Tag Ryan Giggs

Tag Ryan Giggs

Giggs’ endurance offers shot at the top job

April 26, 2014 Tags: Opinion 14 comments
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“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.

Giggs levels up to even out United’s Evertonisation

July 6, 2013 Tags: , , Opinion No comments
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“Success is tattooed right across the club badge,” said David Moyes in his first press conference as Manchester United manager. It was a nice line from the coach who said almost all the right things in facing the world’s press at Old Trafford on Friday. Yet, the fascination with Moyes first presser was surely eclipsed this week by Ryan Giggs’ promotion to the coaching staff. The question now asked: is Giggs United’s manager-in-waiting taking baby steps on the road to Old Trafford’s hotseat?

More than 20 years a United player – a quarter century since Ryan Wilson first signed schoolboy forms – Giggs senior began the next phase of his career this week by taking a training session at Carrington alongside the returning Phil Neville.

Giggs’ promotion, together with Neville and Nicky Butt, ensures that somewhere in the corner of M16 United’s soul remains amid the rampant Evertonisation of the club this summer. Paul Scholes will make it four from the ‘class of 92′  cohort to take a coaching role at some point in the coming months.

The Welshman’s integration into the coaching staff provides something of a counter-balance to Moyes’ promotion of three ex-Everton staffers onto the United payroll. It is perhaps the Scot’s smartest move to date. After all, it is little secret that the Welshman is United’s ‘manager in the dressing room’.

“I’m delighted that Ryan has accepted the chance to become player/coach,” said Moyes this week.

“I felt the right person was Ryan Giggs and he has been great. He has been on his Uefa pro licence course – and after two days you can see how incredible a footballer he is – he is taking steps forward and to get him and Phil Neville together is great.

“His career is an example to any aspiring young player and I’m sure that both he and the players will benefit from his new role.”

More than Giggs’ coaching qualities, if anybody can ease the new manager’s transition into Old Trafford then it is surely United’s 22-season veteran. Indeed, Giggs ended the day at just 16/1 to become the next United manager despite Moyes’ six-year contract – the latest in a very long line of former Sir Alex Ferguson proteges to take to coaching.

There seems an air of destiny. One suspects that rather like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Giggs might reach managerial heights that Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce, Mark Hughes and Paul Ince have not.

Meanwhile, Neville’s appointment as a coach also brings continuity where Moyes’ coaching hires had threatened disruption. The 36-year-old retired as a player after leaving Everton in May only to return to Old Trafford eight years on from joining the Toffees. Neville made 386 first team appearances for United between 1995 and 2005, a further 303 for Everton, and he earned 59 caps for England.

“I have known and worked with Philip for eight years and, in that time, I have come to know his dedication, ability to lead and appetite for hard work,” said Moyes in praise of the new appointment

“He understands the club very well and I think his addition to the coaching staff will be a valuable one.”

In common with Giggs, Neville junior has been taking coaching badges over the past two years and was interviewed for the vacant managerial role at Everton this summer. While the top job at a Premier League club may be a little premature, Neville has focused on coaching rather than media work like his older brother.

“When I retired from football, I knew that I wanted to continue in the game; it’s something that I have been preparing for over the last few years,” said Neville.

“When David called to give me this opportunity, I couldn’t resist. I gave my all when I played for Everton but it is no secret that this club is in my heart.”

Meanwhile, many of Moyes’ staff have followed the Scot to Old Trafford. Steve Round becomes assistant manager, veteran Jimmy Lumsden replaces Rene Meulenstein and Chris Woods replaces goalkeeping coach Eric Steele.

Round has worked alongside David Moyes at Everton since July 2008, having previously worked for Steve McClaren at Middlesbrough and England. Meanwhile, Woods  has been the goalkeeping coach at Everton since 1998, having enjoyed a fine playing career, including 43 caps for England. It is at least credibility at the top level even if many have expressed doubts about the coach’s pedigree.

It is the pensioner Lumsden, who has worked with Moyes since his days at Preston North End, that is perhaps the most surprising appointment given the he has rarely worked with the calibre of player available at United. This will be a test of credibility that Giggs will not have to pass.

“I have worked with Steve, Chris and Jimmy for a number of years,” said Moyes on Thursday.

“They bring great qualities in their respective fields and I know that they feel that this is a challenge to relish. I have great faith that together we can build upon the success this club has enjoyed.”

Moyes revealed that contrary to speculation Meulenstein was offered a role at United, albeit with a reduced remit, only for the Dutchman to turn down the position. Meulenstein is likely to be a man much in demand in both England and continental Europe.

