Class of '92 can regain club's essence
Clamour for Giggs to lead Red Devils revolution grows stronger, though business-minded owners may opt for trophy-hunter Louis van Gaal
The flag planted by the ‘Class of '92’ on the playing fields of Carrington in this managerial hiatus for Manchester United is a long-delayed challenge to the Glazer clan who own the club. It was not intended as such but the battle lines are too obvious to ignore.
When Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt arrived on tanks through the gates of the ruined palace, waving the old red flags, the United ‘family’ started to take sides. The Glazers chose the side of business logic. David Moyes was the safe bet who turned out to be a gamble. Sharply promoted, he stayed stuck at the level of his curriculum vitae.
So now the Americans want an A-list trophy-hunter who knows his way round Uefa coaching seminars and will ruthlessly assert the here and now over the abstraction of five-year plans. They want a Louis van Gaal.
To find the line bisecting the soul of the club you have only to make a list of those who are prepared to declare publicly that Giggs should get the job.
In theory they are arguing for one name but implicitly they are also supporting a tradition, a collective, a return to the status quo, a feeling and a desire to stop the Glazers placing instant guaranteed returns at the top of their wishlist.
This is the front-line of the debate. No one in the Giggs camp is saying he will need three years to get the hang of the job. On the contrary, they believe that Scholes, Butt and the Neville brothers Gary and Phil would be in there with him to handle the tasks that make modern management so onerous.
Giggs could recite United’s stylistic manifesto in his sleep (he pretty much recited it before the Norwich game last Saturday). All he would need, the argument goes, is support, plus advice from Sir Alex Ferguson up on his plinth.
There is some ambiguity about the timescale Ferguson was referring to when he said at a recent charity gathering that Giggs was the right man, but the endorsement was sufficiently strong for us to include him on the list of those who are not deterred by the caretaker’s lack of experience.
“[Giggs] is the one man they should go to really,” was Ferguson’s standout line from Moyes’ predecessor, followed by: “He’s gone through the gamut of emotions at the club – he’s experienced all the highs and lows. He knows exactly what’s needed to be a Manchester United player and I was so pleased he brought Paul Scholes back in, and Nicky Butt of course – two great professionals.”
“They understand the club, they are hard workers, they are straight as a die. So you have got the right combinations there, there’s no doubt about that.”
Then we can add Gary Neville, Peter Schmeichel, tens of thousands of Old Trafford regulars and Giggs himself, who was said to be surprised and disappointed by the United board’s briefing that he would not be considered this time round. Anders Lindegaard, meanwhile, went so far as to call his temporary boss “the new Guardiola.”
“People say Ryan’s got no experience, but then is Van Gaal going to work?” Gary Neville asked. “We don’t know. It’s a call for people at the club.” Schmeichel weighed in: "This is what Manchester United needs – a very big dose of real Manchester United. Ryan said this in his press conference – we need to get the speed, the tempo, the courage; these are all Sir Alex's words. He's been having them in his ear for 25 years.”
Schmeichel said he was “absolutely convinced that Ryan – who is a top guy – will get results”. Add all this up and it sounds less like a discussion than outright campaigning, with Giggs as the presidential candidate in the film Bob Roberts (slogan: “The times they are a-changin' back”).
Van Gaal, who is not renowned for compromise, will doubtless consent to have Giggs on his backroom staff, but will have no control over any surge of populist support for the club’s most-decorated player should the transformation not materialise.
Logically, Van Gaal is a more sensible hire, with maybe Giggs next time. But to all the world it looks like a business appointment – a debt-servicing appointment – which serves the commercial interests of the Glazers ahead of the soul of the club. The owners look a lot like men who have had a very bad experience with romance and dynasties and mini-me’s and now want sure-fire bang for their borrowed buck.
No one around Carrington will want to present this as a struggle between Manchester United and the Glazers, but it looks that way to the rest of us. Van Gaal knows politics as well as he knows coaching. But no manager these days can ignore the will of the people.