Manchester United fans will always remember Ryan Giggs for his on-pitch mastery. As Frank Rijkaard was shown the exit door in June 2008, the Barcelona management had to make a choice. Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola had been shortlisted to succeed the Dutchman, with the former having his nose firmly in front. In fact, Mourinho had all but bagged the job—just that Johan Cruyff’s approval was pending. The great man vetoed the board’s decision to make Guardiola the new Barcelona coach and the rest is history. Cruyff ignored Mourinho’s CV because he wanted someone from within to guide his beloved club. Guardiola was his direct disciple. The introduction of tiki-taka and four trophy-laden seasons that followed attested the selection masterstroke.
Ryan Giggs wanted to be Manchester United’s Guardiola and he would feel that he has been denied the opportunity by Ed Woodward and company. He walked away almost unceremoniously from Old Trafford after the club reportedly turned back on its promise to make him Louis van Gaal’s successor. Mourinho, the new boss, has expectedly stuck to his old pal Rui Faria to be his assistant, offering Giggs a role within the youth set-up. It was too big a demotion to handle for someone who spent 29 years at United. Giggs rightly decided that his future lay elsewhere and made a low-key departure. Yes, the club legend deserved a lot more than a Saturday evening statement. To be fair though, after two super-flop managerial appointments, United were not in a position to experiment further. Out of the Champions League, they had to bring in a proven winner and Mourinho became an automatic choice to replace Van Gaal.
“After 29 seasons at Manchester United as a player and assistant manager, I know winning is in the DNA of this club—giving youth a chance, and playing attacking and exciting football. It’s healthy to have high expectations, it’s right to expect to win. Manchester United expects, deserves, nothing less.
“This is why it is a huge decision for me to step away from the club that has been my life since the age of 14. It has not been a decision that I have made lightly. I’ll take away so many special memories as well as a lifetime of experiences that will, I hope, serve me well in the future.
“However, the time feels right and, although I have no immediate plans to step into management, it is where I want to be,” said the 42-year-old in his parting statement. He might have felt betrayed, but from a neutral’s point of view, the club has taken a pragmatic call.
Giggs might have been looking for the easier route. Perhaps he felt 29 years at the club and his pedigree as a footballer made him good enough to become the head coach. Guardiola is a classic example of young and ‘inexperienced’ rising to the challenge if given a chance. Then again, he had the privilege of having a dream team at Camp Nou. This Manchester United side oozes mediocrity. It requires someone ‘special’ to make champions out of the ordinary. Giggs didn’t stand a chance, especially with Guardiola coming to the blue half of Manchester and Antonio Conte joining Chelsea.
United had bungled big-time in the transfer market in the last three years. David Moyes went for Gareth Bale and landed Marouane Fellaini. Van Gaal wanted Thomas Muller and ended up signing Bastian Schweinsteiger. The club needed an assured, experienced hand to get its act together. Mourinho readily identified the weak areas that called for strengthening. He has targeted four and already brought in three—Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. And United are reportedly preparing a world record £100-million bid for Paul Pogba. To be precise, United’s executive vice-chairman Woodward never thought beyond Mourinho as it became evident that Van Gaal didn’t belong. As for the Portuguese, he could never think beyond Faria as his number two after working with the latter in his six previous managerial assignments.
“The job Ryan wanted is the job the club decided to give me. It’s not my fault. Ryan wanted to be Manchester United manager,” said Mourinho at his official unveiling as the Red Devils boss. His comment came in the wake of Sir Alex Ferguson’s public support to the new manager to choose his own staff. “You have got to have, in your assistant, someone you have trusted all your life. When I came to United, I brought Archie Knox because he was a valuable person for me. I trusted him 100%. Jose Mourinho has had his assistant for years and, quite rightly, has stuck by his own man. If Jose hadn’t had an assistant, I know he would have taken Ryan,” the legendary former manager, now a club director, told BBC Sport, adding: “It is time Ryan stood on his own feet, got out there and accepted the challenge.”
Maybe it’s an irony of sorts that fans didn’t complain about Giggs’s exit. Apart from the Welshman’s lack of managerial experience, his private life could be a reason. Giggs and his wife Stacey have reportedly spilt,with the former’s alleged love flings with waitresses at a restaurant he owns being said to be the tipping point. It came on the heels of his reported affairs with reality TV star Imogen Thomas and his brother Rhodri’s wife Natasha. Tommy Docherty, who managed United from 1972 to 1977, had been sacked for a far lesser ‘offence’. Docherty had survived the cull even after the club was relegated to the old second division in 1974. But the board didn’t tolerate his extramarital affair with the wife of then United physiotherapist Laurie Brown. Docherty’s contract was terminated abruptly, shortly afterwards he had guided the team to the FA Cup title.
United fans, however, would always remember Giggs for his on-pitch mastery and a great number want him to be back to take charge of the team in the near future. But Giggs has to rise through the ranks to get his dream job. It would be interesting to see how he begins his managerial journey. Scope appears to be limited in the Premier League at the moment, but come October, the merry go-round will resume. Getting a job and making a steady progress will hasten Giggs’ return to Old Trafford. Till then, au revoir!