Keep your friends close and enemies… at a distance
The Euros, together with the Copa Centenario, have provided the football world with a welcome distraction from another summer of transfer speculation. Things in the club game keep on moving though – despite the highlights, lowlights and simply bizarre moments of international tournaments. How on earth does it hail in France in the middle of June?
Over at Old Trafford things appear to be taking a shape this summer, with the club already signing defender Eric Bailly from Villarreal. It is a far cry from the procrastination that have blighted previous transfer windows.
There’s also another intriguing story brewing: the future of Ryan Giggs. According Matt Hughes in The Times José Mourinho is reluctant to offer the Welshman a position as his assistant. In fact, any job at all with the first team. Mourinho, who famously demands total loyalty from his charges, is “wary of Giggs’ ambition to be United manager” as well as the Welshman’s closeness with former teammate Paul Scholes.
After all, Scholes had no qualms about lambasting Louis van Gaal’s United side and if the pundit is true to form he’ll have waste little time airing forthright views about Mourinho’s team if it doesn’t fire on all cylinders. Potential criticism shouldn’t worry the Portuguese coach, it comes with the territory, but when the level of vitriol from Scholes, perceived or otherwise, can be influenced by Giggs, it is unsurprising it does not sit well with Mourinho.
The United manager’s gambit runs contrary to the realpolitik thinking former President Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson once said of J. Edgar Hoover that it was “better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.” It could easily apply to Giggs too.
The easy option for Mourinho would have been to retain the former United winger as an assistant, maintaining the peace and continuity, although in the long run having the Welshman by his side may not offer the extended period of détente he wishes. According to The Times, Mourinho observed that Giggs slipped into the shadows when Van Gaal and David Moyes were struggling during their tenures. Fans noticed it too.
Then there’s the backing the Welshman received from Sir Alex Ferguson. The Scot’s silence since Mourinho’s appointment has been deafening.
At the same time there wasn’t a tremendous amount of goodwill from fans towards Giggs when his name was linked with the manager’s post. During the final few months of Van Gaal’s regime fans were quizzed as to whom they wanted as the Dutchman’s successor, with polls showing a strong preference for Mourinho. The Portuguese’s track record of success no doubt played a big part in the pull, but don’t underestimate how damaging Giggs association with two underwhelming regimes has been his credentials.
If the Welshman’s history in the Moyes and Van Gaal eras counts against him, there is anecdotal evidence that work to the former winger’s detriment as well. Five Live’s Ian McGarry noted that Giggs played a significant role in vetoing the transfer of Thiago Alcantara. With a transfer practically set-up then manager David Moyes was keen to complete the deal but wanted an opinion from his coaching staff. When it was the Welshman’s turn he professed a belief that Alcantara was not “a Manchester United player. The episode might say more about Moyes’ self-doubt, rather than Giggs’ assertive nature, but it cannot be overlooked.
When Van Gaal took over he tasked Giggs with preparing reports about United’s opponents and delivering the team talks. The Dutchman always believed that the Welshman would take over after his three-year contract came to an end. What hasn’t escaped José’s attention was Giggs’ reaction during difficult periods when the Dutchman was clearly struggling – the Welshman’s body language told all. Reports suggest that Van Gaal felt betrayed by Mourinho when the Portuguese boss succeeded him as United manager; one can only imagine what the Iron Tulip thinks of Giggs.
If anything José is Machiavellian as a default. He knows that he is in a position of strength. One of the most successful coaches in modern day football finally landing the job he so desperately wanted at a club whose spirits and on pitch performance needs lifting. Mourinho is not going to suffer fools gladly after finally becoming United manager.
Mourinho’s decision to offer Giggs a role as a coach, albeit a demotion, effectively forces the Welshman’s hand. The former United number 11 has two choices: swallow his pride and wait a few more years in the hope that he will be offered job the next time the Old Trafford hot seat becomes available. Or finally opt to make his own way and establish his credentials at another club.
Either way Giggs’ options are becoming increasingly limited with respect to his ultimate ambition of managing United. He has already been overlooked twice for the main job and his chances of climbing up the ladder within United are slim. On the other hand if he ventures to pastures new the 42-year-old may prove to be the latest in a long line of Fergie’s graduates who couldn’t quite cut the mustard. Indeed, if Giggs decides to manage another team he must enjoy a long, sustained, run of success before being considered for the Old Trafford hot seat.
Whatever the outcome it appears that José may have won his first major battle as United manager. The allure of Giggs isn’t as enticing as it once was, and his continued presence in a major role could prove more trouble than it’s worth.
As a player Giggs provided United fans with countless memories. It counts for nothing in the world of coaching.To paraphrase President Johnson, the Welshman isn’t afraid of pissing in the tent if it helps achieve his ultimate aim. By forcing Giggs’ hand José has notched up a political victory that could set the tone for his United tenure.
As the saying goes: “keep your friends close…”