What would Manchester United be like now if Ryan Giggs had retired aged 35?
If Ryan Giggs had retired at the age of 35 he would be Manchester United manager now. So says Old Trafford oracle Alex Ferguson.
The former United manager made the statement in a new BBC documentary, in which he said: “If Ryan Giggs had retired six, seven years ago. Say he had retired at, say, 35, quite likely I would have made him my assistant and quite likely he could have moved straight into the job with the experience of being an assistant manager to me as he is doing with Louis Van Gaal at the moment. But I would never have asked a player to quit.”
Which begs the question: what would life be like now if Giggs had retired in the immediate aftermath of United's Premier League winning 2008-09 season? Let us get our crystal ball out.
Walking off the Old Trafford turf in May 2009 having secured the single point required against Arsenal to reclaim the Premier League title, Giggs decides to end his playing career in typical understated fashion. "It's been a great run but I've had my fill and don't want to deny the youngsters their chance to step up. Give it two years and I'll be a forgotten man. It will be Zoran Tošić this, Darron Gibson that and Anderson the other," says the 35-year-old.
Giggs bows out with a 1-0 victory at Hull on the final day of the season courtesy of a goal from Gibson ("You watch," says the Welshman. "This is United's future making a name for himself in front of your eyes.")
Barely a day after the end of the season, Alex holds a press conference to announce Giggs as his new assistant. The media immediately hails them as United's answer to Big Sam (Allardyce) and Little Sam (Lee).
Powerless to prevent the forces of evil, United are forced to admit defeat in their battle to keep hold of Cristiano Ronaldo as the Portuguese signs for Real Madrid. Fergie immediately sticks Giggs on a plane to the south of France with a brief to scupper the Spanish side's attempts to sign Karim Benzema. Giggs convinces the Frenchman that he will always play second fiddle to Ronaldo at Real, whereas at Old Trafford he can become part of what Fergie and Giggs have privately termed "The Holy Trinity": Wayne Rooney, Benzema and Carlos Tevez. Benzema is won over, Tevez puts any thoughts of leaving the club behind him and United publish a 'Once a Red, always a Red' poster on Deansgate bearing the image of the grinning Argentinian.
All three members of The Holy Trinity score in what is billed as the title decider against Chelsea in April 2010 and United go on to win the league for a fourth consecutive year.
In an unexpected move, Ferguson announces that this will be his final season in charge of United and anoints Giggs as his successor.
Not content with sharing centre stage with Benzema and Tevez at Old Trafford, Rooney decides he wants out. Ferguson and Giggs - increasingly referred to as Gigguson in the press - decide to let Rooney depart and, when Manchester City offer £80m for the England striker, he heads over to the blue side of town.
City celebrate the signing of their Manchester rivals' star man by erecting their own poster bearing the image of Rooney at Everton and Rooney at City alongside the words: 'Once a Blue, Always a Blue'. Everton immediately file a lawsuit against the club for the use of the teenage Rooney's image and City are forced to issue an embarrassed apology and pay damages.
Seeking a new member for the Holy Trinity, Giggs negotiates a deal with Atletico Madrid for Sergio Aguero for £28m. The new signing forms a lethal partnership with Tevez but Benzema cuts an increasingly isolated figure at Old Trafford.
Both Argentina strikers score 30 league goals and United win a fifth league title in five years. Fergie retires.
With Giggs now at the helm and Nicky Butt named as his assistant, the Welshman holds his first press conference as United manager and faces a barrage of questions about Benzema, who has spent much of the summer pictured inebriated at pool parties in Miami. "I have no time for people who refuse to give their all for Manchester United Football Club," says Giggs. "Karim has not shown the attitude we expect of a player who represents Manchester United Football Club and he will be allowed to move on. From here on in we shall only sign players with the strongest work ethics."
Giggs signs Emmanuel Adebayor.
Despite barely featuring for Manchester City since Rooney's arrival at the Etihad, Adebayor begins his United campaign with a bang, scoring 15 goals before Christmas as Giggs' side top the table at the turn of the year. Having trained with the reserves for the first half of the season, Benzema is allowed to join Arsenal in the January transfer window.
The two Manchester clubs engage in a fierce battle for the title that is eventually decided in a dramatic final day. Gifted the chance to seal the deal for City, Rooney misses a stoppage time penalty against QPR, while Aguero scores the winner at Sunderland to make it six titles in a row for United and a first under Giggs.
Adebayor leaves United for Fenerbahce. Little explanation is given but one tabloid runs a story with quotes from a "source" detailing issues with "hippy crack".
Crucified for his role in City's failure to win the title the previous season, Rooney hands in a transfer request and makes an unlikely return to Old Trafford where he is given a hero's welcome. New City manager Brendan Rodgers is given his choice of United players as part of the part exchange deal for Rooney and plumps for Gibson, Jonny Evans and Paul Pogba.
While Pogba will go on to spend two unimpressive seasons under Rodgers at the Etihad before being sold to Rennes, Gibson stamps his mark on City from the outset, inspiring them to the title as United miss out for the first time in seven years, finishing a distant second.
United assistant manager Butt is offered the Newcastle job and moves to St James' Park, taking a fading Tevez with him. Speculation is rife in the media that Giggs will offer David Moyes the number two job at Old Trafford, but the Everton manager issues a statement exhibiting a baffling lack of ambition in which he declares Everton "the only club for me", "where my heart lies" and "closer to me than my own family".
Giggs ultimately chooses Gary Neville as his No 2 and the new managerial duo pull off one of the biggest transfer coups of recent years by signing Gareth Bale from Tottenham for £75m.
With a front three of Bale, Rooney and Aguero, United cruise to one of their most comprehensive title victories of the Premier League era. Despite Giggs' feat, Moyes is named Manager of the Year after guiding Everton to second place, while Arsene Wenger is sacked as Arsenal manager having gone nine years without a trophy.
Coined as the new Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, Giggs and Neville are held up as a beacon for managerial partnerships around the world. Assistant managerial appointments begin to be viewed on the same level of importance as the manager himself.
Following England's failure to win a single game at the World Cup, Neville is offered the role vacated by Roy Hodgson who retires insisting he "no longer has the drive to work with prima donnas who don't give a s--- about international football anymore". Neville declines the position, which is eventually filled by Sean Dyche.
Giggs and Neville guide United to a Premier League and Champions League double as Ferguson weeps tears of joy in the directors' box.