As far as alternatives to current manager Louis van Gaal go, Manchester United should look no further than Ryan Giggs. The current assistant manager is the yin to the Dutchman’s yang. Giggs is a patron of attacking football – ‘the United way’ – while Van Gaal’s negative style of play has been subject to much criticism. Giggs is almost universally loved and respected around the club, having won 34 trophies during his 24-year playing career. Giggs stands, Van Gaal sits. And the Welshman also boasts that much-vaunted characteristic that evades Van Gaal: He knows the club. He understands the fans.
At least that’s what we’re told. There is little we can ascertain from the actual managerial career of Giggs so far, aside from the fact that he can lose 1-0 to a Gus Poyet-managed Sunderland at home. But behind Jose Mourinho, the 42-year-old is tipped as the favourite to replace the second man to whom he has played assistant. It does seem inevitable the former midfielder will one day ascend the throne, but now? After two of the most tumultuous reigns in the club’s history? ‘Risk’ is not quite the word.
To truly contextualise how strange it would be to appoint Giggs at this juncture, current Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino has just entered his eighth year of club management, and has three years of Premier League experience, stretching over 152 games. The Argentinean is less than two years older than Giggs.
Widespread criticism met Pochettino’s appointment at Southampton in January 2013. Nigel Adkins had been removed as manager, and despite Saints sitting 15th in the Premier League, just three points above the relegation zone, fans and pundits alike questioned how Pochettino was deemed superior. By the end of the season, Saints had finished 14th, just a place higher. It did little to improve the manager’s standing.
Surprisingly, a full season offered enough insight into Pochettino the coach. Southampton finished eighth in 2013/14, and the manager received his career step-up at Tottenham that summer. Since, Pochettino has won 48 of his 92 games, led Spurs to fifth place last season, and has them as unlikely but very much deserving title challengers this campaign. Pochettino is not only perceived as the safe pair of hands to the risky Giggs, he would also likely be favoured to appointing the potentially toxic Mourinho. But why would he leave the club in second for the club three places below?
‘There is an argument for labelling Simeone as the most impressive manager in world football over the last four years,’ wrote Daniel Storey on Thursday. It’s difficult to disagree. Like Pochettino, 45-year-old Simeone is relatively young, but already boasts experience at seven clubs in ten years. He has two Argentine Primera División titles to go alongside a La Liga, a Europa League, a Copa del Rey, a Super Cup and a Supercopa de Espana. In five years at Atletico, Simeone has lost Radamel Falcao (the good version), Diego Costa, Filipe Luis, Thibaut Courtois, Adrian Lopez, Arda Turan, Toby Alderweireld and, more detrimental than the rest combined, Javier Manquillo. Yet the Argentinean has managed to foster an infectious winning mentality at Vicente Calderon, and only Barcelona are currently keeping them off La Liga’s summit. If not Chelsea, then United could swoop.
Hear me out. Gary Neville may have presided over the worst run of form seen in Valencia since the dawn of time, but he at least lays claim to an experience which Giggs so lacks. Neville has won four of his 17 games since taking the reins in Spain, none of which have come in La Liga. The Copa del Rey provided salvation for a period, with Valencia reaching the semi-finals. Then they drew Barcelona. Then they faced Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar. Then they lost 7-0. Oh, Gary.
Neville has been awfully cryptic over his future in football. “I’m not going to say where I want to end up, and it isn’t in management or head coaching, so I want to be clear about that,” the England coach, former Sky Sports pundit and part-owner of Salford City said in the least clear terms possible back in January.
A day later, Neville clarified his comments: “I was talking about 15 to 20 years’ time when I talked about [quitting] management.”
Right then. It seems remarkably unlikely that United would appoint him in the summer, but would former team-mate Giggs really be a more understandable choice?
Louis van Gaal
He is still there. And he does still have one year remaining on his contract at Old Trafford. All indications thus far have been that vice-executive chairman Ed Woodward is willing to back Louis van Gaal. The opportunities to relieve the Dutchman of his duties have been almost countless, with the manager’s style of play a subject of constant scrutiny. Yet Woodward has stood by the man he helped appoint in summer 2014. Champions League qualification hangs in the balance, with the club six points behind fourth-placed Manchester City, but it is not outside the realms of possibility. The Europa League and FA Cup may also appear slightly less attractive consolations in a less than stellar season, but winning the former would guarantee a place in Europe’s elite competition next season.
Mourinho may have lined up the signings of 427 players this summer, but, ‘done deal’ EXCLUSIVES or not, there is no guarantee Van Gaal will even leave. Each of his potential replacements come with significant flaws and drawbacks. And that includes the former Chelsea manager.