Ryan Giggs Should Return to the Wing for Manchester United

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Ryan Giggs Should Return to the Wing for Manchester United
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Twenty years ago I watched Ryan Giggs star in a Manchester derby. He was a teen sensation back then and he scored a fine goal—cutting in from the right to drive a low shot in the bottom corner.

It's hard to exaggerate the hype around him in the early 1990s. Giggs was the talk of English football—the 18-year-old heir to George Best no less—and to deliver against City, with United chasing down a first title since Best inspired the class of 1966-67, said everything about where he was headed.

Both sets of fans knew they were witnessing something special.

Rain had been falling heavily that day in April 1992. By the time the evening kick-off arrived, the Old Trafford pitch was cutting up in patches and bare to mud in others. The way Giggs played that night you'd have thought it was a velvet carpet and he was wearing slippers.

What struck you most was his balance—his ability to ride tackles at searing speed while maintaining complete control with his left foot. It was nearly always his left foot.

It was easy to see where the Best comparisons came from. The lithe physique, the swaying hips and instinctive ball control. Beating his man came naturally for Giggs, who could embarrass defenders just as easily with a feint as he could at full throttle.

Like Best, there was even a grace in the way Giggs tackled—sliding to hook the ball away from an opponent in a single fluid motion. Everything about him seemed so effortless, so playfully exuberant.

Pressure, what pressure?

With Giggs on one wing and Lee Sharpe on the other, United's bold new era under Sir Alex Ferguson was being flanked by two of the most exciting wide players in football. Both of them were fearless.

Sharpe's moment would fade away too soon. Giggs' seems like it will never end.

The Welshman is two weeks away from his 39th birthday, yet still United fans are talking about him. Not as a coach, or a TV pundit, or a legend trading on his legacy by charging corporate types to listen to his stories. But, remarkably, as a Manchester United player—and a central midfielder.

These days it's not all so positive. After Saturday's loss to Norwich, United fans took to Twitter in their droves to bemoan Ferguson's decision to play Giggs in the middle. Here are a couple to capture to the mood:

Here's what Football365's Matthew Stangel made of Ferguson's tactics:

It was utter negligence on the manager's part to select a central midfield partnership of Giggs and Michael Carrick at Norwich when a host of better options were sitting on the bench, and the team were made to pay with a third defeat in 12 top-flight matches

The stats back up the anti-Giggs lobby. According to @OptaJoe, "Giggs misplaced more passes in the attacking third than any player in the Premier League this weekend."

FourFourTwo Statszone graphic shows Manchester United player influence against Norwich - note United's right-sided dominance

Giggs' pass success rate in the Premier League is 82.9 percent this season (whoscored.com), which ranks him 114th across the division and 19th inside his own squad. Those are hardly the numbers you want setting up in central midfield against a team you know are hard to break down.

Dan Coombes, writing for hereisthecity.com, is another who thinks Ferguson got it wrong against Norwich. He suggests Giggs hasn't played well in central midfield for United since their April 2011 Champions League clash with Schalke.

Many United fans bought arguments for Tom Cleverley, Darren Fletcher, Anderson and Paul Scholes starting ahead Giggs. All four were on the bench at Carrow Road, while Giggs was given the full 90 minutes.

After 22 years of service, it's not hard to understand why Ferguson still trusts him. Perhaps that trust has gone too far?

But rather than dropping him and easing Giggs out to pasture, what of returning him to the wide role in which he made his name—be it as a winger in a 4-4-2 or perhaps even as the left-sided forward in Ferguson's 4-2-3-1? 

What next for Ryan Giggs?

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Against Norwich, United were lopsided. With Ashley Young cutting in from the left, they lacked a natural shape and were biased heavily to their right. This made Norwich's job far easier.

Giggs on the left would give United a more natural shape. It would also help stretch out the opposition defence and provide more space for United's central players to thrive in.

The argument for Giggs coming inside has always been based on his fading speed—the fact he is no longer capable of beating a man to the byline. But in a 4-2-3-1 that's not really the object. Even if it were, he's still capable of delivering a ball in the right area.

Moreover, you might argue that the increasingly crowded central areas of the pitch demand more physicality than ever these days. They're a young man's playground and Giggs' guile has always felt most at home away from the maddening hub.

It's not time for Giggs to retire, but to return to scene of his 1990s heyday. 

The winger is dead. Long live the winger.

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