Still, it is Giggs on whom many eyes will rest despite the plethora of coaching changes elsewhere. The Welshman completes his UEFA Pro licence this year – the essential prerequisite to manage in the Premier League.

The key question being after a period of coaching this year – and retirement from playing next summer – whether Giggs moves up the ranks at Old Trafford or takes a position elsewhere. Here Solskjaer is a guide, with the Norwegian spending two seasons as United’s reserve manager before taking over at Molde in the motherland.

“It’s a great privilege,” said Giggs of his new assignment.

“I hope I will be able to bring my experience to bear, having been part of the United family for so long. It’s no secret that I have been taking my qualifications and I see this as the first step in my future career.”

And should Giggs make a success of his first management role away from Old Trafford then the odds of the winger taking over the United manager’s job full-time will certainly fall. The top job may not be Giggs’ soon, but it surely will one day. It is certainly going to be entertaining to watch.

Reds face up to early season disruption

July 4, 2012 Tags: , , , , Opinion 8 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson could face a challenging start to the new season, with Euro 2012, injury, and the Olympics disrupting Manchester United’s preparations ahead of the Premier League’s start on 18 August. Seven United players will miss the Reds’ pre-season tour of South Africa, China and Norway after appearing in the Euro 2012 tournament this summer. Meanwhile, four Reds are set to appear in the Olympics, with the gold medal match scheduled to take place in London just a week before the new season kicks off. It could leave Ferguson without a dozen players during United’s pre-season programme.

United’s Euro 2012 players – Wayne Rooney, Phil Jones, Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck, Patrice Evra, Nani and Anders Lindegaard – will not travel with the touring party after being given extra time to recover this summer. None will miss the big kick-off, injury permitting, but neither will the group benefit from the pre-season matches required to be match fit for the start of the new campaign. The group will each return to training late, although Rooney played just twice at the tournament, Evra once, while Jones and Lindegaard spent Euro 2012 on the bench.

United began pre-season training on Monday 2 July, with Sir Alex’ side taking on Amazulu FC in Durban on 18 July, followed by matches with Ajax Cape Town in Cape Town three days later. United’s tour moves on to China, where Ferguson’s side meets Didier Drogba’s Shanghai Shenua, followed by a fixtures with Valerenga in Oslo, and Barcelona at the Ullevi Stadium in Gothenburg. The lengthy and five country summer tour concludes with a match against Hannover 96 at the AWD Arena on 11 August.

Adding to Ferguson’s early season challenges, it appears likely that four players will also take part at the Olympics. Fixtures in the under-23 tournament are spread across the UK, with the football tournament starting on 25 July and concluding just a week before the new Premier League season finishes on 11 August in London.

David de Gea is included in Spain’s strong Olympics squad, with La Roja’s juniors one of the tournament favourites. The provisional Spanish squad also includes Juan Mata, Javier Martinez, and Jordi Alba, each of whom appeared at Euro 2012 this summer. Luis Milla’s young Spaniards are heavily based on the squad that secured the European U-21 championship last summer.

Challenging Spain for the tag of tournament favourite is Brazil, with coach Mano Menezes including Rafael da Silva in his provisional 35-man squad. The 50-year-old manager will cut his squad to 18 players by 6 July, and Rafael’s is not guaranteed. Brother Fabio, who this week joined Queens Park Rangers on loan for the 2012/13 season, is not included in Menezes’ tournament party.

Anderson, who played in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, is not included after losing his place in the Brazilian side, while the 24-year-old only qualifies as an over-age player.

Meanwhile, in the British Olympic squad Ryan Giggs and Tom Cleverley have been included by coach Stuart Pearce. Giggs’ inclusion had been long expected, adding an experienced bent to a young Anglo-Welsh squad. No Scots or Northern Irish players are included in Pearce’s squad.

Giggs is signed up to another campaign at Old Trafford, but will now miss pre-season to be part of Pearce’s squad, with the British taking on Senegal at Old Trafford in Britain’s first Olympic football fixture since 1960. Team GB play the United Arab Emirates at Wembley before the final Group A game against Uruguay in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on 1 August.

While Ferguson encourage Giggs’ participation, with the 38-year-old Welshman having missed out on tournament football with Wales, the United manager blocked all other over-age players taking part, including Rio Ferdinand, Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick. Chris Smalling misses out with the thigh injury that ended his hopes of being included in Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2012 party.

Cleverley’s inclusion is a mixed blessing though, with the 22-year-old having missed much of 2011/12 with a recurrent ankle injury. While Cleverley could play in at least three matches during United’s pre-season period, he will not join United’s touring party at any point. Cleverley, though, says he is taking part with Ferguson’s approval.

