, a preference to work with a small team of trusted coaches and whilst he prefers to maintain a coach familiar with his new club it is not at the expense of the collective experience within his own group. From Giggs’ perspective he has now served as an assistant under two United managers and the next step needed to be a managerial position. At 42 he is already a few years behind some of the youngest coaches in the game.
Giggs’ decision has split an already fragmented Manchester United fanbase. Many think that a parting of the ways is for the best. There have been suggestions that he may have been promised the manager’s job once Van Gaal retired, had been hanging on for that opportunity and was angry that his club had instead turned to Mourinho. There were reports earlier in the year that he had been in the running for the Swansea City job after Gary Monk’s sacking but that he turned the position down, presumably to stay in contention for the top job at Old Trafford. There was a view at the time, one that still lingers, that moving away from his comfort zone at United and trying his hand at management elsewhere is exactly what is needed. Unlike the ready-to-go clubs and squads which Guardiola and, more recently, Zinedine Zidane inherited at Barcelona and Real respectively, United are in a mess, with a mediocre squad and with a massive rebuilding job required. There is a reason that the club have now turned to one of the most successful and experienced managers in the world game – this is not, at the moment, a job for beginners. What is almost certain is that should Giggs go away and make his mark elsewhere the United job will find its way to him, just as it will to any of his contemporaries who show prodigious managerial ability. It is time for Giggs to master his art before trying his hand at the club he has served for 27 years.
There are other reasons why the clamour for a romantic appointment after Van Gaal has slowly subsided. Aside from the state of United and the financial need to, at the bare minimum, get back into the Champions League, the strength of the competition means that the top end of the Premier League would be a tough environment in which to find his feet. With Guardiola, Conte, Klopp, Pochettino, Wenger and Ranieri’s Leicester providing the immediate competition, with the likes of Bilic and Koeman quietly and efficiently building, the potential for disaster is huge, even for Mourinho. United needed to shorten the odds, regardless of any promise to Giggs, and the former Chelsea boss provides the shortest odds possible. Besides, the Welshman should know as much as anyone what a promise is worth in football. Circumstances change and whilst most men would back themselves in his circumstances, time and distance will perhaps make Giggs realise that the timing was as wrong for him and for the club.
On a personal level some fans have also questioned whether he has the personal characteristics for the job at this time. Having spent the last three years as assistant to two failed managers and, if some rumours are to be believed, at times undermined both, there is the question of whether he deserves the job. Even if we disregard such claims, Giggs’ private life has repeatedly been fired into our subconscious. Here is a man who has cheated on his wife, the mother of his two children, more than once, including a long term affair with the wife of his own brother. News recently broke that his wife was leaving him after suggestions of further indiscretions. The concern is that, in his private life at least, Giggs is morally vacuous and stupid enough to get repeatedly caught. Given that the principle argument in favour of his getting the United job is an almost entirely sentimental and romantic one, such personal failings do little to further his cause. Some would argue that a person’s private life should not have an impact on professional attitudes towards them. Giggs may be a very fine coach, but can such stupidity be disregarded? Even if it is, his behaviour has reduced the number of fans who respect him as a person and the perceived sense of entitlement that he reportedly has regarding the United job has also rubbed some up the wrong way. Giggs is no longer the romantic appointment that he might once have been.
Those who were in favour of him getting the job have argued that United will now be losing his years of experience of the club and its workings and relationships and that, as a club who strive to be different, Giggs was an appointment which would have furthered traditions, creating the potential for another dynasty. The problem with this is that the natural teething problems may have further damaged an already wounded beast. In addition, the hang up that many United fans (and some within the club) have with perceived superiority and a desire to ‘do things differently’ is what has got the club in this mess in the first place. Sir Alex Ferguson was a one-off, a freak of nature, a genius the likes of which United will likely never see again. His was a glorious reign that, when it ended, left a club that had forgotten its own history pre-1986, in which managers came and went. It also brought on collective amnesia about the period after Sir Matt Busby retired, when United, again obsessed with dynasties and traditions, employed one-club man Wilf McGuiness to overhaul an ageing squad, with disappointing results. The parallels between the two eras are stark.
United now, as then, need immediate results and stabilisation rather than romanticism and shots in the dark. Ryan Giggs may one day make a fine manager. What is almost certain is that if he does the job about which he dreams will surely find its way back to him. He needs to overcome perceptions about his character and demonstrate that the repeated mistakes in his private life are not part of his professional make up. As angry as he may be now at having to cut the cord to the club to which he has given so much, the lessons that he will learn having to stand on his own two feet will prove invaluable to him in the long run. Manchester United will always be a club of dreamers with romantic notions. Ryan Giggs needs to go away and prove that he is not just the sentimental choice, but also the pragmatic choice. If success follows him to pastures new then the pull between club and legendary player will, in the future, prove hard for both to resist.