Thursday 24 May 2018

United brought back to the future

Giggs inspires a return to old values, writes Dion Fanning at Old Trafford

Ryan Giggs in the Old Trafford dug out last night, with others from the Class of '92, Phil Neville, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Ryan Giggs in the Old Trafford dug out last night, with others from the Class of '92, Phil Neville, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Dion Fanning

Manchester United held a testimonial for Ryan Giggs in 2001 but at Old Trafford yesterday it felt like they were having another one.

The appointment of Giggs as United's interim manager and his decision to bring the Class of '92 with him ensured that the game against Norwich City felt like a homecoming for a man who had never left.

By the end some were already craving the permanent appointment of Giggs as, in a time of crisis, United were cleaving to what they knew. "I said that to Giggsy three weeks ago," a steward said before the game. It didn't matter what he said but that he had said it, a regular conversation with one of their own. "I said that to Louis van Gaal," would have struck a different note.

But it wasn't quite a testimonial for Giggs, it was more like a tribute for those values he spoke of in the pre-match press conference and the spirit of Manchester United which had been lost during the long 295 days that David Moyes was in charge. "It's time to play like Manchester United again," Giggs had said and they were willing yesterday but there was one element missing.

Before the game, a group of sponsors posed on the edge of the pitch with the Premier League trophy but this was a match at the end of April that had no meaning for the English champions beyond the ambivalent pursuit of a Europa League place. If Moyes' methods had been a shock, this meandering end-of-season match was the most alien thing of all.

For Giggs, it had greater significance. It had been an "emotional week", he said. Afterwards the goalscorers Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata praised him, with Rooney offering an endorsement, stating that Giggs had "the credentials" to do the job. "He's built to be a United manager." The next few weeks might also reveal how much power Rooney has.

United's warm-up was supervised by Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Phil Neville. There was no place for David Moyes' signings or Adnan Januzaj in the 11. Juan Mata was on the bench while Januzaj and Marouane Fellaini weren't part of the squad. It was like the past year had never happened. "I didn't sleep and leaving out players was the reason I didn't sleep," Giggs said.

'The Chosen One' banner had also been taken down and nobody looked to the sky for rebellion, although half-way through the first half a plane flew across the sky trailing the banner 'Thank U Moyes'.

The rebels, it could be assumed, were on the pitch instead. Rio Ferdinand played in the centre of defence and is said to be hoping for a new beginning. The players who had been so dissatisfied with Moyes now had an opportunity to show there was another way. The crowd roared as Giggs walked out before the game. "The reception was great. I've walked out that tunnel so many times and that's the best feeling I've had."

In Moyes' last league game at Old Trafford, he had been praised for the way he strode purposefully to the dug-out so United have become accustomed to searching for meaning wherever they can get it,

When the game began there was the familiar chant 'Attack, Attack, Attack' which had greater purpose since Moyes tried things a different way.

The first half was a reminder that it won't be that easy. With the new signings missing this was like watching the United of Alex Ferguson's final year without Robin Van Persie.

It was a day when Rooney looked like he was worth the contract awarded, a contract which demonstrated United's anxiety, not their strength.

Rooney scored the penalty at the end of the first half which eased the tension and then curled in an impressive second goal early in the second half before Mata came on to score twice as well. Last night, United appeared to have one purpose again but there are tougher challenges ahead.

While Ferguson – who was in the stands – was endorsing Giggs, United were denying that a deal had been done with Van Gaal despite reports in a Dutch paper yesterday.

There is talk at Old Trafford of the ambition of Ed Woodward and that United may yet pursue football's biggest names before turning to Van Gaal.

Ferguson's ideas appear to be different as he tried to implement a succession plan again when the opportunity might already have been wasted.

The Class of '92 might have risen to positions of responsibility but United might be aiming higher than the seductive nostalgia a Giggs appointment would provide. The link to their greatest era offers no security.

At Old Trafford last night, they celebrated the appointment of one of their greatest men and there will be those who want the temporary to become permanent. Manchester United care about their history and as they sang the old songs about Keane, Cantona, Best and, of course, Giggs, it was tempting to think that the past can provide the club with a way out. If United win their final three games, the demand to appoint him will be great. "I'm not looking further ahead than the Sunderland game," Giggs insisted.

The wiser heads at Old Trafford will know different. Nothing can conceal the fact that Manchester United are now heading into the unknown.

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