“Throughout my career I want to experience many things,” said Cleverley. “The Olympics would be a fantastic part of it. I’m buzzing about it. I cannot wait. It is a great way for me to bounce back after the disappointment of not going to the Euros with England.

“It’s a young squad, apart from the older-age players, and after England’s Euro 2012 experience a lot of people are talking about putting the accent on youth. This is a chance for me to remind people early. They’ve put trust in us and I want to repay that faith.”

“I need to hit the ground running for the new season and this is a great chance for me. The manager was happy for me that I was shortlisted and had no problems about me being in the Olympics. I will miss United’s pre-season tour and, ideally, I would have liked to do both. But after my injury spell out last season, Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick were doing so well I didn’t get much game time. So I need minutes on the pitch and I feel that playing in high-stake competitive matches like I’ll get at the Olympics is right for me.”

Elsewhere Ferguson has ensured that Javier Hernandez is not included in Mexico’s squad, despite suggestions that the 24-year-old could be his country’s flag-bearer at the Games. Meanwhile, new signing Shinji Kagawa will not be part of Japan’s squad for the three-week long tournament.

Add injuries to captain Nemanja Vidić, and Fletcher into the mix, and Ferguson faces up to United’s pre-season programme without a dozen players. It’s a disruptive element that will ensure some younger faces in the Reds’ touring party this summer.

Legends prepared as squeaky bum time approaches

February 27, 2012 Tags: , , , Opinion 7 comments

There were many remarkable aspects to Manchester United’s victory at Norwich City on Sunday: Ryan Giggs’ goal on his 900th appearance for the club; a last-minute winner; the combined age of the Reds’ goalscorers; that United had, for so long, been under the cosh.

Yet, there is a reason United score so many late goals, and win plenty of seemingly unwinnable games. Call it the ‘United way’ if you will; a spirit that is driven by Sir Alex Ferguson’s indomitable gambling ethos. The 70-year-old manager may have softened as the years rolled by, but there are few in the game prepared to risk all for win in quite the same way.

Once again this paid dividends at Carrow Road in the past weekend.

This spirit is replete in United’s weekend goalscorers – Giggs and Paul Scholes. On his 900th appearance for the club Giggs danced around the Carrow Road pitch like a 17-year-old freshman after slotting home with seconds to go. Youngster Phil Jones and then the rest of United’s players joined in the wild celebrations. This was a win, as Ferguson put it after the game, that could be very special indeed.

The players’ celebration reflected both United’s escape and the victory’s importance. In a season when Manchester City seemingly do not want to win the title, three unlikely points gained at Carrow Road could well be central to a 20th domestic title come May. Indeed, Norwich are not comfortably safe from relegation by accident – this is a solid Premier League team that has troubled top clubs more than once this season. In the context of a game in which, by all accounts, United again demonstrated its fallibility, victory will provide a significant confidence boost.

Not for the first time in Ferguson’s 25 years at United’s manager, victory came without justification. But what was lacking in quality on the day, was recovered in spirit. Scholes’ late run into the box to score United’s opening goal was reminiscent of the midfielder 15 years ago. Meanwhile, Giggs’ last-minute goal was reward for United piling forward in search of the winner in the last five minutes.

“There is no point drawing games so we were throwing everyone forward going for that goal, and I am sure we will do the same thing again,” 37-year-old Scholes told MUTV.

“Of course, three points instead of one is a big difference. That is what we are here to do. We realise we may have to win every game to win the league, but we are ready and prepared to do that.”

United’s victory keeps the gap at the top of the Premier League to just two points with 12 games to go. Given United’s horrendous injury record this season, together with no small measure of inexperienced players in Ferguson’s side, it is a remarkable position. City’s sovereign wealth and undoubted talent should, all things being equal, take the Blues to a first title since 1967.

But, with Ferguson at United’s helm, all things are never equal. Norwich’s deserved equaliser provoked a response like no other, with United throwing six or more players forward with every attack.

“We know how important a time it is, City put pressure on us yesterday and we knew we had to win,” said Giggs, whose goal came not only on his 900th appearance for the club but almost 19 years since he scored against the Canaries in 1993.

“Right through the squad – for all the time I’ve been here – we’ve always had that ability to not give in and score late goals. To play 900 games for this club, who I’ve grown up supporting, is special – it’s a great day for me. I am sure there will be more twists and turns in the title race and I expect more drama and late goals.”

