Louis van Gaal didn't ask me to be his assistant manager at Manchester United, says Ryan Giggs... he told me!
During a TV documentary charting his final playing season at Manchester United, Ryan Giggs is shown getting angry in the wake of a home defeat to Sunderland in his second game as interim manager. His knuckles go white on his car’s steering wheel.
Three months on, United’s new assistant manager is no longer angry as he sits in a low chair in a Beverly Hills hotel. The message, though, is exactly the same.
‘The players have got to take a bit of pride in how they perform, train and play,’ says Giggs. ‘There’s no doubt that few players lived up to the standards of what they are capable of doing last season.
‘They are not bad players but last season’s league position showed that we didn’t perform. The way back for them has started already, in training. There is no time to waste. The recovery has to start now, getting some kind of form.
‘That is why I was so disappointed after the Sunderland game. The team I put out would have won if they had played to their potential.’
United have a new manager now of course, Dutchman Louis van Gaal, but the wreckage of last season remains.
A seventh-place Barclays Premier League finish means no European football while some of the continent’s biggest stars have decided to look elsewhere for their career development.
It’s tempting to say that Giggs has seen it all before, but he hasn’t. He hasn’t seen United off their perch, looking desperately for the credibility and authority that always seemed part of their DNA.
Asked if there was fear in United’s football at Old Trafford last season, Giggs says: ‘Yeah, there was. Old Trafford had always been a fortress over the years, the place nobody wanted to go. Towards the end of last season it wasn’t like that.
‘You don’t know if players will be scarred by last season but you hope they respond in a positive way.
‘In my first season we lost out in the league against Leeds and I couldn’t wait in the pre-season to get back.
‘I wanted to get rid of that feeling I had because until you could do something about it that feeling was always there.
‘I’m sure these players can’t wait to get to Old Trafford and produce the form they are all capable of.’
Giggs, 40 now, has been impressed by Van Gaal. Offered the role of assistant after half an hour of chat in a Dutch hotel last May, he believes he sees some of the great Sir Alex Ferguson in his new mentor’s methods and thinks he sees United’s players responding to the 62-year-old’s simple, clear methods.
It will seem strange never to see Giggs in a red shirt again. United’s record appearance holder’s time has finally passed.
He isn’t overly interested in sentimental reflection, though.
Giggs admits he became emotional briefly at the end of last season — wondering if his time at the club was up — but all that disappeared once he met Van Gaal in Amsterdam.
‘He was pretty direct about it,’ recalls Giggs. ‘It was after about half an hour of meeting him. He straight out asked — or did he tell me?! He might have told me actually!
‘He just said: “You’re my assistant manager” — or “I want you to be my assistant” — and I didn’t think twice. It was obviously a tremendous opportunity for me to learn from one of the great managers and stay at the club and try to get better as a coach.
‘I do think there are similarities with Sir Alex. They do have an aura about them. That comes from the success they have had. They demand the players respond and they demand respect.
‘In the short space of time I have worked with Louis you can see why he has been a success.
‘He is infectious. He wants everything right from the first minute of training to the last. Everything he does is clear. And everyone gets it straight away.
‘He has got a unique way of putting it over and it’s brilliant to see. To see it first-hand is great for my experience and the players.
‘What he did at the World Cup with Holland was brilliant, the way he changed his goalkeeper against Costa Rica for example. If I was the opposition penalty-taker it would be somewhere in my head: “Why have they changed keepers. Is he someone special?”
‘It’s what makes top managers — their decision-making. If it had gone wrong he would have had to face the consequences. That’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to back what you think is right.
‘Sometimes it will go wrong but if you stick to your principles usually it will be OK. You have to do that if you are manager of Manchester United.’
With the season looming, United’s first steps on the road back to respectability have already been made. In Giggs’ mind, though, there should be no baby steps. Two decades at Old Trafford have taught him that much.
Asked if a top-four finish would be acceptable this season, his eyes darkened and it was possible to imagine those knuckles whitening on the wheel again.
‘No, no,’ he says. ‘With the players we’ve got I want to be contesting for the league. There are people in that dressing room who have won the league many, many times.
‘They are winners who were hurt by the way we played last year. We’ll be wanting to win the league.’