As rumours grow over the possibility of Jose Mourinho taking over as the manager of Manchester United, Ryan Giggs must be experiencing a strange and unsettling sense of déjà vu. This time last year he was shadowy figure waiting in the wings for the current incumbent to exit left. Now he must prepare for the weekend’s make-or-break game with Louis van Gaal’s Spurs with ghosts of past, present and future haunting his every thought.
Reports that Ed Woodward met with Mourinho and Jorge Mendes at Manchester’s San Carlo restaurant must be put to the back of his mind as he seeks to salvage something from a first season in charge that would have had far more experienced men reaching for the towel. If a week is a long time in football, a year is an eternity and it shows in Giggs’ gaunt and fully bearded features. For the first time he is more than looking his age.
His weathered appearance is in startling contrast to his first press conference as interim manager just over a year ago. Back then he was all smiles and easy charm as he laid out his manifesto to return the club back to their core principles of passion, flair and belief. Had he known then how events would transpire perhaps he would have thought twice about accepting the world football’s most difficult job as his very first in management.
It could have been so very different. The man mountain who will sit with customary arrogance in the away dugout on Sunday could easily have been wearing a Manchester crest on his blazer. Instead discussions very publicly broke down and the clamour (and aircraft roar) for club legend Giggsy to go from interim to permanent became deafening. He did after all wear a suit very well and looked a bit like Guardiola if you squinted.
The failure to capture Van Gaal was spun as a bullet dodged. His demands for undiluted autonomy and bench space for a Vincent Chase sized encourage were unacceptable to the board. Critically he had only peripheral plans for Giggs and his venerated Class of ‘92 cohorts. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but how United could have done with Van Gaal’s strong leadership and wealth of experience in the months that followed.
One doubts whether the Dutchman would have been as amenable as a novice Giggs to the policy of signing players based on marketability rather than suitability. The high profile purchases of Edinson Cavani and Javier Pastore for a combined £95m were heralded as putting Manchester United ‘back on the football map’ by Woodward at the time, and Giggs dutifully sat beaming as the two were unveiled at a glitzy Ann Arbor press conference.
Had as much time, effort and money been ploughed into rebuilding a backline that required younger and stouter legs than those of Ferdinand, Smalling, Jones and Evans, or an adequate replacement for the ever-fading Michael Carrick, perhaps United would not be competing for a Europa Cup place for the second year running. And perhaps Paul Scholes would not have left the club in frustration at what he angrily described as the ‘f*cking circus’.
It was such a romantic notion; the Class of ’92 returning to manage the club they so magnificently served as players. But it soon became a case of too many cooks as bickering factions within the dressing room chose to express their dissatisfaction to whichever ear was most sympathetic. The combination of Giggs, Scholes, Butt, Phil Neville and latterly brother Gary as Director of Football has clouded the waters as nobody seems sure who does what.
Management by committee was never going to work but perhaps Giggs’ biggest problem has been the ghostly figure of Sir Alex Ferguson dipping in and out of proceedings with increasing regularity. It has undermined the Welshman’s position more than anything and famously led to his ill-fated “I am the manager” tirade after defeat to Burnley which has resulted in merciless and undying ridicule on social media ever since.
Van Gaal would never have allowed the energy-sapping addition of lucrative foreign friendlies in the gaps where competitive European football would have been. He wouldn’t have entertained Fergie’s constant interferences, nor kowtowed to board level demands that he accommodate all the club’s ‘marquee’ signings in the first XI to justify their obscene cost. But then that’s the very reason why he didn’t get the job.
As for Giggs he should never have been placed in a situation for which he was so patently unqualified and ill-prepared. It has been extremely sad to see a club legend lose all his trademark composure and authority over the past twelve months. He is an intelligent man with Manchester United at his heart. Sadly we’ll never know what he could have achieved at Old Trafford had his coaching career followed a more sensible trajectory.