Ferguson was understandably delighted with the win and Giggs’ contribution on the Welshman’s big day. More importantly though, the Scot knows that United’s ability to win, despite the performance, is a quality that could still secure the title. For all Roberto Mancini’s resources, City cannot yet make a similar claim.

“For a player to play for one club for 900 games is exceptional and it won’t be done again,” added the United manager.

“He deserved that goal for his service to the club. He’s had an amazing career and he’s an amazing man. It could pove very special, but for Ryan to score the winning goal with the last kick of the ball on his 900th game, well, he probably deserves that for the career he’s had.

“We won’t get nervous, that’s for sure. We’re used to being in this situation. You saw that when we conceded an equaliser. How did we react? We started playing again and got the winner. Everyone knows we never give in. No matter who plays us, they know they will have to battle right to the death.”

United was lucky against the better team perhaps, but there is no accident in the Reds’ ability to drags results out of frustrating performances. And while much of the talk post game centred on the apparent ‘complacency’ of Ferguson’s side after Scholes had nodded in the game’s opening goal, focus must surely be laid on the Scot’s ability to build something greater than the sum of its parts.

This is a United side shorn of too much stardust, but still able to create a result out of nothing; to turn poor performances into points on the board. And in Scholes and Giggs – combined age 75 – Ferguson has two players that demonstrate this if nothing else.

This is far from Ferguson’s greatest United side, but two of his finest players will once again perform a major part in the season’s dénouement.

“Scholes and Giggs are the best players this club has ever had,” concluded Ferguson post match.

It is a sentiment that is hard to counter.

Giggs: a career in numbers

February 14, 2012 Tags: Media 12 comments

Ryan Giggs will make his 900th appearance for Manchester United if he is selected to face Ajax in the Europa League on Thursday night. Spanning 22 seasons, Giggs’ United career has brought 33 major trophies, 162 goals and countless personal honours. Including his caps for Wales, Giggs could pass 1,000 career games before retirement.

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Ryan Giggs Infographic

Legendary pair offer inspiration for youthful future

February 2, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 12 comments

Twenty years ago, almost to the day, Ryan Giggs was helping Manchester United’s youth side into the quarter-finals of the FA Youth Cup. As the current youth crop beat their Swansea counterparts 5-1 on Thursday night, Giggs, alongside that other doyen of the United squad, Paul Scholes, is almost incredibly preparing to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this weekend. One, if not both, will surely line up alongside Michael Carrick in United’s midfield.

If twenty years at the very top is not enough, the legendary pair is each likely to sign new contracts with the club before the season concludes, taking Scholes and Giggs to the end of the 2013 season. If careers both that long and laden with trophies cannot inspire United’s new breed of youngsters, who are now through to the FA Youth Cup quarter-final after a crushing win at the Liberty Stadium, then surely nothing will.

Paul McGuiness’ new intake, many of who are even younger than 2011’s cup winning outfit, stormed through the fifth round after a convincing win over the Welsh. Goals from Jack Barmby, Gyliano van Velzen, Tyler Blackett and Sam Byrne were enough to send the youth through to a meeting with Tottenham Hotspur or Charlton Athletic in the next round.

It was a generation ago, perhaps, but to those who remember the cup winning 1992 side, with Giggs floating so gracefully on the wing, or the outfit a year later, with Scholes flitting around in attack, two trophy filled decades have flown rapidly by. Tears will flow when the pair leaves Carrington, in a playing capacity at least, for the final time.

Yet, it is a show that shows no signs of an upcoming curtain call. Scholes may have retired once, but judging by his outstanding performances against both Liverpool and Stoke City this week, the flame-haired midfielder is in no mood to do so again. Meanwhile, Giggs will certainly be offered a new deal before the season ends.

“We’ll sit down pretty soon and see what we want to do but, at the moment, I feel good and I want to carry on,” admitted Giggs, who turns 39 this year.

“I feel like I’m still an influence on and off the pitch so I’ll carry on. When that changes, then that’s when I’ll want to stop.”

It is the same argument Scholes made when hanging up his boots last May, only to realise that not only is the veteran still better than most, but he can still have significant influence at the top level. Indeed, Scholes, who could pass 700 games in all competitions for the club before the season is out, managed to out-pass and think his opponents with such ease this week that it barely feels 20 years since the ginger Mancunian burst onto the scene.

“I thought he’d retired too early – a lot of people did,” says Giggs of his long-time team-mate.

“Scholesy probably thought he’d made up his mind and when you’ve done that, you can’t really change it. But he was still the best in training with the reserves, so he obviously felt he could still do it. Nobody was going to disagree with that and it was a massive boost when we found out he was coming back before the Manchester City game.”

