Talismanic Giggs capable of providing rallying point for troubled United side

From Old Trafford trainee to club manager: why Ryan Giggs is a perfect fit

Gary Neville told a story in his autobiography about a Manchester United defeat in Turin against Juventus in a Champions League group game in 1996. United were losing 1-0 at half-time and according to Neville, were receiving "the biggest battering I've ever had on a football pitch."

At the interval Alex Ferguson was expressing his displeasure at this when Ryan Giggs piped up.

“The boss was never going to let that pass,” recalled Neville, “and his response was instant. He hooked Giggsy straight away. That was a big call for the boss.”

The Manchester United boss replaced 22-year-old Giggs with 32-year-old Brian McClair in a game they were chasing.


Ferguson could not afford to let his dominance be questioned, not by a 22-year-old, even if he was a star athlete.

Giggs had just been given a personal lesson in ruthlessness and self-preservation. Ferguson had been prepared to sacrifice the best interests of his team in order to protect himself and his club.

We can imagine that it was neither the first nor the last time Ferguson would do so and, on almost every occasion, Giggs was there. Rarely injured, he has been a physical as well as football phenomenon at Old Trafford since his debut – in a 2-0 defeat against Everton – in 1991.

Ferguson may have examined David Moyes’s profile – Glasgow, bottom-up, tough, comparatively unspectacular playing career – and recognised a version of himself. Giggs’s profile is different, but he has been attached to Ferguson for the past 25 years and has the same instincts.

Tough guy
There has been literal self-preservation: along with Roy Keane and Gary Neville, Giggs took up yoga to prolong his muscles and career. Keane and Neville dropped out; Giggs


Yoga is hard, Giggs is hard. On the night United won the European Cup in Barcelona, while Mancunian drag queen Foo Foo Lamarr was on stage at the post-match party, Giggs had a fist fight with the son of director Martin Edwards. It's quite an image.

“How many defenders do you see rough up Giggsy?” asked Gary Neville.

But then Giggs is the son of a rugby league player, he had a Salford childhood. Neither encourages daintiness. Giggs’s balletic balance on the pitch, allied to his youth in Ferguson’s first major team beside the likes of Bryan Robson and Steve Bruce, perhaps produced a public perception of gentle artistry. But that ignored those piercing eyes, the on-pitch physicality, while any mask of skippiness was ripped off by the Biblical revelations concerning Giggs and his brother’s wife.

But Ryan Giggs has a stare, and he stared it down. He would be entitled to say that marital fidelity in football is about as common as a three-handed goalkeeper, and that his private life has nothing to do with his professional life; but it’s still there.

Former Wales team-mate, Neville Southall said this week: “He’s not scared of anybody and not scared to make his point . . . He’ll be exactly the same as Ferguson. Ryan will be a top class manager because he has all the right attributes.”

The point being that hardness, ruthlessness, is not a criticism in football, it’s a compliment.

Professional football can be brutal. On the pitch physical bravery remains its least appreciated quality. There is the inner hardness required to win a place in the first team against striving peers. In the dressing room it can be equally fierce, a fact repeated every time a player pens his memoirs. You need to be hard to survive.

But that can’t be everything. Particularly in management, a one-dimensional approach can take you only so far.

Evolve to survive
The final lines of Matt Busby's book

Soccer At The Top (1973) are: "In management, be not remote, but give respect and, even more important, give affection, if you expect to receive it. Without affection we might win something today but in the end will have gained nothing."

That's Matt Busby – hardly immune to ruthlessness. Despite the angry caricature, Ferguson did not last so long by refusing to "evolve" as a manager – evolve being a word used by Giggs when discussing his potential managerial style.

It was notable that Giggs mentioned “enjoyment” in his first press conference as interim manager. That also matters. From Giggs’s perspective, under Moyes, United had become constricted in style and appearance. And from Giggs’s perspective, that was alarming.

Moreover, Giggs’s view is from inside the building. Giggs is Manchester United, nothing else. Moyes is not, or was not. That does not always matter – Ferguson came from the outside – but it was a factor in how United got to where they are this week. Anyone doubting that need only look in the opposition dugout. Neil Adams will arrive at Old Trafford today as Norwich City manager with little audible concern that, after managing the Norwich youth team, he is the man to manage the first team in a relegation battle. That’s because Adams was inside Carrow Road; Norwich have an opinion that Adams is one of us.

That is Manchester United’s view of Ryan Giggs. There has long been admiration and affection.

There may be slight wariness about that fire but Giggs is also shrewd, street wise. It does not guarantee he can pick a team, but in football management, those are elements with which to work.