Tribute: Ryan Giggs never stands still
Features editor Steve Bartram pays tribute to Ryan Giggs following the announcement of the club legend's departure...
There were many facets to Ryan Giggs’ success as a player, but it was his incessant evolution which allowed him to carve a career of unparalleled grandeur. For the first time in almost 29 years, that same necessity for progress has taken him outside the confines of Old Trafford.
Be he a spindly winger trampling touchlines or a novice coach treading a new career path, he has never been one to stand still in contentment. Two years on from hanging up his boots after a fleeting but positive taster of interim management, Ryan has decided that the time is right to move forward again.
The concept of Giggs and Manchester United as separate entities is a curious one, as shocking as it was inevitable. We essentially bade farewell upon his 2014 retirement; a soft launch for Saturday's news that he will be off the club's staff for the first time since 1987, and there has been a likelihood for much of Ryan’s coaching career that his future would require a move away from his boyhood club.
The quixotic prospect of Ryan slaloming seamlessly from supreme playing career into managerial power at Old Trafford was always a stirring notion, but too many events had to align in order to make it a reality. The timing was all off, thanks in no small part to his continued importance to the club as a player and, as a result, the length of his playing career. Had he adopted a player-coach role under Sir Alex Ferguson or had Louis van Gaal seen out the final year of his contract, events might have turned out differently for Giggs. We will never know.
Speculation is futile; the fact is that Ryan will be missed around the club. Players still speak reverentially of him – widely and regularly opining that he remains one of the most capable in training sessions - while he is enduringly popular among staff. Sharp, witty and affable, he commands respect while being personable and respectful. Personally, this job has provided countless professional privileges over the years, but few can rival the honour of ghosting Ryan’s programme notes for his three home matches as interim boss.
After seeing the club undergo an identity crisis in the aftermath of Ferguson’s departure, it was enormously faith-affirming to have a man in charge who was so steeped in the United way. "My philosophy is the Manchester United philosophy,” he told his first press conference. “I want to see goals, tackles, players taking players on and getting the crowd up. I'll tell the players to just to try to enjoy yourself, express yourself. I just want them to enjoy themselves and give the fans something to smile about.”
He spoke lucidly and rousingly. Moreover, he spoke our language. But to expect him to become David Moyes’ permanent replacement on the basis of his standing among the squad and supporters was fanciful. Romance was understandably overruled in favour of the substantially greater experience of van Gaal, with the compromise being that Giggs would take on more responsibility and learn as assistant manager.
Whether it was visible to the watching world or not, the fact that the Dutchman trumpeted the Welshman as his probable replacement spoke volumes for Giggs’ work behind the scenes, but the Premier League and European underachievement which prompted van Gaal’s departure a year before his three-year contract expired once again threw the timings off-kilter. Given the opportunity to appoint one of world football’s outstanding managers, United daren’t have missed out on Jose Mourinho.
Giggs may have spent the majority of his playing career on the left flank, but he could not wait in the wings forever. He has crammed plenty of learning into the last three seasons – not to mention the 26 years he spent absorbing Ferguson’s mantra – and he has decided that the time is right to test himself elsewhere.
Football is a small world and paths will cross again, but it remains to be seen in what capacity. Time will tell what the future holds for Manchester United’s leading appearance-maker and Britain’s most-decorated footballer, but he leaves Old Trafford with the best wishes of every single person associated with the club.
It’s the biggest step of Ryan Giggs’s career, but he has never gotten anywhere by standing still.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be considered as representative of Manchester United Football Club.