It was after he was instrumental in winning the second leg against Olympiakos in the Champions League that Ryan Giggs last spoke at any length about his 24th season as a professional at Manchester United. He has stopped hundreds of times after games in hundreds of stadiums around the world over the years and perfected the footballer's art of diplomacy, but this time you could see it was a strain.
He was asked about Wayne Rooney's earlier point that the team had "owed" David Moyes their comeback from a 2-0 first-leg deficit. Giggs replied that they owed the fans the result, before adding after a pause that they owed the manager too. He said that there was a lot of "quality" in the team but too many had been "written off", although he did not specify by whom. He was asked whether his night's work might earn him a few more starts, and he laughed, an expression, in this instance, of general bewilderment.
Giggs did not survive under Sir Alex Ferguson from a trial at United over Christmas in 1986 to the retirement of the latter last May without knowing exactly what was permissible to say and what was not. His autobiography, published in 2006, is fascinating on his early life, scathing about his estranged father, Danny Wilson, the former rugby league professional, and then, as it moves into his career as a professional at United, offers little more insight than you would have garnered from match reports from the era.
The next Manchester United manager: Those linked with the Old Trafford hot seat
The next Manchester United manager: Those linked with the Old Trafford hot seat
1/10 Jurgen Klopp
Currently the manager of Borussia Dortmund, Klopp coached his team to the Champions League final in 2013. He also delivered back-to-back Bundesliga titles in 2010/11 and 2011/12, despite Dortmund being in the financial shadow of Bayern Munich. All of that was achieved while playing a distinctive attractive style of football. After six years at the club, it could be time for the 46-year-old German to move on, however he has already said he is happy to stay.
2/10 Fabio Capello
The former England manager has coached the likes of Real Madrid, AC Milan, Juventus and Roma. He now resides over the Russian national team who topped their group in qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil to ensure they are at the biggest tournament of them all for the first time since 2002.
3/10 Louis van Gaal
Dutchman Van Gaal will be leading his national side at this year's World Cup in Brazil. He has taken charge of both Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the past and won the Champions League in 1995 with Ajax. In total, he has won over 60 per cent of his 780 games in management and he's made it very clear he covets a position in the Premier League. Heavily linked with Tottenham prior to David Moyes' sacking.
4/10 Sir Alex Ferguson
Considering he's at every game anyway, a switch from the stands back to the dug-out doesn't seem inconceivable for Sir Alex Ferguson. It'd certainly be a popular choice among fans having achieved so much success in his long time in charge. The winner of 13 Premier League titles, five FA Cups and two Champions League titles, if there's anyone who can succeed Ferguson, it's Ferguson.
5/10 Frank De Boer
Although his managerial experience is relatively small in comparison to other potentials, he has already shown he can win domestically. Since taking over at Ajax in 2010, in his first job as manager, De Boer has won the Eredivisie in three consecutive attempts, with his team currently well clear at the top of the league this season. Has been regularly linked with the biggest vacancies in Europe.
6/10 Antonio Conte
Winner of the Serie A manager of the year in 2011-12 and 2012-13 after leading Juventus to the title in those seasons, as well as a Champions League winners medal to his name as a player, Conte has pedigree. Since taking charge in Turin three years ago, the Italian has returned Juventus to the dominant force in Italy, with the club destined to win their third title in a row this term. That kind of dominance is exactly what United crave.
7/10 Diego Simeone
Simeone has been enjoying much success since taking over at Atletico Madrid. His excellent win rate has seen the club win the Europa League and Super Cup, and against all odds challenge Real Madrid and Barcelona for La Liga title this season. He'd have to hope his history with David Beckham didn't count against him if Manchester United came calling.
8/10 Michael Laudrup
Despite a rather sudden and messy divorce from Swansea City earlier this year, Laudrup did show he was capable of managing at the highest level. He won the League Cup with the Welsh club, the first major trophy in the club's history, and he did it with a brand of football that won many plaudits. A legend as a player, the Dane has the gravitas for such a huge position as Manchester United manager.
9/10 Harry Redknapp
Currently manager of QPR, Redknapp has often been a fan favourite across English football, winning manager of the year in 2009/10 as well as the FA Cup with Portsmouth in 2008. At one stage he looked a certainty to be the next England manager, only to lose out to Roy Hodgson.
