Ever since Sir Alex Ferguson reversed his decision to retire in the summer of 2002 there has been constant speculation about who will replace him when he does finally step aside.
Over the course of the last decade most potential successors, including Sven Goran Eriksson, who came close to replacing Ferguson in 2002, David O’Leary and Martin O’Neill have long since lost their allure.
At the moment there appears to be a short list of three: Pep Guardiola, David Moyes and Jose Mourinho, who appeared so desperate to ingratiate himself with United that when Real Madrid visited Old Trafford last week it appeared as though he had already dropped his CV off at the front desk.
But the best candidate could already be at Old Trafford and wearing the No. 11 shirt in the current squad.
This week Ryan Giggs’ former team-mate Ole Gunnar Solskjaer confirmed what has become increasingly obvious; Giggs is serious about succeeding Ferguson, and has a good chance.
“He’s looking at that United job for himself, Giggsy. He’s got top potential,” said Solskjaer.
“Giggsy is going to play another year, but I’d say he’s got his eyes and ears open more to what the manager is doing.”
Eighteen months ago I asked Paul Scholes who he thought might succeed Ferguson. “I could see Ryan becoming the manager, I wouldn’t be surprised at all,” he said.
“I think he would have the presence, and he would have the total respect of the players if he did do it. I am sure he would do a great job, similar to Pep Guardiola at Barcelona.”
What is certain is Giggs is preparing for management, and while originally he thought he might have to start with the reserves, there is now a strong belief he could land the main job at Old Trafford.
Giggs has been studying for his coaching badges, and will soon become the first footballer to earn the UEFA Pro Licence, the necessary qualification to manage in the Premier League and Champions League, while still playing.
“I believe I can be a good manger, I think I’ll enjoy it,” Giggs once told me. “I like helping players, improving them, and being around a football club.”
What has he learned while doing his badges? “Gary [Neville] was brilliant doing them, he gets his point across really well on the training pitch,” he told me. “I wouldn’t be great at that, I am better face-to-face, so would probably be better at management than coaching.”
At the moment Giggs already plays a quasi-assistant managerial role in the dressing room; Ferguson seeks his opinion, he is his confidante, the pair discuss tactics and players.
Giggs would be a popular appointment within the Old Trafford dressing room, not because he would be perceived to be an easy touch, and one of the lads, but rather because he is revered by his team-mates and commands absolute respect.
Giggs hands out both advice and discipline. “He is like a God [to them],” says Ferguson, while his former team-mate John O’Shea, who left for Sunderland last year has previously observed, “He knows when to bring people down a peg or two with a quiet word.”
“I think when [young players] come up from the reserves, they can be surprised, they think I’m quite placid, so they get a bit of a shock,” Giggs once told me.
“I do feel fatherly towards them, I like helping them out, [but] sometimes I might lose my temper and snap at them, I get frustrated in training, if they are slack, or if they come in late.”
Sir Alex Ferguson has recently said Giggs won’t be his successor, but that appears to be a clear tactic to relieve pressure on him as he comes to the end of his playing career, and he has also previously let it be known privately that he would be supportive of it.
Giggs shares the same relentless pursuit of winning as Ferguson, and having been immersed in the culture of the club for over a quarter of a century he wouldn’t be overawed.
In recent weeks Ferguson has talked about his desire to remain at Old Trafford when he steps aside as manager, and go “upstairs”, so the appointment of Giggs would accommodate this move.
Of course Giggs lacks experience, but Pep Guardiola had never managed a first team before he took Barcelona to three trophies in his very first season.
A generation earlier Kenny Dalglish had no managerial experience, and was still playing, when he took charge of Liverpool and guided them to the League and FA Cup double in his first season.
What are the alternatives on that short list? Guardiola is about to take charge of Bayern Munich, Jose Mourinho can be a divisive figure and has never stayed longer than three years at a club, while David Moyes represents a risk having never won anything, and now looks a tired figure at Goodison Park.
When Ferguson does finally retire, don’t be surprised to see Giggs, who he signed for Manchester United nearly 26 years ago entrusted with his legacy and unveiled as his successor.
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