“Tearing them apart since 1991,” declares the banner adorning Stretford End’s upper tier. It feels longer such is the institution that Ryan Giggs has become. Willowy kid, to world-class winger, midfield schemer and now manager – it has been an evolving journey in the 23 years since Giggs made his Manchester United debut. Add time spent with the academy and the Welshman has been associated with United man and boy for almost three-quarters of his life; synonymous with the soul of the club he knows inside and out.
This is the essence of supporters’ faith in Giggs the interim manager – a role for which few know whether he is truly equipped. It matters not, of course. Not during the darkest period at Old Trafford for more than two decades; especially not when Giggs comes as a package with coaches Nicky Butt, Phil Neville and Paul Scholes.
Yet, it is the Welshman who has emerged as the leader from the ‘Class of ‘92’ – an alpha among men who have known little other than United’s success. Dressing room spokesperson, mutinous ring leader – take your pick – Giggs is a man comfortable in his own skin. It is an observation that draws a stark contrast to now former United boss David Moyes.
It is Giggs the manager who leads United out for Saturday evening’s fixture with Norwich City – the start of a temporary assignment that comes with no guarantee of long-term success. It is, though, a test Giggs thoroughly relishes – supporters instantly sense the divergence with Moyes, a man engulfed in fear.
“When Ed Woodward asked me to look after the team for the remaining four games I had no hesitation in saying yes,” Giggs told MUTV.
“It’s the proudest moment of my life. I’ve supported Manchester United all my life, it’s been the biggest part of my life since I was 14 when I signed schoolboy forms. I’m proud, happy, a little bit nervous but just like I am as a player I can’t wait for the game on Saturday.”
There has been little doubt – at least not for more than half a decade – that Giggs has sought to take on United’s hot-seat. UEFA Coaching badges A, B, and Pro have been achieved and the 40-year-old has emerged as a natural leader that was rarely evident in Giggs the flying kid.
Indeed, there is a remarkable scene in Ben Turner’s “The Class of ‘92” in which the Neville brothers, Scholes, Butt and David Beckham play a subservient role to Giggs over dinner. Giggs’ razor-sharp dry wit emerges with alacrity, stretching to mocking the younger Neville’s protestation at the considerable dressing room high jinks. This is a confident, mature Giggs, no longer the kid fearful of Sir Alex Ferguson’s detection on a rare night out.
He is yet to shirk the political dimensions of leadership either. Behinds the scenes Giggs has smartly maneuvered the ’92 group to take over from Moyes – a period in which the Welshman distanced himself from the former Everton manager at an ideal moment.
“Nicky was with the Reserves so I asked him to come up and help with the first team which he was more than happy to do,” said Giggs on Friday.
“Then I phoned Scholesy because I know how much the club means to these people. They feel the same way I do about the club and I know in the short space of time we have they’ll give it everything to make it a success and hopefully end what has been a frustrating season on a high.”
The temporary situation lasts barely a month, but there appears little doubt that Giggs has a long-term strategy. Neither the Welshman’s decision to take a coaching role under Moyes, nor to create distance, deviates from the plan.
Still, Giggs will not be considered for the permanent role during United’s search for a new manager even if the Reds season ends on a positive note. Not unless the board run out of alternatives. With little coaching experience to his name, there is little reason for Giggs to expect another outcome. After the failure in appointing Moyes there is no appetite to experiment during a period of considerable rebuilding.
But there is also widespread recognition that the former winger is not far from the role – perhaps United’s next manager but one. It is an observation that also begs a question about the job Giggs is to be offered in the new regime. While Moyes offered the player-coach seemingly limited influence in United’s set up it appears likely Louis van Gaal, if appointed, is prepared to work within an established structure – as the Dutchman enjoyed at Bayern Munich and Barcelona.
The model at Real Madrid where Carlo Ancelotti – another potential United appointee – is mentor to assistant Zinedine Zidane is perhaps closest to Giggs’ potential role in a new regime. The Frenchman is widely assumed to be head coach in waiting at Santiago Bernabéu.
Whomever is finally appointed it is clear that United cannot again allow a new permanent manager to rip out established structures and sack long-time United employees. If the Class of ’92 is not here to stay is come capacity it will be an error to compound last summer’s.
First, however, there is the short-term, where Giggs is charged with revitalising the end to United’s season in matches against Norwich, Sunderland, Hull City and Southampton. More than points alone, there is demand to revive the kind of attacking, fluid, football largely absent under Moyes.
Giggs certainly talks a good game.
“My philosophy is the Manchester United philosophy. I want players to play with passion, speed, tempo, to be brave, with imagination – all the things that are expected of a Manchester United player,” said Giggs on Friday.
“I want to see goals, tackles, players taking players on and getting the crowd up. I want the passion that should come with being a Manchester United player. I’ll tell the players just to try to enjoy yourself, express yourself. I just want them to enjoy themselves and give the fans something to smile about in the remaining four games.”
In the short-term the rallying call will surely transform United’s performances, with players now fully liberated from Moyes’ negativity. But Giggs will need to quickly adapt to being the man in charge, creating a little separation between interim manager and his players, even if this role is a very different from the long-term rebuilding job now required at Old Trafford. There is little evidence, yet, that Giggs has the make-up to manage that process, despite his deep-seated United roots.
“I think that he is the one man they should go to, really,” said Ferguson this week.
“He’s got 20-odd years of experience at Manchester United. He’s gone through the gamut of emotions at the club – he’s experienced all the highs and lows. He knows exactly what’s needed to be a United player and I was so pleased he brought Paul Scholes back in, and Nicky Butt of course. You have got the right combinations there, there’s no doubt about that.”
Over the longer piece, whether Giggs cuts his managerial teeth at Old Trafford or elsewhere, leadership attaches more risk to his reputation than at any time in the past two decades.
His legend as a player is sealed, history suggests Giggs failure as a manager is more likely than success. After all, the past 20 years has proffered Mark Hughes, Steve Bruce, Bryan Robson, and Paul Ince – Ferguson’s former players whom have enjoyed very mixed success in management.
For the moment Giggs has four games that he’ll never forget. One more step in a legend’s journey.