Waiting in the wings

Man Utd legend Ryan Giggs on Jose Mourinho, management and memorabilia

Ryan Giggs made a name for himself terrorising defenders. We’re pretty sure Martin Keown still has nightmares. The 43-yearold spent two decades flying down the left wing for Manchester United at Old Trafford, so it’s ironic that the one thing that used to frighten him more than anything else was the prospect of getting on an aeroplane.

“I did have a really bad fear of flying,” he admits when we speak to him. “Which isn’t great when you’re a footballer and you’re travelling all around the world.”

In touching scenes, Giggs would sit next to Paul Ince when United travelled away in those early days. The pair would hold hands during the scary bits. The Welshman racked up plenty of air miles in a lengthy career with the Red Devils – first as a player, and then as a coach under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, not to mention a brief spell as caretaker manager.

That association ended in the summer with Jose Mourinho’s arrival, but Giggs has frequently been linked with managerial vacancies in the past few months. He remains open to offers.

What do you make of Manchester United so far this season?
“There was obviously big expectation with [Jose] Mourinho coming in, and the players who they brought in – Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Eric Bailly. They got off to a good start and then it’s just been a struggle with consistency, really. But I think it’s a really open league this year, and I don’t think they’re in a really bad position. It’s one of those seasons where people are just going to change their minds all the way through – at the moment Liverpool are on fire, at the start it was City, then it was Tottenham. It’s just a really close league. United would probably hope to be doing better, but they’re definitely not out of it.”

Have you been surprised by how quickly things have changed since Sir Alex Ferguson left?
“There was always going to be a change, because of Sir Alex’s power, his influence in that successful period, and it was just how you combated that. Now obviously David Moyes came in, Louis van Gaal came in, and now Mourinho’s come in – so I’m not surprised because the influence Sir Alex had on the team was so strong. When you go from champions to like, seventh and then fourth and fifth, it’s not what United fans are used to. But it’s about getting back to the top. Whether that’s this year or next year, I’m sure they’ll do it. Obviously the longer it goes, the more pressure is on the team.”

There had been a long drought before you turned pro in 1990 – United hadn’t won the league since 1967. How did the club change during your time there?
“Football in general changed with the introduction of the Premier League – I played in the old Football League, and it was the crossover to the Premier League in 1992/93 when football just went huge. It was already obviously a big sport, but football in general [exploded], with the media scrutiny. Within the club you went from say 13, 14 players and three or four staff to 26 players and, like, 20 staff as well. And it’s just got bigger, and I will say better – the stadiums, the quality of the coverage is so much better than it was 25 years ago.”

Do you have a favourite Man Utd kit?
“I did – it was probably one of my first, it was a bit quirky. It was 1992/93 (pictured), where it had strings along the collar. I also like the 1999 Champions League kit. I must have played in about 50 kits, so it’s hard to narrow it down to the favourites. Probably the early days, and then kits that mean a lot to you – ones you’ve won something in.”

Do you have a lot of kits at home?
“I don’t have any memorabilia. I tell a lie – I have the Sports Personality of the Year award, and the PFA Player of the Year. Stuff like that – but no shirts, no trophies. All the trophies and medals are in the United museum. I’m not a big one to parade what I’ve done over the house.”

What was the hardest thing about corners’ chart, with six moving into coaching and management?
“It was challenging for me because I was still playing, so I was having to drop teammates and not pick teammates, so it was challenging in that respect. Actually managing and coaching, I felt really comfortable and enjoyed it – that wasn’t a problem. And setting up the team I really enjoyed. It was only two and a half weeks, so I didn’t have a lot of time to work with the team. But I enjoyed it and I learnt a lot.”

Are you still looking for a new role?
“Yeah, I am... I enjoyed the coaching role the past two years under Louis. But yeah, I left the club in the summer and actually I’m quite relaxed. I want to go back into football, but I earmarked taking a year out and just doing a bit of travelling, visiting other clubs, and now I’m doing a bit of TV work. I’m still watching games, I’m still keeping my eye in, but I’m also taking a bit of a rest. It was 26, 27 years going to the same club, doing the same thing.”

Any nerves as a TV pundit?
“No – it was good in the summer that I did the Euros with ITV. It was a real family atmosphere because it was a tournament, so I wasn’t just working once a week. It was every night, more or less, and spending time with the production team, the other pundits. You’re watching and talking about football – it’s something I feel natural doing even though I’ve not done a lot of TV.”

What do you like to do outside football?
“Early on in my career it was literally just football – so it was pretty boring, really. You train, you go home, you rest, you eat the right food, you have early nights... everything revolves around football. Then, as you get older, you get into your 30s and your late 30s and you start to relax a lot more, and realise there’s a big old world out there. I have a 13-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son, so just like any other parent I’m a taxi, whether it’s to football, lacrosse, drama. All that sort of stuff takes over your life. Apart from that, I like to cycle, I like to jog, I like to travel – just normal things that everybody enjoys.”

Where do you like to travel?
“I like the south of France, Mallorca, I like to go to Dubai – when the weather’s like this in Britain and you’re able to go to Dubai, it’s 32, 33 degrees guaranteed. I like to just chill out, and I was there last week. I’ve also had the chance to go to India since I’ve finished – I enjoy going to America because you more or less get left alone.”

Did you get recognised much in India?
“Obviously it’s a cricket country, but they’re fanatical football fans as well, so yeah. It was a futsal tournament [the Indian Premier Futsal League], so I was actually playing over there. I got a chance to go to Chennai and Goa – places I’ve never been before. It’s one of the things I love about football: it gives you the chance to go to places you would never, ever go.”

McDonald’s Head of Welsh Football, Ryan Giggs, was speaking at Albion Rovers FC, where he was handing over new kit courtesy of the McDonald’s Kit Scheme. Visit www.mcdonalds.co.uk/betterplay

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