Wednesday 21 February 2018

Misery finally over as Giggs ponders future

Southampton 1 Manchester Utd 1

Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic at the end of the match at St Marys, Southampton. Chris Ison/PA Wire.
Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic at the end of the match at St Marys, Southampton. Chris Ison/PA Wire.
Rickie Lambert of Southampton celebrates scoring during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Manchester United (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Jose Fonte of Southampton challenges Danny Welbeck of Manchester United (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Manchester United interim manager Ryan Giggs reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Manchester United at St Mary's Stadium. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Chris Smalling (#12) of Manchester United and Sam Gallagher (#40) of Southampton challenge for the ball. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Nemanja Vidic (L) of Manchester United and Rickie Lambert (R) of Southampton rise to challenge for the ball (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Southampton's Rickie Lambert (L) scores against Manchester United. REUTERS/Andrew Winning
Southampton's Jack Cork in action against Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic. Photo credit should read: Chris Ison/PA Wire.

Jeremy Wilson

The final whistle felt like an act of mercy for Manchester United and one of cruelty for Southampton.

The worst Premier League season in United's history is finally over and it ended with an appropriately limp performance to ensure that Tottenham's Europa League place was never under the slightest threat.

Notwithstanding the ban for all English clubs following the Heysel Stadium tragedy, this is the first time since 1981 that Manchester United have failed to qualify for Europe.

It was also the first time since 2006 that United had gone into the last match of the season without a chance of winning the Premier League – something that was graphically brought home to Ryan Giggs as the interim manager entered the press room at St Mary's.

On the two television screens to his left, live footage of Manchester City's title celebrations were being screened. "Don't mind if I stare over there do you?" said Giggs, looking at the opposite wall.

An announcement to confirm the appointment of Louis van Gaal is imminent and, for Giggs, a major decision now awaits. He admitted that he was split between the possible options of playing on past his 41st birthday, taking a year off football or joining the new manager's staff.

"I'll look at everything – I think I will decide within the next week," Giggs said. "I think the managerial situation will also probably be sorted out in the next week."

Decisions also now loom at Southampton, whose fans must never have wanted this season to end. A record Premier League points tally was achieved in finishing only one place behind United in eighth, but there was also the sense of a chapter coming to an end.

Manager Mauricio Pochettino can expect a call from Daniel Levy, the Tottenham Hotspur chairman, in the coming days, but will first meet Southampton owner Katarina Liebherr. "We are going to talk," Pochettino said.

"This is basically the end of a five- year project that started with Marcus Liebherr buying this club. We have achieved what we wanted, taking the club from League One to establish the club in the Premier League. Now a new project has to start and the board has to decide how that happens."

Offers for Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana will soon land on the desk of Ralph Krueger, the club's new chairman. It felt significant that Lallana and Shaw should be substituted, with both players making a prolonged point of applauding all four corners of St Mary's.

AGGRIEVED

United's departing defenders – Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra are expected to follow Nemanja Vidic through the exit door – were kept occupied in a first half Southampton dominated, although the visitors had justifiable reason to be aggrieved by the manner of the opening goal.

Rickie Lambert had got himself in front of Vidic, but, as he rose to head the ball, his elbow caught the United captain flush on the nose.

Blood was flowing, but referee Mike Dean waved play-on, with Steven Davis threading his pass beyond a statue-like Ferdinand back to Lambert, who shipped his finish expertly inside the near-post.

United finally found their rhythm when Michael Carrick replaced Shinji Kagawa at half-time and, after Victor Wanyama fouled Danny Welbeck, Juan Mata curled his free-kick into the top corner for the equaliser. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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