Neither man holds on to the mobility of youth, but experience, as the cliché goes, replaces so much of the physical deterioration. On Saturday in Liverpool Scholes rarely wandered far from the safety of the centre-circle, but was able to dictate play and tempo so successfully that Anfield received a palpable boost when Ferguson hauled the 36-year-old off.

Meanwhile, Giggs can no longer “bomb up and down that bloody wing,” as Ferguson once put it, but the Welshman’s ability to play his part in central midfield still ensures that the 22 season veteran has a crucial role in the United squad. The now former winger is likely to come back into the United side for the trip to Chelsea, adding another digit to the 897 appearances the Welshman has achieved for the club to date. Sir Alex is unlikely to allow the winger to retire even if he wanted to.

And with United having achieved such poor results at Stamford Bridge over the past decade – European fixtures aside – the Welshman’s experience could be vital this Sunday.

“We have shown reasonable form and if we can get good results in those kinds of games, confidence will be sky high,” Giggs told Inside United, with United preparing to face Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs in coming weeks.

“We know that it’s a tough run, but those are the games you want to be playing in. We are not quite at the make-or-break part of the season, but it is an important time, and we know that if we win those games, then we’ll be in good shape and good form going into the run-in. We know what’s ahead of us and what we have to do.”

That know-how is exactly why there will be little surprise if Giggs and Scholes both play a major role in the coming weeks, with Ferguson always likely to call on experience as the season runs into its dénouement.

“There has been no discernable deterioration in his play whatsoever and, in that sense, why shouldn’t he stay on another year?” admitted Sir Alex of Giggs’ future. “Obviously, it’s entirely up to Ryan himself but I don’t see any reason why he can’t continue.”

What better role models could there be for the kids storming to victory in Wales on Thursday night.

Sympathy for the randy Red Devil

June 12, 2011 Tags: Opinion 55 comments

Who would you say out the following three men is the kind of role model a society should look up to? First up is a man who has had two mistresses, chain smokes and drinks between eight to 10 Martinis a day.  Second is a man who doesn’t get out of bed each morning before 11am, used opium at college and drinks champagne, brandy, and whiskey to excess every day.  Last up is a decorated war hero and vegetarian who doesn’t smoke or drink, and has never had any extramarital affairs.

Should be straight forward really, shouldn’t it? After all, if we want our kids to look up to and have their actions influenced by someone other than us then it is better that it be someone of a clean living lifestyle, right? Not too long ago a certain Welshman in his late 30s easily sat within this mould, a dedicated professional considered by many as a throwback to a bygone era.

In this modern football world of spit roasting and egocentric badge kissing mercenaries, the previously wholesome Ryan Giggs with his longevity at the top-level of the English game – spanning from boyhood to the verge of middle age – coupled with a lack of ‘show me the money’ style contract negotiation with his one and only club seemed almost like a modern-day Stanley Matthews. But in the last fortnight that image of Giggs now seems like another lifetime ago.

Let me put my cards on the table here, I have no real love for Giggs as such – healthy respect for someone who is English football’s most decorated player, spending two decades at the very summit of arguably the hardest league in World football, sure – but unlike Victoria Beckham there has never been a poster of Giggs hanging on my bedroom door.  Rarely is that goal in 1999 replayed without my foot being put through the screen, also seeing his name emblazoned across the backs of shirts worn by young kids indoctrinated by their armchair dwelling parents, down here 200 miles away from Old Trafford in a city that has 13 league clubs of its own really gets my blood boiling.

However, if Giggsy ever wanted to raise his own army to take up arms against the nation’s media in mental fight I’d happily get myself down to the recruitment office to conscript and swear allegiance to Private Ryan (or should that be no longer private Ryan?) in his holy ideological war against Britain’s Fourth Estate.

Bill Shankly once commented that football isn’t a matter of life and death, but much more important than that and although Shanks seemed like a decent guy, I really do hope he meant that in a tongue in cheek manner.  Don’t get me wrong, I tick most boxes of what a ‘proper’ fan should be – I prefer to watch my football in the stadium itself, I’ve supported the same side for 27 of my 32 years on this  earth – a side who come from the same city as I do.  However, I’m under no illusion that the social importance attached to football in the 21st century has lost any semblance of sanity. Football is not more important than life and death but ultimately a way we amuse ourselves in our leisure time and nothing more.

