By: Bamidele Salako

Manchester United legend, Ryan Giggs

The Manchester United board finally woke up from its alarmingly lengthy slumber last week stating rather decisively that it had had enough of the mess the club was in by booting out manager, David Moyes, who was former manager, Sir Alex Ferguson’s “Chosen One” to sustain the domestic dominance of the United dynasty. The appointment was met with ambivalence by the Old Trafford faithful and the football world in general.

It was certainly a new chapter in the hugely successful football club’s rich history that came with a lot of promise, as well as doubts in almost equal measure. History was in the making and only time would tell what direction its pendulum would swing. Now we know.

Mr. Moyes did succeed in making some history of his own at United but certainly not the kind Sir Alex had in mind when he was recommending his fellow Scots to the United board in the build up to what has been, putting it rather mildly, a most disastrous campaign for the Red Devils. Manchester United will be missing out on a Champions League spot for the first time in 19years – one of Moyes’ many well-documented inglorious records.

All that’s stale now though and Moyes’ assistant, United legend, Ryan Giggs, has since been elevated to the position of interim player-manager, perhaps a dream come true for the Welshman who told The Daily Telegraph in a 2012 interview about his desire to move into management after retirement from active football. The Welsh winger won his first game in charge convincingly, his team taking a sorry Norwich to the cleaners with four unreplied goals. With that victory, talk of retaining the cult figure on a permanent has grown louder and louder as the now joyous fans appear to be tremendously impressed not just by that refreshing result but also, by the manner in which it was achieved. The question on everyone’s lips is this: Should Giggs be given the gig permanently?

If you ask me – on the strength of one result, definitely not the wise road to take. In football, it’s never about single results – it’s never even about three good results. It’s always about an ability to produce fantastic outcomes consistently over a period of time (like Sir Alex did) and that consistency amounting to trophies at the season’s end. Yes, the team played with a lot more freedom, excitement and enterprise last time out and the joy felt by United fans, unprecedented this season, but their delight was buoyed more by the realisation that they were finally rid of a miserable manager in Moyes than by the margin of a musical result.

Similarities can be drawn between the situation Giggs now finds himself in and the one current Bayern Munich boss, Pep Guardiola was in back in 2008, albeit in totally different circumstances and at different stages in the season. The Spanish tactician was then, faced with the somewhat monumental task of reviving the Catalan side’s damaged confidence and propelling them back to the summit of the Spanish league following two years of Real Madrid’s dominance on the domestic front. That dominance was brutally accentuated in a devastating 4-1 dismantling of the Catalans at the Santiago Bernabeu the previous season.

Ryan Giggs

Guardiola’s surprising appointment raised questions regarding the experience and professional competence of a man who was just 38-years old at the time, his solitary prior experience in management only coming in the preceding 2007/2008 season with Barcelona B in the Spanish second tier. On this singular point of professional divergence between Pep and Gigsy, it can be argued that the Spanish gaffer had a relatively minimal coaching experience that stood him in good stead to succeed in senior management at the first time of asking.

It mustn’t be forgotten that the tiki-taka philosophy upon which the Spaniard’s three years of resounding success were founded, is institutionalised at the club and is replicated across every level and age-grade of the Barca setup. And so, Guardiola’s elevation was basically an easing in and a seamless managerial transition into a team boasting a large percentage of players who had graduated from the famous La Masia and had played with one another for such a long time. No doubt, Guardiola was well acquainted with the culture, philosophy, systems, structures and procedures at the club and it was very much a case of a perfectly poised positioning for success.

Giggs, like Guardiola at Barca, is a United man through and through, although few know he spent the earliest years (1985-1987) of his glorious career in the Manchester City youth setup prior to joining United in 1987. It was at United though that he developed into the footballing genius that he became and is undoubtedly a product of the system, playing a starring role in the club’s astonishing success story since making his senior debut in the 1990-91 season. No one understands better the principles, practices and philosophies that have seen Manchester United emerge from the shadow of staunch rivals, Liverpool, and propelled them to the zenith of accomplishment on the domestic scene.

One could then argue, that Giggsy, like his Spanish counterpart, is perfectly poised to position or re-position the club for future success but the key word here is “future”. Are United willing to repose their trust in him if things go eerily wrong in the course of the first season of his mooted permanent appointment?

You must however take into account the quality of the team Guardiola inherited from Frank Rikyaard with the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Iniesta who had been in the shadows of Ronaldinho and Deco finally getting the leeway to realise their fullest potentials. Perhaps all the Barcelona players needed at the time were fresh ideas, a fresh approach to the game, some discipline and an injection of new life into the core of the team – moves Guardiola did not shy away from making by letting go of Ronaldinho, Deco and a number of older players in the setup while allowing relatively untested starlets like Pedro and Busquets the opportunities required to flourish. He also brought in a number of key performers in Yaya Toure, Seydou Keita, Eric Abidal et al to strengthen the side in key positions.

This United team features a delicate mix of ageing key players like Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra, proven stars in Rooney, Mata and Van Persie as well as youngsters who are yet to truly come into their own and who are yet to shake off the “promising” tag to become true footballing stars – and the latter category populates the team: Wellbeck, Hernandez, Januzaj, Cleverly, Jones, Ashley Young, Smalling and a goalkeeper in De Gea who, even though he has shown tremendous promise with several super showings, has often come up for unrelenting criticisms by United fans.

It will require a great deal of experience and tact to get this Mancunian engine kicking again and challenging for honours on all fronts next season, which really has come to be the most basic of expectations at United judging by their own lofty standards.

Manchester United are unquestionably in a rebuilding phase now. Giggs’ current and potential elevation and retirement, Nemanja Vidic’s exit at the end of the season as well as Ferdinand and Evra’s looming retirement or departure as the case may be, whenever that may be, symbolise and should signal the close of an era; while Juan Mata’s acquisition, just as at Chelsea, could be rightly described as the first of many potential signings which would collectively represent the dawning of a new era.

Players will have to be sold, players will have to be purchased. Some players will play key roles while some would be required to play as support casts. Some older players may be required to play bit-part roles going forward. Can United trust Giggs with making those crucial decisions? Can Giggs make those decisions given the chance? He did show against Norwich he isn’t shy of making strong decisions when he left Mata out of the starting line-up but can he leave the likes of Ferdinand and Evra out of the team if and when the need arises? Can United trust him with the handsome kitty required to rediscover the team’s competitiveness in what has become a highly competitive league? Are they willing to give one of their own the time required – a full season perhaps- to rebuild this team into formidable contenders?

What is the guarantee or probability that appointing a manager from the experienced pool of established hands who consider Giggs’ current job a tantalising prospect, would result in an instant and respectable turnaround in the club’s fortunes? Except the hierarchy at United can answer these questions candidly and to Ryan Giggs utter satisfaction, I’d advise he not take the job even if he were offered it through an overwhelming consensus of all at the club. He should win his three games and step down honourably to a hero’s acclaim at the end of the season rather than denting his already cemented legendary status at the club and endangering a potential sterling managerial career.

I would tell Giggs this: Sir, let the top dogs have it while you garner all the experience you require to build a solid managerial reputation at other mid-table clubs, who I am sure, would be clamouring for your signature at some point. Perhaps, continue as managerial assistant if an incoming manager opts to retain your services in that capacity. Your time will inevitably come as one game has shown. All the best to a true footballing genius.

(First published April 29, 2014:

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