Patrolling the Old Trafford touchline, arms outstretched in moments of protest and pointing to his watch in the style of the man whose name literally hangs over the dugout, Ryan Giggs looked the part of the Manchester United manager. He even got a result befitting of such a role, beating Norwich 4-0.
For now, Giggs has been given until the end of the season to at least restore some sense of positivity and optimism at United in preparation for David Moyes’ replacement. Then the new guy will come in, most likely Dutch national team boss Louis Van Gaal.
Giggs will one day be Manchester United manager, just not right now. But that’s doesn’t mean Giggs will necessarily slink back into the shadows when the appointment is eventually made.
In the shift away from the Ferguson era, Giggs has quietly become one of the most powerful men at Manchester United. Moyes’ sacking may have mitigated Alex Ferguson’s influence at boardroom level, but Giggs’ has only grown stronger.
The Welshman has long been the elder statesman of the United dressing room. His experience and stature at the club makes him a totem of advice and guidance for all.
When United were sounding out a move for Robin Van Persie two years ago, Ferguson sought the opinion of Giggs and Paul Scholes.
“We said to them ‘What would you think if Robin Van Persie comes here?’” former assistant Rene Meulensteen revealed, per the Mirror.
But Giggs’ influence is starting to transcend the training ground. He means more than that to Manchester United. As United’s most decorated player, he represents the values and principles of the club. He is an icon in every sense.
The 40-year-old is expected to retire from playing duties at the end of the season, but he will probably take his place as assistant manager beyond the summer. In fact, the United board will likely insist on his retention on the coaching staff when interviewing managerial candidates.
Regardless of whether Moyes’ permanent replacement succeeds or fails, Giggs will almost certainly be the manager after him. No matter who is appointed, there will be a sense of provision about the new man. Giggs will always be there, applying pressure with his mere presence in the dugout.
But what if Giggs wins all four of the games he’s been granted as interim manager? And what if he wins them in the manner United fans have become accustomed to over the past couple decades? The clamor for him to be named permanent manager right now will surely swell.
Of course, United can’t afford to make such an important decision on sentiment. Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward will be aware of this with his own reputation on the line following a disastrous 12 months for the men in the boardroom as well as the players on the pitch.
“He’s built to be a manager,” Wayne Rooney gushed about Giggs after the Norwich win, per the Guardian. “We can see that as players. We can see how he’s handled himself since he took over. Giggsy has got all the credentials to be the next boss but that decision is down to the board.”
Giggs seems to be the players’ choice and that’s dangerous for whoever comes in as the permanent appointment. How will that man—Van Gaal or not—cope with a squad that quite plainly wants someone else in charge?
It might sound pretty rash and naive, but, in my opinion, we are dealing with a new Guardiola.
What we have seen in the first week has been more than convincing.
The similarities with Sir Alex Ferguson are striking and it is evident that Ryan Giggs has learnt from one of history’s most respected football managers.
United would be foolish to severe the ties with the class of ’92 that have been repaired in the wake of Moyes’ dismissal. They should look to Bayern Munich for an example of how legends should be replanted back into clubs after their retirement. It would be an insult to cast them off again so soon.
“This is no criticism of David Moyes, but it feels like Manchester United again rather than someone else’s club,” a source close to the dressing room told BBC Sport.
Indeed, in just a week Giggs has restored some of the swagger that had fallen out of United’s stride.
Giggs is the reported choice of Ferguson, the players and the supporters, and that’s a foreboding situation for any manager to come into. Van Gaal has the character to deal with the crushing pressure the Manchester United job naturally comes with. But for how long can he hold off Giggs?
Moyes only had to contend with one United legend peering over his shoulder and judging his every move. His replacement will have two.