It’s worth remembering that the day after England won the World Cup in 1966 it didn’t even make the front pages of the press.  However, last year England’s failure to make it past the last 16 at the World Cup dominated the front pages for nearly a week after, along with people randomly sending me texts and e-mails about how these eleven men shamed England compared with ‘young men dying in Afghanistan’.  I mean, sorry have I missed something? Have Rooney, Terry et al been funding the Taliban? Where’s the relevance of Afghanistan to World Cup failure? If you want to blame someone for these kids coming back from Afghanistan in boxes, with limbs missing or unable to function back on Civvie street through PTSD, then why don’t you try looking further up in the social pecking order?

In contrast, what wasn’t dominating the front pages and hence public discourse in the week that followed England’s demise was the effects of George Osborne’s emergency budget the previous week, such as this forecast of another 1.3 million job losses in the economy as a whole directly resulting from the Con-Dem’s austerity measures and arguably a policy of that many today claim to be causing stagnation in the wider UK economy.

As a former Labour spin doctor once pointed out just after 9/11, some days and weeks are a very good time for ‘burying’ bad news and the hoo-ha caused by decadent and materialistic footballers, their on-field antics and the way they conduct themselves off the pitch is giving ample opportunity for bad-news burying in what really isn’t a quiet era for serious world events.  In fact, one suspects that if the PFA ever wanted to clean up the tarnished public image of its members it could order a 12 month sex-strike by all professional footballers.  By the end of which time a large chunk of the nation’s problems may well have been solved because their presence was not relegated to the lower echelons of newsworthiness by sex scandals involving Premier League footballers.

Now you can argue that these publications are merely responding to public demand, however the duty to uphold an informed public opinion that isn’t drowned out in celebrity trivialities should override mere market forces in the interests of democracy.  After all, if it is true to say that people are what they eat, in the same way they also think what they read – their consumption of the media greatly influences how they vote. Such coverage or lack of bears greatly on us all as a direct result.

Even though it may be a valid question to ask whether it is right that a rich footballer can gag the freedom of the press to hide who he really is, especially after he has made millions out of his wholesome image, broadcasting to the world what Giggs has been doing in his private life is hardly Wikileaks is it? Julian Assange had made the world privy to information involving certain aspects of decision-making on Iraq, the Middle East and other issues where lives, security and public finances were/still are at threat. Information that it is genuinely in the public’s interest to know about.

The Giggs saga in contrast is merely title-tattle to satisfy the base mentality of certain sections of the public.  Arguments put forward by the press of their concern for Giggs as a role model to our nation’s young are also disingenuous. After all, if they were that concerned about the moral fabric of the nation then surely they would keep us in blissful ignorance and not voyeuristically expose it to sell millions of newspapers, would they not?

I also don’t think it’s fair to say that Giggs has made his millions from shining his halo either; his fortune was made from either playing football or advertising deals made on the back of his footballing ability.  I may be wrong, but I don’t ever recall him selling his family image through the pages of Hello or OK magazine like the Beckhams or the Rooneys habitually do. After all, did anyone actually know the first name of Ryan’s wife before this whole saga blew up?

But for a brief period in the early to mid-1990s when Giggs dated Dani Behr and Davina Taylor from Hollyoaks the press have largely been disinterested in Giggs’ private life, especially in comparison to the private life of his former colleague David Beckham.

Unlike some sort of ‘Back to Basics’ style Tory MP, I also don’t recall Giggs ever being particularly sanctimonious with regard to ‘family values’ either. Is any hypocrisy on Giggs’ part really being exposed by this sort of coverage?  At the end of the day, the matter of Giggs’ extra-marital affairs is a private one for his family and the argument that we as members of the public have a right or substantial interest to know about his misdemeanours is a very weak one at best.

In the aftermath of the Giggs saga one Twitter user stated that footballers should seek retribution by utilising their wealth through the vanity press to publish stories about the private lives of newspaper journalists and proprietors.  My article for the Online Gooner in the wake of the exposure of Arsène Wenger’s alleged affair back in November shows there would be plenty of juicy titbits should they ever wish to do so, particularly with some of the infidelities – alleged or otherwise – involving Mr and Mrs Rupert Murdoch.

It’s also odd what the Murdoch press wants us to revere and who it wants us to ostracise – a footballer who is unfaithful to his wife is to be utterly condemned and something the world at large needs to know about in full detail.  However, in contrast it has no qualms whatsoever in urging the general populace to vote for former Bullingdon Club member David Cameron – presenting him as ‘our only hope’.

For those of you who are unaware of the antics of the Bullingdon Boys – this socially exclusive dining club for the privileged of Oxford University where £3,000 alone is required for the purchase of its uniform – then let me enlighten you.  Andrew Grimson, the biographer of his Oxford contemporary and fellow Bullingdon member Boris Johnson, stated that “I don’t think an evening would have ended without a restaurant being trashed and being paid for in full, very often in cash….A night in the cells would be regarded as being par for a Buller man and so would debagging (removing one’s trousers with force) of anyone who really attracted the irritation of the Buller men.”

