Manchester United 4 Norwich 0: Flying winger becomes driving force for revival
Dignified Welshman commands instant respect from players and fans
Saturday 26 April 2014
The 1992 Committee had done its job. Old Trafford rediscovered its voice and its sense of destiny to celebrate the reinvention of Ryan Giggs. He was suited rather than booted. In a club blazer, as opposed to the red shirt that he has worn 962 times. A global brand magnet repositioned as a modern football club executive.
His first foray into the technical area was to berate Wayne Rooney, an act which may in future generations come to define culture shock. Rooney scored twice without obscuring the reason why the Welshman was required to replace David Moyes as Manchester United’s ninth post-war manager.
United did not need to play well to beat a Norwich team sleepwalking towards the Championship which was just as well. Though a facile victory was rapturously received, Giggs will recognise instinctively the limitations of accommodating opposition. The virtues of teams with which he is identified – pace, intensity and courage under fire – were missed without being essential.
He has three matches left to, at the very least, secure himself a place alongside the next manager. Though the lobbying campaign for Louis van Gaal is shaping the narrative of the recruitment process, the influence of United’s old boy network should certainly not be under-estimated.
Executive chairman Ed Woodward, a non-football man, is leading the search but he understands the commercial connotations of retaining Giggs as a symbol of the club’s heritage. He had walked into the arena to a howl of hope, some 15 yards behind a phalanx of his support staff, at the head of which strode Phil Neville, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes.
Names were sung in recognition of better, more reassuring times. “The story continues,” screamed the front page of the match programme in which Giggs spoke about United being “the rock” on which his life is based. “Attack, attack, attack” ordered the Stretford End before a rousing chorus of “Ryan Giggs’ red army”.
The man who may yet succeed the man who failed to justify the faith of The Man is used to such homage. He tossed his laminated gameplan into the midst of his substitutes before calmly signing autographs on the way to his seat.
The occasion contained all the requisite clichés, from the bespectacled boy thrusting a homemade “In Giggsy We Trust” placard at the TV cameras to the braying stadium announcer hailing “the world’s greatest football club”.
His invitation to “welcome the Barclays Premier League champions” might not have been as well-judged given the prosaic knowledge that victory offered only the prospect of Thursday flights in the Europa League.
Last week, of all weeks, highlighted the futility of soaring sentimentality. The carefully constructed morality play of United’s torch being passed to Moyes, another anointed son of Glasgow, collapsed in a dispiriting sequence of claim, counter-claim and contractual compensation.
The eyes naturally focused on the sweeping second tier of the Stretford End where once “The Chosen One” banner hung. The self-defeating, strangely demeaning emblem of Moyes’ management had been hastily replaced by a slogan, in white capital letters on a red background which read “MUFC – The Religion”.
These things rarely ring true because they are too contrived. They mock the spirit of more authentic entreaties and eulogies which tend to be scrawled on stolen bedsheets. They belong to a world of plastic flags, superficial emotions and “supporters” who have the curiosity and distance of tourists.
At least the sight of Giggs standing on the touchline in the late spring sunshine contained reminders that a genuine United legend was in the house.
The club to which he has given such service may have mutated into a commercial monolith, but he continues to embody the spirit of the institution Matt Busby rebuilt and Alex Ferguson regenerated. Men like Giggs come with their own mental highlights package which endure because the brain lacks the in-built obsolescence of modern technology. The memory is such a powerful tool he can be re-programmed to be at his best in soft focus or sepia print.
Pick your moment, choose your timeframe. A certain generation remember the Giggs of the weaving run and full chest wig in that fabled FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal. Even older fans trace his bloodline back, through George Best, to Busby Babes who trained on Tarmac.
Bookmakers hired vans which offered odds on United “keeping it in the family” by making the audition permanent.
Investment bankers on Wall Street don’t tend to be swayed by nostalgia, relief and renewed optimism so Giggs’ starting price of 20-1 was probably fair.
He pointedly restored Danny Welbeck to the team and, even more pertinently, left Marouane Fellaini, Moyes’ ill-judged signing, out of the match day squad. There was minimal pressure, and no sense of expectation.
At times it was even possible to hear the drone of the plane, hired by a group of Maltese fans, which trailed a mocking “Thank U Moyes”. His thoughts at such tawdry disrespect could only be imagined.
The deposed manager’s text message to the United We Stand fanzine, sent at 9.55pm on Friday evening, was poignant: “Would you please let it be known how much I appreciated the support I got from the real United fans. They were incredible. I am sorry I couldn’t give them the results they are all used to. Thanks. D Moyes.”
The King is dead. Long live the Crown Prince, for the time being.
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