For years, it seemed impossible to question the notion of Manchester United as the biggest football club in the world. In recent months, however, the team has been in freefall. David Moyes is a decent man and good manager. But many United fans doubted from the start whether he was a worthy successor to Sir Alex Ferguson. Scottish, yes; taciturn, when necessary; but a champion? Apparently not.
The appointment of Ryan Giggs to succeed Moyes for the remainder of the season has brought joy to Old Trafford. Giggs is one of the greats of Manchester United; the most decorated footballer in English history; a flying winger. Beyond the medals he has won, Giggs embodies the spirit of the club and has a love of the game that extends beyond the modern footballing obsession with money and status.
At the height of the Ferguson years, there were plenty of opposing fans who loved to hate United. They revelled in the occasional defeats, and a minority persisted in the hideous Munich air crash jibes which only served to harden the Reds’ resolve.
Yet for all the jealous loathing, there was a sneaking admiration for the utter implacability of United’s will to win. Injury-time winners were de rigueur; great comebacks – the most glorious in the 1999 Champions League final – were the norm. Under Moyes, Manchester United lost all semblance of invincibility. Even worse, they forgot how to play like United.
Giggs may not be the next permanent manager of the club. But he has promised, in a surprisingly Churchillian turn of phrase, to return to “the United philosophy, my philosophy”. This will surely swell any football fan’s heart with gladness since it is a buccaneering philosophy suited as much to the local park as to Old Trafford. Jumpers for goalposts? Isn’t it marvellous.