It is almost the end of an era. Ryan Giggs’ short spell as Manchester United manager ends on Sunday with the Reds travelling to Southampton for the last game of a disastrous season. One to forget perhaps, save for the interim manager who first won a political battle with David Moyes, and then took charge of the team for the final four games. Victory at St Mary’s could even bring European football next season – a bright end to a campaign that has been United’s worst for a quarter century.
The inquest will begin in earnest Sunday evening, although it will also end rapidly. Moyes’ dismissal in April ended the Scot’s 10 month spell in charge; when Louis van Gaal is announced as United’s first non British or Irish manager next week United will move on permanently – to a third manager in almost as many weeks.
It has been a short period of uncertainty while the club negotiated with van Gaal over the Dutchman’s terms and – seemingly – for Giggs’ future. The Welshman is now likely to stay at the club as part of van Gaal’s staff maintaining a three decade long association with United. Whether the 40-year-old plays beyond Sunday remains in doubt – an outcome dependant on just how minded van Gaal is to retain the midfielder in his squad.
Yet, for the moment Giggs has one last game to manage; perhaps one final chance to pull a United shirt before retirement.
“I loved it the other night,” he said. “I loved coming on and I still enjoy training, even though I have not done much of it over the last couple of weeks. A lot of things [will be considered] like if the new manager wants me! If I want to put my body through another year of eating the right things, the discipline, another pre-season and do I want to go out still enjoying it and not go on a year too long?
“These are all things I have got to consider. It is probably easier if you have had injury problems. I have seen players who just can’t go on and they are not training, they are just going out for games. I have never really had those problems. I have got to weigh up a lot of things.”
Giggs is now likely to form part of van Gaal’s backroom team along with Patrick Kluivert, Frans Hoek, and Rene Wormhoudt, although Netherlands national team assistant Danny Blind is staying with the Oranje after the World Cup. Giggs harboured hopes of taking the top job himself, tet the hugely ambitious Welshman insists that he holds no enmity having been overlooked by United’s owners. After all, the failed experiment with Moyes left little appetite for risk this summer.
“It’s not a disappointment,” said Giggs. “I have got plenty of time and this experience has definitely helped me. I’ve loved it. With all of the things going on in my head, whether to carry on playing or not, there are a lot of things to consider for me so I am not disappointed at all.”
Giggs enjoys a strong squad for his final match as interim manager, although neither Wayne Rooney nor Phil Jones will be risked ahead of this summer’s World Cup. Jones came off after 22 minutes of United’s victory over Hull City on Tuesday night, but the shoulder injury is unlikely to keep him out of England’s squad heading to Brazil later this month. Rooney will join the England training camp after the season’s conclusion.
However, defender Rafael da Silva could feature after overcoming injury. The Brazilian has missed more matches through injury than any other United player this season, enhancing an already poor reputation for an lengthy injury record. Indeed, it has been a disappointing season for the player who had progressed strongly in 2012/13, but made no impression on Phil Scolari’s World Cup thinking after dropping out of the Seleção post the 2012 Olympic Games.
“I’ve been injured for about six weeks now so it was a bad injury,” said the 23-year-old. “To be honest, I first got injured in the Liverpool game but I just kept going and played in another three games before the Villa match. It then got a bit worse.”
Meanwhile, it is captain Nemanja Vidic’s last game for the club, while Patrice Evra and Rio Ferdinand are also out of contract in June. With van Gaal sure to bring in a clutch of acquisitions this summer half-a-dozen players could wear the United shirt for the final time on Sunday. Giggs is set to pair Vidic and Ferdinand for the final time.
Sunday could also be Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino’s last match in charge. The Argentine has led Southampton to an outstanding eighth place finish in the Premier League, while up to four of his squad will be in Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad this summer. However, the former Espanyol manager is yet to commit his future to the Saints with Tottenham Hotspur reportedly interested and rival clubs seeking to extract a number of club’s key players this summer.
“It’s up to the board to discuss with me the new project that will be in place for next season,” said Pochettino.
“It’s not up to me to decide when those talks will happen. This Sunday when the season ends against Manchester United a project of five years will have come to an end. The club overall needs to explain to me what this new project is going to consist of and how it is going to start next season.”
Pochettino is without forward Jay Rodriguez, who is out for six months with an anterior cruciate knee ligament injury, while Gaston Ramirez has an ankle problem. Kelvin Davis and Maya Yoshida also miss out.
All eyes will be on Giggs though – the United legend-turned-interim manager who may well bring the curtains down on a fabulous career at Saint Mary’s. If so, it has been an inauspicious campaign on which to end, but perhaps the start of a second calling in coaching that could bring yet more glory.
Three points on the south coast, coupled with a Spurs defeat at home to Aston Villa, will bring Europa League football next season. Hardly the stuff of legend, nor the priority for many supporters, but a continental stage nonetheless. United’s bean counters expect nothing less; for Giggs it might represent a small victory in what has been an enjoyable spell in charge of the club.
Southampton v Manchester United – Premier League, St Mary’s, 3pm 11 May 2014
Southampton (4-3-3): Boruc; Clyne, Lovren, Fonte, Shaw; Wanyama, Davis, Schneiderlin; Cork, Lambert, Lallana
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidić, Evra; Valencia, Fletcher, Carrick, Kagawa; Mata; van Persie
Southampton: Ward-Prowse, Targett, Do Prado, Chambers, Gazzaniga, Hooiveld, Reed, Gallagher
United: Lindegaard, Büttner, Evans, Smalling, Cleverley, Fellaini, Januzaj, Kagawa, Welbeck, Nani, Wilson, Lawrence, Young, Hernández
Head to Head
Southampton 25 Draw 29 United 59
Referee: Mike Dean
Assistants: S Bennett, D Eaton
Fourth Official: R Madley
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