Sport Soccer

Wednesday 17 January 2018

United's future firmly rooted in their past

Class of '92 perfect fit to build new empire at Old Trafford with Giggs as the helm

Ryan Giggs is learning all the time ahead of call to take hot seat
Ryan Giggs is learning all the time ahead of call to take hot seat

Paul Hayward

Manchester United's future will come dressed as their past. Not tomorrow. Probably not this season. But when it comes it will have Ryan Giggs as manager and the Class of '92 as his Praetorian Guard.

Their Hotel Football, which overlooks Old Trafford from its highest floor, already has the feel of a command post for the men who should take over when Louis van Gaal's time is up.

Not that Giggs, Nicky Butt or the Nevilles, Gary and Phil, are agitating in any way. All have their hands full, and Giggs, along with Butt, is in the apprenticeship phase of coaching and management, by Van Gaal's side.

Everyone you speak to, though, thinks Giggs will be the next United manager, which makes sense on every level.

All it needs is for the Glazers, who own the club, to agree, and not persuade themselves that an external Hollywood appointment is the best way to keep overseas commercial deals rolling in.

The best route to achieve that dollar-shaped aim will be to restore United's traditional identity, which can be traced from Matt Busby through to Alex Ferguson, via a sizeable monument to the men who are now a brand in their own right.

Even David Beckham, who peeled off to cross other frontiers, seems to be returning to his roots, spending more and more time with Giggs, Butt and the rest of his mates from the club's golden age of youth development.

At a recent gathering at Hotel Football, Beckham posted an Instagram shot of Old Trafford with the caption: "Back where I belong."

It would take a leap of the imagination to see him abandoning his global portfolio to be, say, assistant coach to Giggs. But there is a deepening sense that the homegrown lads who provided Ferguson's empire with so much youthful impetus in the mid-90s are bound together by something eternal.

No leap is required to picture Beckham in a major role one day at United, who face Liverpool on Saturday.

The magnetism pulling the Class of '92 back together is unmistakable and will lead, one feels, to one of them being United manager, and most of the rest on hand to help.

What a committee that would be, especially if Paul Scholes also put down his mic and took charge of the creativity department. Beckham is already backing Giggs to be the next man in.

At the HMV football awards for a music therapy charity last week, Beckham recalled his time in the United youth set-up: "It wasn't about fame or earning as much money as you can. It was all about wanting to play for United. I think the prime example is Ryan Giggs.

"To be a player who has represented one club through his career - that doesn't happen anymore.

"For a player to have represented his club and his country the way he has and now, at some point, he will hopefully become United manager in the future. He was the one that set the benchmark for us.

"He was the one we looked up to and yet he was only a year or two older than us. We never reached his heights because he is one of the best players of all time. We were just lucky enough to become team-mates of his."

This confirms what everyone from that era says. Giggs was the leader, the one they all revered.

Caretaker for a few weeks, after David Moyes was sacked, Giggs was rightly overlooked for the permanent appointment in favour of Van Gaal, who was hired to "do a job", to use a phrase commonly heard around Old Trafford.

That "job" was to build a new squad and apply Champions League know-how; to stabilise a club still convulsed by Ferguson's departure.

Already we see Van Gaal is not a long-term proposition. Nor would he especially want to be. His transfer dealings have looked disjointed and his abrasive style is less and less well suited to today's culture of hypersensitive players and mega-agents. That style antagonised big names at Barcelona and has narked a few at United.

For the Glazers he was a solid bet in the wake of Moyes' fall. But you would not expect him to be United's manager two years from now.

There is no lobbying. Giggs and Butt are already on the staff. Gary Neville is an England coach with extensive media and business interests. Phil Neville is coaching at Valencia.

Scholes overcame his natural diffidence to take on a pundit's role. But he could easily return to the brilliantly pithy observations that Ferguson relied on when he needed wisdom from a player.

Sometimes, in the head, visions of the future achieve remarkable clarity.

This one is clear. All it would need is for the Glazers to embrace it; to see that United's future is rooted in their past.

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