It is just over 23 years since Ryan Joseph Giggs (OBE) made his debut for Manchester United FC against Everton at Old Trafford. Sir Alex Ferguson was having a torrid time attempting to replace the recently departed left-winger Jesper Olsen, on a club that was beginning to show signs that they could threaten Liverpool and Arsenal at the summit of English soccer. He needed someone dependable, with bags of talent, and longevity that could not only propel his team to “leaders of the pack” status, but also keep them there for good. What he got was so much more, a fact highlighted right now as United prepare for Giggs’ managerial debut at Old Trafford this evening.
Climbing through the ranks with similarly talented players such as Nicky Butt, the Neville brothers, Paul Scholes and David Beckham, Giggs knew what good soccer looked like. A youth squad with so much potential wandered into first-team football at the highest level without breaking stride, and the rest of the soccer world quickly came to understand that Manchester United’s turning point was a matter of grave concern for everyone else’s potential success.
Ryan Giggs was the focal point of United’s dominance for the next double decade. There was no greater sight in late-90’s soccer than the Welshman’s feet darting towards a defender at what seemed like 100mph, the ball going this way and that but still inexplicably under his wizard-like control. Of course, the likelihood was that he was going to beat the defender and whip a delicious ball across the face of the box to be tapped in by a striker, if not popping the ball in the net himself.
Realistically however, Manchester United would not be ready to prepare itself for the managerial debut of Ryan Giggs, if he’d have attempted to play like this for the rest of his career. As players get older their abilities change, and this modification is usually accompanied by a step down to “easier” competition for places in the starting 11. The newly dubbed “Class of ’92” partly reflected this unfortunate trend, with Nicky Butt leaving for Newcastle in 2004, closely followed by Phil Neville to Everton in 2005.
Giggs on the other hand, has adapted. He isn’t the fastest anymore, his skill and novel footwork have been taken and improved upon by countless players in recent years, and there are undoubtedly one or two players in the United set-up more suited to his native left-wing position than he is. Alex Ferguson’s final few seasons saw him play Giggs more often in centre midfield, and even in defensive midfield positions when it was required, a veteran player that can hold the ball, bark orders to those looking up at him, and emit a sense of authority among his younger colleagues.
It is this quality that makes him perfect to see Manchester United’s so far dismal season out as manager. For twenty years he has absorbed all that makes the club great, and added his own greatness on the way. Young players aspire to be him, coaches and staff respect him, and everyone wants to do well for him.
There was no one more perfectly moulded for the role of interim manager than Ryan Giggs. It looks as though Louis Van Gaal is headed to Old Trafford for the long-term, but he can rest assured the Giggs will boost the squad’s morale and have the players fully prepared for his (or any other manager’s) arrival in the summer. Giggs’ playing debut ended in a 2-0 defeat back in ‘91, but as Manchester United prepare for the first managerial debut of their most decorated servant to date, that scoreline will certainly be the last thing on anyone’s mind.
Commentary by Zachary John