The last noted incident involving this obnoxious group was as recent as last year and involved the drunken vandalism of the National Trust maintained Hartwell House in Buckinghamshire.   It’s nice to know that such over-privileged Oxbridge chaps can indulge in an orgies of drunken destruction and still rise up to a position of authority overseeing economic reforms that overwhelmingly hurt the working classes of the UK, without facing anything near the scrutiny and condemnation from the popular press that a footballer who indulges in consensual extra-marital sexual shenanigans can expect.

Another intriguing aspect of the Giggs saga is the lengths that the press went to in order to expose it, which sharply contrasts with Cameron’s Bullingdon past.  The inquisitiveness of Britain’s popular press is well noted, however coverage of Cameron’s Bullingdon antics have remained largely obscured and glossed over. Cameron’s only statement in mitigation is that: “I did things when I was young that  I should not have done and I regret.”

It’s also notable how, unlike Giggs, no-one seems to be Twittering details of Cameron’s Bullingdon misdemeanours over the web and if they did the popular press certainly wouldn’t be pointing us in their direction.  In the case of Murdoch the reason is self-explanatory: Murdoch gives his full backing to Cameron, Cameron in turn waves through his 100 per cent acquisition of BSkyB and doesn’t ask much in the way of paying much, if anything, in the way of corporation tax. Neither is going to go out of their way to step on the other’s toes.

The use of the internet to subvert legal rulings and privacy laws to the benefit of the Murdoch press is also quite an irony.  Back in December last year I chatted to a journalist from the Murdoch-owned Times at the Arsenal Supporters Trust Christmas party, during which he expressed his dislike of the how the internet is giving away the fruit of his profession’s labour free of charge.  So fearful of the internet’s potential effect on the industry of the print media was the aforementioned journalist, that when I had played devil’s advocate and suggested a few positives to this scenario he gave me a look of disapproval that most right thinking people would usually reserve for sex offenders.

His employer Murdoch also expressed such concerns in 2009 by accusing sites like Google, who would argue that they are merely directing internet traffic in Murdoch’s direction, of stealing content from the titles among his News Corporation global conglomerate.  Murdoch asked: “what’s the point of having someone come occasionally who likes a headline they see in Google? We’d rather have fewer coming and paying.”

Hence the decision behind the introduction of pay-walls to many of the Murdoch publications.

However, with the Giggs saga Murdoch is greatly in debt to an anonymous and benevolent Twitterer in cyberspace exposing much of the detail to reduce Giggs’ super-injunction to a legal impracticality.  This is ultimately good news for Murdoch because voyeuristic sensationalism and gossip is largely how the print media has remained relevant despite for many years being the slowest form of media since the introduction of the Radio, TV, Teletext, the internet, broadband and now the iPad.

, while Giggs believed he had bought secrecy with his super-injunction, its ultimate defeat means that the print media has bought its survival for next few years at least, with more voyeuristic coverage involving the private lives of celebrities.

So in his battle to keep his extra-marital affairs secret Giggs was ultimately the loser. However what of his legacy in the long-term? Adultery never did the legacy or careers of John F Kennedy, Bill Clinton, John Lennon, Bob Marley, Martin Luther King, Syd James, Amanda Holden and Beckham any real and lasting damage. It is probably safe to say that barring an Iranian style era of ultra-moral conservatism it’s highly unlikely to do Giggs any real and lasting damage either.

And returning to the question I had posed at the start – had you chose the third example as society’s ideal role model you would have chosen Adolf Hitler over Franklin D Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.  Therefore, if there is any moral to this tale it’s probably that you really should resist the temptation to judge others before seeing the fuller picture first.

Arsenal fan Robert Exley is a regular contributor to Gooner fanzine.

Giggs always tore them apart

March 2, 2011 Tags: Opinion 17 comments

Ryan Giggs – gentleman, player, talent, Manchester United icon. On the twentieth anniversary on the Welshman’s United bow there are few platitudes left to describe the 37-year-old who has lasted longer and won more than almost anybody. Two decades on from the skinny winger’s substitute appearance against Everton in March 1991 and Giggs has 863 United appearances to his name – 606 of them in the League – a club record he shares with Bobby Charlton and will break against Liverpool on Sunday.