10/10 Ex-United players
If Manchester United were to choose from one of their own, they would have plenty of ex-players to pick from. Ryan Giggs is the most obvious choice after being installed on a temporary basis after Moyes' departure. Others in management who served as a player under Sir Alex Ferguson include Roy Keane, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, both Neville brothers and Steve Bruce. Mark Hughes played for United along with Gordon Strachan and Laurent Blanc. While none of them have particularly overachieved in any of their positions, a former player tends to be popular with fans, and can be rewarded with success.
It is just the way that Ferguson will have wanted it, and you could imagine that the Old Trafford censors who insisted on every player's book, post-Jaap Stam, being vetted by the club had a very easy day when it came to Giggs' memoirs.
But it would be wrong to characterise the new interim manager of United, the most successful individual footballer in the history of the English game, as the unassuming man that he can so often present himself as. He is as tough as they come. As for his partnership with United, where else in British life would you encounter an individual who has served one institution from adolescence into their forties? There will be those older than Giggs who have served longer, but few whose service stretches from childhood into middle age.
The essence of United, their attitudes towards the rest of the world, their standards, their sheer size – those things which Moyes found so hard to get to grips with – are not a mystery to Giggs. He did not have to learn them, he was part of re-establishing them in the modern era. In handing him the job, on a temporary basis, United go from the ultimate outsider to the ultimate insider.
In the long-term the absence of strong candidates works in his favour. United want an experienced manager and Giggs will not be in the job beyond the end of May but, given that the favourite is a 62-year-old Dutch authoritarian who has no experience of working in England, United's cup hardly runneth over. If he is appointed, Louis Van Gaal will surely not be in the job for anything like the six years originally promised to Moyes, which means that if the door shuts now, it is not shutting for long.
Giggs was present with Ferguson at the first meeting Moyes held at Carrington after his appointment and he accepted a place on his coaching staff, but it is clear that the relationship barely lasted. Giggs is no one's fool. Ordinarily any caretaker manager with ambition wants the job on a permanent basis, but he is in the unusual position where he could be confident that the chance will come around again.
The job on offer is not, for instance, the equivalent of Pep Guardiola being promoted by Barcelona in 2008, a great player fast-tracked by his club. Unlike Guardiola then, Giggs is still playing and he does not have even the limited experience that Guardiola had then with "Barcelona B". For him, it was a case of reconfiguring the engine of a beautiful machine; United require some massive calls in the summer transfer market – and decisions that need to be made now.
One more manager at United post-Moyes will buy Giggs time to finish his playing career and get ready. He has always been a guarded person and the revelations about his private life three years ago, which were badly handled, will have bruised him. But since Ferguson retired, he has been a bit more open, in the documentary The Class of 92 about his generation of home-grown players at United.
In that film, Giggs emerges as the alpha male in a group of very strong personalities. It is him who is merciless in his impersonation of the Neville brothers, Gary and Phil. It is him, and only him, who seems to regret the passing of the old-school first-team initiation traditions. In fact, when Phil Neville suggests he was the worst of the lot, Giggs responds by pointing out that it did Phil no harm.
There is a tendency for a club to go with what it knows after a failure in appointing a manager, and there has been no bigger a legacy and no more botched a succession than the Ferguson-Moyes handover. Perhaps Van Gaal is the answer for now, a tough guy in the mould of Ferguson with a history of success in different countries and an unswerving belief in his own ideals. But there is a case for saying that Van Gaal is primarily an attractive option because he will be available after the World Cup finals. There was no momentum behind him as a candidate one year ago.
When Barcelona appointed Guardiola instead of Jose Mourinho in succession to Frank Rijkaard, the club were picking more than just an inexperienced coach. What they were assured of was a manager who could comprehend what the club required, what it represented, and what it was like to walk out of the tunnel and confront those tens of thousands of expectant faces without fear.
Given that so much of Moyes' failings seemed to revolve around his unpreparedness for that, it makes Giggs a compelling choice one day. The rest he can be helped with. As for the moment on Saturday when he walks out in front of Old Trafford as the leader of the club? He has spent 27 years of his life preparing for that.
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