Wednesday 19 June 2019

Comment: Ryan Giggs' way with Wales makes Martin O'Neill look primitive

Keane meets his former team-mate again as their management careers move in opposite directions

Managing expectations: Ryan Giggs answers questions at a press conference in Dublin. Photo: John Sibley/Action Images via Reuters
Managing expectations: Ryan Giggs answers questions at a press conference in Dublin. Photo: John Sibley/Action Images via Reuters
David Kelly

David Kelly

Twenty years ago this week, Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs sat in the dressing-room of the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen as Alex Ferguson prepared to deliver his final words before kick-off.

It is uncertain whether, as Giggs revealed last week, some of the United players might have nodded off during another one of the Scot's sermons as they counted down the final minutes before the Champions League tie against Brondby.

It may not have mattered much at the time if they had stolen forty winks; a 6-2 win followed.

Keane and Giggs were key components in a year when they captured three of the incredible haul of 38 major trophies they shared during their 12 years together.

Indeed, both would score goals on that relatively low-key evening in Copenhagen before embellishing already garlanded reputations with key decisive impacts as the team drove for home on all fronts.

Those interventions revealed as much about their own qualities as they did the character of the person who managed them.

The pair celebrate after the 1999 Champions League final. Photo: Phil Noble/PA Wire
The pair celebrate after the 1999 Champions League final. Photo: Phil Noble/PA Wire

Keane's selfless semi-final second-leg display in Turin after a booking confirmed his absence from a potential final, so lauded by the manager but almost self-deprecatingly downgraded by the player himself.

Giggs's marauding left-wing run and winning goal in extra-time of the FA Cup semi-final replay against their fiercest rivals, Arsenal, the extravagance of the moment matched by the exuberance of the wild celebration, a removed shirt wind-milling through the air.

Their ambitions and motivations in a red shirt may have shared their leader's vision but their attitudes and methodology marked them out as uniquely individual personalities.

Ferguson's managerial brilliance was the ability to collaborate with a variety of different characters and playing styles, so confident was he in his own ability to forge a united, and United, force.

Roy Keane on the training pitch. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Roy Keane on the training pitch. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

This allowed Giggs to maintain his influence until his 40th year as a beacon of the team's swaggering style; however, Keane's would forcibly be removed after his abrupt challenge to both the manager's authority and the unity of the dressing-room.

Nothing, though, would ever match 1999, a high point of United's success, which would see them finish the century as the world's richest club.

Another time. Another place. Another century.

It may be an international occasion tonight in Dublin but a UEFA Nations League relegation six-pointer hardly represents the zenith in either man's post-playing career.

It is, one can suggest, a stepping stone but only perhaps Giggs could admit to any uncertainty that it is one which will take him further.

It is doubtful whether Keane could harbour the same optimism.

Giggs and Keane will be re-united but this time in separate dressing-rooms. Victory for either man could prove significant but defeat may prove fatal for only one of them.

For Giggs is merely ascending the foothills of his career in football management; Keane's very existence in the playing afterlife, even if he is merely four years the Welshman's senior, seems more uncertain than at any time before that he will ever get close to taking a team at their peak.

Nothing can be fairly judged through the prism of just 90 minutes, just as is the case tonight.

A wider perspective must be offered and it is that, even at this fledgling stage of his career, the avenues that are opening to Giggs stand in stark contrast to the narrowing possibilities of his erstwhile colleague.

It is not only last month's meeting of these sides, a comprehensive Cardiff victory for Wales, which tempts one into the perilous business of predicting what the future may hold for these once great players.

It is also the inescapable impression that their respective countries are going about their business with vastly different styles.

Giggs is persisting with his tendency to encourage youth and confident, attacking ambition on the ball while that of Keane, in tandem with Martin O'Neill, is persisting with an approach which, as if we needed to be reminded again last weekend, is predominantly "primitive".

O'Neill's techniques and Keane's man-management seem out of kilter in a modern era; Giggs, appropriating only what he needs from his great mentor, is determined to do things differently.

O'Neill and Keane are rebuilding - again, it seems - five years into the post and with an emphasis that, regardless of the often empty pre-match calls to arms, betrays a side scared not to lose.


Giggs is keen to develop a side who are unafraid to win, one clearly fashioned from an image of himself.

"We want to play football in the right way but we have to earn the right. Doing the basics, winning the battles. Teams won't lie down and let you play.

"If we win the individual battles, play as a team, then you might excite me and the 2,500 fans who will travel over. I want them to be excited by what they have seen."

Both men's commitment to their credo may be tested tonight by the absence of key personalities, particularly on the Welsh side.

Yet there is a deep sense that whatever short-term bonuses accrue this evening, the man in the Welsh dug-out seems more suited to a much more meaningful and prolonged career than Keane.

As for O'Neill, the best years on his long journey are a memory now. Giggs will believe the best is yet to come.

Irish Independent

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