From the frail kid who floated like a butterfly over The Cliff’s training pitches, to granddaddy of the United squad, Giggs’ value persists amid the multi-million pound signings and global megacorp that the club has become. Arguably, his tour of duty at Old Trafford has lasted longer than anybody expected and his medal haul is larger than any player in the 133-year history of the institution – 48, including those earned as a runner-up.

This is no end though. Indeed, the Welshman has signed another 12 month contract, taking Giggs to June 2012 as a minimum. With desire still intact and fitness permitting 37-year-old Giggs could play to 40 and a 1,000 games for the club. There are few words not already integrated into football cliché that do his achievement justice.

Perhaps more important though is the way Giggs has made supporters feel over the years. “Giggs will tear you apart,” sing the fans to this day. He always did. And amid the fallow years, when both player and manager questioned the Welshman’s role, and supporters pondered his exit, the winger’s strength of character and Ferguson’s trust saw him through.

Even on the worst of occasions, Giggs has offered supporters great value, to coin a popular phrase. So much so that Giggs provides legitimacy to fandom amid gratuitous prices rises, ‘brand value’ and supporter exploitation.

His skill and personality have extended beyond Old Trafford too. Today Giggs is as close to a global icon with universal appeal as it gets. The jealousy and bitterness so often directed at the club are rightly halted at the winger’s door. Even rival supporters across town, embittered by years of their neighbours’ success and a young Ryan Wilson’s rejection, respect the winger’s contribution.

Argument follows about Giggs’ place in the pantheon of United and global greats. As a player he had it all, even if throughout his career frustration has sometimes come with the package. The winger has rightly earned his place as one of the greatest to have ever worn a United shirt. In global terms he is among the élite to have graced the game. That is enough.

Giggs has scored great goals, entertained, educated and enriched United. While great players always move on, Giggs can look back on his career without regret. And he achieved it all without regressing to the lowest common denominator – the trap into which so many modern players fall. The parties and celebrity girlfriends of the early years gave way to a genuine and lasting professionalism.

Best, Law, Charlton and Busby look down on United fans making the pilgrimage to Old Trafford. Giggs will surely, and rightfully, join them.

Giggs’ career in numbers

  • Eleven Premier League titles: 1992–93, 1993–94, 1995–96, 1996–97, 1998–99, 1999–2000, 2000–01, 2002–03, 2006–07, 2007–08, 2008–09
  • Eight FA Community Shields: 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2010
  • Four FA Cups: 1993–94, 1995–96, 1998–99, 2003–04
  • Four League Cups: 1991–92, 2005–06, 2008–09, 2009–10
  • Two UEFA Champions Leagues: 1998–99, 2007–08
  • One UEFA Super Cup: 1991
  • One Intercontinental Cup : 1999
  • One FIFA Club World Cup: 2008
  • One FA Youth Cup: 1992
  • Nine times in the PFA Team of the Year : 1992–93, 1993–94, 1994–95, 1995–96, 1997–98, 2000–01, 2001–02, 2006–07, 2008–09
  • Twice PFA Young Player of the Year: 1991–92, 1992–93
  • Once PFA Player of the Year: 2008–09
  • Once in the PFA Team of the Century: 1997–2007
  • Once BBC Sports Personality of the Year: 2009
  • Once Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year: 1997–98
  • Twice Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year: 1990–91, 1991–92
  • English Football Hall of Fame Inductee in 2005, OBE for services to football in 2007, Honorary Masters degree from Salford University in 2008, Freedom of the City of Salford in 2010.
  • One Knighthood on retirement?


Rooney misses three weeks

September 28, 2010 Tags: , , , Shorts 9 comments

Wayne Rooney will miss three weeks and four games with the ankle injury that has kept the striker out of tomorrow”s Champions League game with Valencia. Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed that Rooney’s injury is worse than initially thought, with the striker out of games against Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion.

The striker will also sit out England’s Euro2014 qualifier against Montenegro at Wembley on 12 October, although Ferguson says that the injury is less serious than the one he suffered in March.

“Wayne has done quite well with his recovery from injury in the past,” said Ferguson.

“It is a straightforward ankle injury. And it is not the same one he did in Munich.”

Meanwhile, midfielder Paul Scholes, who also misses the Valencia fixture with a calf injury, will be on the sidelines for around 10 days, almost certainly sitting out United’s weekend trip to Sunderland.

Ferguson is also without Ryan Giggs for the next fortnight in what may prove a pivotal test of United’s midfield strength-in-depth for the testing double-header with Valencia and then the trip to the Stadium of Light.

The Scot also confirmed that he will make a late decision on the fitness of Rio Ferdinand, who travelled with the party to Spain but has featured in just one match this season.