Ryan Giggs, next permanent manager of Manchester United?
The heart sings, “Yes!”
But the head warns, “Not yet.”
First, the heart.
Already United’s most decorated and dependable player, Giggs would become football’s Superman, a legend for the ages, if he completed the rescue and total resuscitation of the team that Alex Ferguson built and which his successor, David Moyes, quickly broke.
Just imagine: May 2015; another tremendous Premier League season ends with United restored as champion of English football, back where Ferguson left the club on his retirement last year. The 10 months of Moyes, the dreadful defeats and mediocrity, would become nothing more than bad memories as Giggs’ thankful players drenched the manager’s dark suit and United-red tie with champagne.
Hollywood stuff. United fans got a taster of such a future when Giggs took temporary charge last weekend, coaching his teammates to a 4-0 win against Norwich while the club works out who to trust with the full-time job and the tens of millions of pounds it must spend to recruit desperately needed new players.
Even after 26 years at the club he joined as a willowy schoolboy, Giggs was blown away — “I’ve never felt like that, you know? I felt 10 feet tall,” he said — by the roar and welcome from the Old Trafford faithful when he strode onto the stadium pitch as caretaker boss.
English media tip former Bayern Munich and Barcelona manager Louis van Gaal as favorite to take over permanently after he finishes coaching the Netherlands at the World Cup this June-July in Brazil.
But Giggs is the emotional favorite. United’s American owners, the Glazers, risk looking cold-hearted if they overlook him, especially if his team now wins the last games against Sunderland, Hull and Southampton to make amends for this trophy-less season and to offer hope for the next one.
“If he doesn’t get the job, the fans will go ballistic, they really will,” says Eric Harrison, who was United’s youth coach under Ferguson and nurtured the golden generation of players including Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, the Neville brothers Gary and Phil, and Nicky Butt.
Harrison says he’s already seen enough for Giggs to be his managerial choice.
“Louis van Gaal can’t take over until after the World Cup. That’s no good, because he should be in straight away,” Harrison said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “And some of the foreign managers are not as good as you think.”
(Incidentally, Harrison isn’t expecting Giggs to field himself in any of the last three matches. “He won’t play for Manchester United any more. I know him well. We’re very close,” Harrison said. That would mean Giggs’ record of United appearances stops at 962 and that his 45 minutes against Bayern Munich in the Champions League on April 1 were his last as a United player).
Unlike Moyes, Giggs knows every nook and cranny of United, not just its stadium, training ground and staff, but its soul, culture and what makes it tick. Better than anyone, Giggs could explain to incoming players what will be expected of them at United. Given the chance, Giggs will surely teach them about how United recovered after the 1958 Munich air crash that killed 23 people, including eight players and three club officials, and perhaps use that as motivation for himself and his team. Giggs is a believer in the club creed of a United that, in his own words, “never stands still, it always goes forward.”
On a practical level, Giggs can phone Ferguson when he likes should he need advice. In Scholes, Butt and Phil Neville, the former teammates now working as his coaching assistants, Giggs also has a formidable brains trust to lean on, friends he can delegate to and who can share the pressure and joys of management.
Together, that quartet played in a total of 2,453 matches for United. Although Giggs has no hands-on experience of managing in the Premier League, he learned from the best as a serial winner for Ferguson. In a sponsored blog, back-up United goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard said Giggs’ team-talk for the Norwich match gave him goose bumps, just as Ferguson’s used to.
All of which makes Giggs a treasure for United, a treasure too valuable to fritter away now, when the club has major problems to overcome. United needs so many new players, perhaps five or more in defense and midfield, that it might not be able to recruit them all in one go this summer. Rebuilding could take time. And time is generally a rare commodity in the impatient world of football, as Moyes’ short tenure showed.
If made manager full-time, Giggs would be learning the job and making the inevitable beginner’s mistakes in the most demanding environment. If next season ends not with champagne but with United again closer to mid-table than top, then Giggs might not last long, either, if he’s the man in charge.
And that would be a waste. Better that Giggs first learn the manager’s trade in a hot seat not quite as searing as the one in Manchester. Then he can come back — perhaps as a successor to Van Gaal — to the United job he seems one day destined and made for.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester