Giggs is a managerial novice and his association with Van Gaal doesn’t change that.
Asked before the weekend about who might be his successor at Manchester United, Louis Van Gaal was oddly emphatic that Ryan Giggs, his current assistant, would inherit the job after his departure.
In fact, that seems to be a universal belief. The accepted logic appears to be that simply by spending the next three years as Van Gaal’s right-hand man, Giggs will be qualified to replace him by virtue of some strange osmosis.
The lack of opposition to that is startling.
Ryan Giggs the player has earned everybody’s respect. He was one of the finest footballers of his generation, he won everything there is to win in club competition, and he made more appearances for Manchester United than any player in their history.
So who better to manage the side?
Well…lots of people.
Louis Van Gaal is a terrific mentor and what an opportunity it is to work alongside one of the most celebrated head coaches of this generation but it’s naive to think that, purely be sitting close enough to him in the dug-out, Van Gaal’s brilliance will just naturally infect Giggs.
There’s too much of this. Despite the many examples to the contrary, there’s still a lingering belief that the components from which a great player is built can be repurposed to create a great manager. Too much gravitas is afforded to irrelevant qualities like ‘knowing the club’ and ‘understanding the culture’, and not nearly enough of the focus is centred on whether an individual has the requisite experience, knowledge or qualifications to exist at the highest coaching level.
Maybe Ryan Giggs will be Manchester United manager one day. And maybe Ryan Giggs will be a very successful Manchester United manager one day.
But shouldn’t the pathway to that job be a little longer?
There is clearly a lot of benefit to working in close proximity to someone like Van Gaal and, without question, he will have learnt a lot from the decades he spent playing under Sir Alex Ferguson. But is that really a sufficient qualification for managing a club of this size?
You don’t learn to drive by watching your instructor.
You get behind the wheel, you make mistakes in a controlled environment and, eventually, you pass your test. What’s more, you learn by jerking the gears of a manual, not by easing into an Aston Martin and putting the pedal to the floor.
Applied to Giggs’ situation, doesn’t that suggest that his chances of becoming a better United manager would be enhanced by experiencing the day-to-day life of the position somewhere else first? If he was to couple his apprenticeship with Van Gaal with a spell at a football league club, that would unquestionably give him a more thorough education and, more importantly, the opportunity to ease into his own ideology away from the bright lights of Old Trafford.
That would be very easy to do. Playing profile is held in such – naive – regard by chairmen in this country, that if Ryan Giggs was to start applying for lower league positions tomorrow, he would likely have a job by the end of the week. Sure, he would be managing inferior players to those found at Old Trafford and the challenges faced would be slightly different but, to return to the driving school analogy, he would still be behind the steering wheel.
From his perspective, it would be a great shame if the Manchester United job – a highlight on any CV – arrived at a point in his career when he wasn’t ready to make the most of it. If he was to inherit the position from Van Gaal and fail due to naivety, the chances of him ever being afforded a second opportunity would be extremely remote.
And what’s the old saying about United? Once you leave Old Trafford, the only way is down.
Because of his association with the club, Giggs can afford to step away from Manchester United and build his reputation. There is no rush here; just as time would allow him to become a more fundamentally complete manager, so it would also enable the club to take far less of a risk in appointing him.
United are the club of success, longevity and stability, and it’s to their credit that they don’t make these kind of over-emotional decisions. Allowing him to succeed Van Gaal would superficially seem very neat and tidy, but it would actually be based on little beyond a set of over-emphasised intangibles.