It’s the black chair that always gets them. David Moyes thought he might look “stupid” in it, so he checked no one was looking before settling back, while Ryan Giggs expressed the same sentiment that Sir Alex Ferguson always felt about the biggest seat in British football.
“I have sat it in it. Yes,” the 40-year-old said on Friday, and to the question of how that felt he was emphatic. “Lonely, lonely!” he observed. “It’s been chaotic and you are getting pulled from pillar to post and then you go and sit in the office and are just writing some notes down. The thing is you’re just trying not to forget anything because there are so many things happening, so many things going on and it is a pretty lonely place at times…”
Giggs was grinning as he spoke and what he described did not actually sound terribly forbidding: nothing like the eerie isolation Moyes talked about, 12 hours before his first Premier League game as Manchester United manager – 253 days ago. In the Carrington Academy building, beneath red sepia images of his own halcyon days as a United youth, Giggs looked like the boy who’d wandered into the sweet shop. Any sense of pressure was artificial, because he is the local hero and the recipient of steepling goodwill – not the one who will be asked to come in, pick up the huge burden this great club represents and carry it on.
And yet, for all that, there was something wonderfully uncomplicated and incredibly necessary about the Manchester United philosophy – “my philosophy,” – which Giggs said he wanted to restore here. He talked about putting “smiles on the faces” of fans and recreating that situation when a Saturday afternoon was something to “look forward to” – the impression being such sentiments vanished long since.
“I want to bring the intensity back,” Giggs said. “I want to see goals. Tackles. Players taking on players. I want to see the passion that should come with being a Manchester United player.” In the course of a 15-minute discussion, the word “passion” was aired by him three times; and “philosophy” four, while “transition” – a Moyes favourite – just did not come into the narrative. We seemed to be listening to a man who knew what form of football he wanted – and, after eight months of Moyes observing that this squad would be rebuilt and reorganised in time, that felt like a liberating force.
Should anyone be lured into the popular misconception that Giggs is anything less than hard as nails, there was very little sentiment for Moyes. The new manager arrived clutching some prepared notes – written in the black chair, you assumed – about his gratitude to his predecessor for giving him a coaching role. But such was the haste to get this said and done that Giggs was misintroduced as “David” – to general amusement. There then followed the most fleeting acknowledgement imaginable to Moyes: 30 words or so.
The reality is that the lack of ambition Giggs has discerned from close quarters in Moyes’ cowed United has been a source of personal devastation to him. His belief that it should never have been so with these players was written through everything he said yesterday. So while Moyes did not earn a mention beyond that mildly excruciating opening, the subtext of Giggs’ warm praise of Phil Neville – one of Moyes’ men – was that he should be absolved of all blame. “Phil has been frustrated just like I have because he’s been on board all season but he’s been brilliant this week,” Giggs said.
All the football motivators carry a menace – it is what they all say about Brendan Rodgers – and Giggs revealed his own when describing the consequences for those players who dropped below the United level. “I want to bring those standards back up to here,” he said, raising his arm high. “And where a Manchester United player should be. Not just for one game. For every game. Every time you pull on the red shirt you give everything you have got. Otherwise you’re coming off.”
Giggs has not settled into the notion of remaining a mere caretaker, either. United are looking for an experienced successor and do not see him featuring as anything more than an assistant for now. Yet he did not reject the idea that he might prove enough in four games – starting with Norwich’s visit this evening – to continue into next season. “Well, I have got a chance to show what I am capable of as a manager in a short space of time,” he said. “That is my focus. After that is another conversation. We’ll see where it takes us.” It was put to him that Kenny Dalglish and Pep Guardiola had stepped up from playing to managing ranks well enough. “Yes, it can happen,” he replied.
Perhaps appropriately, the question of Liverpool’s success was the only one which stumped him. A possible Anfield title had surely made the last eight months particularly austere? “It’s not been easy,” he said. “I mean… we’ll wait to see what happens. It’s not over yet. We spent so many years trying to catch them, then overtaking them… but again, credit to them.”
The past week has been a return to the old days in many ways. Giggs selected the same time and location for his press conference Ferguson always chose. It was the old man’s growing resentment of his inquisitors which led him to throw them out of the main Carrington complex and stage these occasions in the academy building across the car park – the 100 yards to which, bizarrely, he always drove. Giggs walked but there was none of the intimacy Moyes had recently restored.
Suddenly, seeking Ferguson’s advice is no longer to be frowned upon, unpalatable though that will be to Wayne Rooney, who abhors him. Giggs said that the 72-year-old was the first person he picked the phone up to. “Because why wouldn’t I? He’s been through everything you can as a manager, as a young manager, as an experienced manager, as a successful manager. He’s given me advice. He’s told me that he’s always at the end of the phone and that’s obviously given me a lot of comfort and it’s good to know I can turn to the manager if I ever need him.”
This drift into the glorious past cannot last indefinitely or even for that long. United need a strong moderniser to build them back up. But, for now, just a restored sense of self will do. It’s been a week of joshing, Giggs taking stick, a “Gaffer” sign being hung on his place in the dressing room, and tonight the discovery of whether the recipe for recovery is what he thinks it might be. “I’ve told the players: ‘I trust you. I know what you are capable of. Go and show it’,” he said. “‘Go out and entertain the fans, score goals, play with tempo’.” Success in football is infinitely more complicated than that, but it sounded for all the world like a new beginning.Reuse content